United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
MATTER is before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Stay
of Discovery (Doc. 19). The Court has reviewed the
motion, the briefs submitted by the parties and the relevant
authorities, and finds that the motion is well taken and will
brings this action for damages pursuant to 18 U.S.C. §
1983 for alleged violations of his constitutional rights in
connection with a June 29, 2014 search and seizure of his
person. Defendants have countered with a motion for summary
judgment (Doc. 18) in which they assert entitlement
to qualified immunity. Defendants have now filed the instant
motion to stay discovery until such time that the presiding
judge issues a decision on the motion for summary judgment.
immunity is not only a defense to liability but also
entitlement to immunity from suit and other demands of
litigation. Discovery should not be allowed until the court
resolves the threshold question whether the law was clearly
established at the time the allegedly unlawful action
occurred.” Workman v. Jordan, 958 F.2d 332,
336 (10th Cir. 1992) (citation omitted). Accordingly, in
cases where qualified immunity is asserted in a dispositive
motion, the movant is ordinarily entitled to a stay of
discovery until the qualified immunity question is resolved.
See Jiron v. City of Lakewood, 392 F.3d 410, 414
(10th Cir. 2004); Workman, 958 F.2d at 336.
reaffirming its long-held view that discovery should be
stayed when qualified immunity is asserted, the United States
Supreme Court in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662
(2009), reasoned as follows:
The basic thrust of the qualified-immunity doctrine is to
free officials from the concerns of litigation, including
“avoidance of disruptive discovery” . . . There
are serious and legitimate reasons for this. If a government
official is to devote time to his or her duties, and to the
formulation of sound and responsible policies, it is
counterproductive to require the substantial diversion that
is attendant to participating in litigation and making
informed decisions as to how it should proceed. Litigation,
though necessary to ensure that officials comply with the
law, exacts heavy costs in terms of efficiency and
expenditure of valuable time and resources that might
otherwise be directed to the proper execution of the work of
the government . . . .
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 685. Indeed, the Court concludes
that long standing law establishes that generally Defendants
are entitled to a qualified immunity determination before
undertaking the burdens of discovery and litigation.
maintains, however, that the general rule of staying
discovery should not apply in this case given its procedural
posture. Plaintiff Soza was arrested and charged with the
crime of being a felon in possession of a firearm. See
United States v. Soza, 14cr3754 JAP. However, the Tenth
Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the denial of Mr.
Soza's motion to suppress in the criminal case and
reasoned as follows:
handcuffing Defendant was not reasonably necessary to protect
the officers' personal safety and to maintain the status
quo during the course of the stop. As a result, the officers
unlawfully arrested Defendant in the absence of probable
cause when they began to handcuff him, and the evidence
collected by the officers after that point-the blood and
glass on his person; his statement that he broke into the
condominium because he “heard something”; and the
flashlight, syringe, knife, and loaded firearm found pursuant
to the searches of his body-must be suppressed.
United States v. Soza, 14cr3754 JAP, Doc.
87-1 at 12. Plaintiff maintains that this finding of
violation of Soza's Fourth Amendment rights in the
context of the criminal case amounts to a “binding
holding” such that discovery need not be stayed in this
civil action. See Doc. 24 at 2.
Plaintiff is correct that the Tenth Circuit's decision
constitutes binding authority here that a constitutional
violation occurred, he ignores the second prong of the
qualified immunity inquiry - whether Defendants' actions
violated clearly established law. Pearson v.
Callahan, 555 U.S. 223 (2009). Recent decisions from the
Supreme Court and the Tenth Circuit
reiterate the longstanding principle that “clearly
established law” should not be defined “at a high
level of generality.” Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563
U.S. 731, 742 (2011). As this Court explained decades ago,
the clearly established law must be
“particularized” to the facts of the case.
Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 640 (1987).
Otherwise, “[p]laintiffs would be able to convert the
rule of qualified immunity . . . into a rule of virtually
unqualified liability simply by alleging violation of
extremely abstract rights.” Id., at 639.
White v. Pauly, 137 S.Ct. 548, 552 (2017); see
also Pauly v. White, 874 F.3d 1197, 1223
(10th Cir. 2017) (on remand finding that
“[b]ecause there is no case ‘close enough on
point to make the unlawfulness of [Officer White's]
actions apparent, ' we conclude that Officer White is
entitled to qualified immunity.”) (citations omitted).
the Court sees no reason to depart from the general rule that
once a defendant files a dispositive motion asserting
qualified immunity, discovery must be stayed. See
Jiron, 392 F.3d at 414 (reasoning that because qualified
immunity is an entitlement not to face the burdens of
litigation, “[e]ven pretrial matters such as discovery
are to be avoided if possible”); Workman, 985
F.2d at 336 (concluding that discovery “should not be
allowed” until the court makes a requested qualified
immunity determination). Moreover, Plaintiff fails to
identify any discovery needed to respond to the motion for
summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds.
Wherefore,IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Defendants'
Motion to Stay Discovery (Doc. 19) is granted, and discovery
is stayed in this matter pending resolution of