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Cohan v. TMBC, L.L.C.

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

April 30, 2019

HOWARD COHAN
v.
TMBC, L.L.C.

          RULING AND ORDER

          ERIN WILDER-DOOMES UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Before the Court[1] is a Motion to Stay Discovery (the “Motion to Stay”), [2] filed by Defendant TMBC, L.L.C. (“TMBC”). The Motion is opposed[3] by the plaintiff, Howard Cohan (“Plaintiff”). Also before the Court is the Motion for Extension of Discovery Response Deadlines Pending Ruling on Motion to Stay Discovery (“Motion for Extension”), [4] filed by TMBC. For the reasons that follow, the Motion to Stay is granted. Discovery in this matter is stayed until the pending Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, [5] filed by TMBC, is ruled upon by the Court. If the Court denies some or all of TMBC's Motion to Dismiss, then TMBC's responses to plaintiff's discovery requests are due no later than fourteen days after such ruling. In light of the stay, the Motion for Extension is denied as moot.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff is a citizen of Florida and claims to have numerous disabilities, including a “qualified disability” within the meaning of 28 C.F.R. § 36.104.[6] Plaintiff claims that TMBC is a “public accommodation covered by Title III” of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) because it owns and/or operates a Cabela's (“Cabela's”) store located in Gonzales, Louisiana, which Plaintiff claims to have personally visited on May 8, 2018.[7] On December 9, 2018, Plaintiff filed his original Complaint[8] in this Court, alleging Cabela's violates the ADA[9] because Plaintiff encountered various barriers to access for mobility-impaired individuals while visiting the store.[10]Due to those barriers, Plaintiff contends that TMBC denied him full and equal access and enjoyment of Cabela's services, and also failed to make reasonable accommodations for him.[11] In connection with these claims, Plaintiff seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, costs, and attorney's fees.[12]

         On February 6, 2019, TMBC filed a Motion to Dismiss (the “First MTD”) seeking to dismiss Plaintiff's original complaint for failure to state a claim and lack of standing pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) and (6), and, alternatively, for a more definite statement pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(e).[13] In response, and pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(1)(B), Plaintiff filed his Verified First Amended Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief (“Amended Complaint”), [14] which is currently the operative Complaint in this matter. The Amended Complaint sets forth additional details in support of Plaintiff's claims in an attempt to address the arguments raised in TMBC's First MTD, including Plaintiff's “occasional” use of a mobility-assisting device, his “regular[]” travels to Louisiana and his plans to return to the Gonzales area in 2019, his intent to return to Cabela's to verify ADA-compliance after he is notified of “remediation of discriminatory conditions, ” and his status as an ADA “tester” who inspects facilities for accessibility by disabled individuals.[15]

         On March 7, 2019, TMBC filed another Motion to Dismiss (the “Second MTD”), seeking to dismiss the Amended Complaint. TMBC also filed the instant Motion to Stay.[16] The Second MTD seeks dismissal of Plaintiff's Amended Complaint on the grounds that Plaintiff lacks standing to seek injunctive relief because Plaintiff failed to allege he suffered an injury in fact (and in particular, has testified in other proceedings that he does not use a wheelchair), [17] failed to allege that he faces a realistic threat of future harm, and/or failed to allege his intent to return to Cabela's.[18] TMBC contends that Plaintiff's lack of standing deprives this Court of subject matter jurisdiction.[19] According to TMBC, a stay of discovery is warranted because, if the Court grants the Second MTD, Plaintiff's claims will be disposed of, thus discovery will be unnecessary, and “discovery should particularly not take place when the question of this Court's jurisdiction has been raised.”[20] TMBC's April 4, 2019 Motion for Extension to respond to discovery was filed pending a ruling on the Motion to Stay.[21]

         In response, Plaintiff contends that Plaintiff's memorandum opposing the Second MTD and the Amended Complaint establish that Plaintiff was harmed by architectural barriers at Cabela's and that Plaintiff intends to return to Gonzales once the barriers have been remediated, which also establishes Plaintiff's standing to sue.[22] Plaintiff contends that TMBC is not automatically entitled a stay of discovery and TMBC's request for a stay is actually a request for a Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(c) protective order, which must be supported by a showing of good cause and a consideration of TMBC's likelihood of success on the Second MTD and the likelihood of prejudice.[23] Plaintiff contends that his allegations are sufficient to survive TMBC's Second MTD, such that a stay would unnecessarily delay this matter.[24]

         II. Law and Analysis

         Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(c) allows the Court to issue a protective order after a showing of good cause “to protect a party or person from annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or expense.”[25] Plaintiff correctly notes that Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(c)(1)'s “good cause” requirement indicates that the party seeking a protective order has the burden “to show the necessity of its issuance, which contemplates a particular and specific demonstration of fact as distinguished from stereotyped and conclusory statements.”[26] “A trial court has broad discretion and inherent power to stay discovery until preliminary questions that may dispose of the case are determined.”[27]

         Article III of the United States Constitution limits the jurisdiction of federal courts to the adjudication of “cases” and “controversies.”[28] The case or controversy requirement mandates that the plaintiff have standing to initiate the action.[29] “In essence the question of standing is whether the litigant is entitled to have the court decide the merits of the dispute or of particular issues.”[30]

         The absence of standing deprives the court of subject matter jurisdiction.[31] Whether the plaintiff has standing is “the threshold question in every federal case, determining the power of the court to entertain the suit.”[32]

         Considering the foregoing, good cause exists to stay discovery until the Court issues a ruling on the second MTD, which challenges Plaintiff's Article III standing to bring his claims- a threshold issue.[33] Sai v. Department of Homeland Security, [34] cited by Plaintiff, supports a stay in this case. The Sai court entered a stay of discovery pending a ruling on dispositive motions, holding:

Plaintiff is correct that courts often permit discovery while motions to dismiss and other threshold motions are pending. But it is equally true that courts, including this Court, have often stayed discovery ‘while a motion that would be thoroughly dispositive of the claims in the Complaint is pending.' Institut Pasteur v. Chiron Corp., 315 F.Supp.2d 33, 37 (D.D.C. 2004) (citation omitted). Courts ‘are vested with broad discretion to manage the conduct of discovery,' Chavous v. Dist. of Columbia Fin. Responsibility and Mgmt. Assistance Auth., 201 F.R.D. 1, 2 (D.D.C. 2001), with the ultimate goal of ensuring the ‘just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action and proceeding,' Fed.R.Civ.P. 1. In that vein, ‘[a] stay of discovery pending the determination of a dispositive motion ‘is an eminently logical means to prevent wasting time and effort of all concerned, and to make the most efficient use of judicial resources.' Chavous, 201 F.R.D. at 2 (citation omitted).[35]

         III. Conclusion

         Accordingly, for the reasons set forth herein, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that the Motion to Stay Discovery, [36] filed by Defendant TMBC, L.L.C., is GRANTED.

         IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that, if claims remain after the Court's ruling on the pending Motion to Dismiss, TMBC's responses to plaintiff's discovery requests will be due no later than fourteen days after such ruling.

         IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Motion for Extension of Discovery Response Deadlines[37] is DENIED AS MOOT in light of the order ...


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