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Kennicott v. Sandia Corp.

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

September 20, 2018

LISA A. KENNICOTT, LISA A. GARCIA, SUE C. PHELPS, and JUDI DOOLITTLE, on behalf of themselves and a class of those similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
SANDIA CORPORATION d/b/a SANDIA NATIONAL LABORATORIES, Defendant.

          ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO STAY DISCOVERY

          GREGORY J. FOURATT UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Sandia Corporation's (“Sandia's”) “Motion to Stay Discovery Pending Ruling on Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Class Claims” (“Motion to Stay”) [ECF No. 156]. The Motion to Stay is fully briefed. See ECF Nos. 158 (Plaintiffs' Response) and 166 (Sandia's Reply).[1] Because Sandia has not met its difficult burden of justifying the suspension of the discovery process that has been ongoing for more than a year, the Court will DENY the motion and require that discovery proceed as ordered.

         I. SUMMARY OF PARTIES' ARGUMENTS

         In its Motion to Stay, Sandia asserts that the temporary stay it requests will advance three principal purposes: (1) promoting judicial economy, (2) minimizing potentially unnecessary litigation costs, and (3) increasing the possibility of settlement. Def.'s Mot. to Stay 1, ECF No. 156. Sandia contends that a temporary stay pending a decision on its “Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Class Claims” (“Motion to Dismiss”) [ECF No. 155] is justified because Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint “abandons Plaintiffs' original class claims and fails to plausibly assert any new claims that can satisfy the requirements for proceeding as a class action.” Id. at 3. Sandia also argues that the amount of documentary and digital discovery it already has produced will ensure that Plaintiffs are not prejudiced by the granting of the stay. Id. at 5. In sum, Sandia posits that granting a temporary stay for the purposes it has identified will “further the ‘just, speedy and inexpensive determination' of this matter in accordance with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 1.” Id. at 4.

         Plaintiffs object to the stay for several reasons. First, they predict that Sandia is not likely to prevail on its Motion to Dismiss. Pls.' Resp. to Mot. to Stay (“Pls.' Resp.”) 1, ECF No. 158. They also assert that Sandia's Motion to Dismiss does not seek dismissal of Plaintiffs' disparate treatment class claim, but only the disparate impact class claim, a circumstance that will require class discovery to proceed irrespective of the decision on the Motion to Dismiss. Id. Plaintiffs next contend that Sandia has not claimed nor demonstrated any undue burden associated with ongoing class discovery. Id. Rather, according to Plaintiffs, the requested stay is merely the latest salvo in Sandia's long-running campaign of delaying disclosure. Id. Finally and overall, Plaintiffs contend that the requested stay will actually frustrate the three purposes proffered by Sandia as reasons for granting the stay. Id., passim.

         In reply, Sandia argues that Plaintiffs are misconstruing its Motion to Dismiss, insisting that its motion seeks dismissal of all class claims in the Amended Complaint. Def.'s Reply to Pls.' Resp. to Def.'s Mot. to Stay 2 (“Def.'s Reply”), ECF No. 166. In addition, Sandia repeats that Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint jettisoned the principal legal theory on which this putative class action was originally based. Id. at 4. This turn of events, according to Sandia, warrants a temporary stay of discovery until the Court can decide whether Plaintiffs' change in legal theory is fatal to their class claims. Id.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD FOR PROTECTIVE ORDERS

         The parties do not quarrel with the axiom that federal trial courts have broad discretion to regulate discovery. See, e.g., Morales v. E.D. Etnyre & Co., 229 F.R.D. 661, 662 (D.N.M. 2005) (Browning, J.). Rule 26(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that, upon a showing of good cause, a court may “issue an order to protect a party or person from annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or expense, ” which may include forbidding or suspending disclosure or discovery. Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(c)(1)(A). Accord Miller v. Regents of the Univ. of Colo., No. 98-1012, 1999 WL 506520, at *12 (10th Cir. July 19, 1999) (unpublished table decision) (reasoning that “[t]he district court is in the best position to weigh these variables and determine the appropriate limits because, unlike an appellate court, the district court has the ability to view firsthand the progression of the case, the litigants, and the impact of discovery on parties and nonparties”).

         “It is the party seeking the protective order who has the burden to show good cause for a protective order.” Velasquez v. Frontier Med. Inc., 229 F.R.D. 197, 200 (D.N.M. 2005) (Browning, J.); accord Anderson Living Tr. v. WPX Energy Prod., LLC, No. CIV 12-0040 JB/KBM, 2013 WL 5934394, at *3 (D.N.M. Oct. 17, 2013) (unpublished) (Browning, J.). The party seeking the protective order must submit “a particular and specific demonstration of fact, as distinguished from stereotyped and conclusory statements.” Gulf Oil Co. v. Bernard, 452 U.S. 89, 102 n.16 (internal quotation marks omitted).

         III. LEGAL STANDARD FOR STAYS OF DISCOVERY

         A court has broad discretion in managing its docket, which includes staying all or portions of a civil case. Pueblo of Pojoaque v. New Mexico, 214 F.Supp.3d 1028, 1084 (D.N.M. 2016) (Browning, J.) (citing Clinton v. Jones, 520 U.S. 681, 706 (1997) (citing Landis v. N. Am. Co., 299 U.S. 248, 254 (1936)).

[T]he power to stay proceedings is incidental to the power inherent in every court to control the disposition of the causes on its docket with economy of time and effort for itself, for counsel, and for litigants. How this can best be done calls for the exercise of judgment, which must weigh competing interests and maintain an even balance.

Landis, 299 U.S. at 254-55. Whether to stay discovery depends to a substantial degree on the facts and procedural progress of each individual case. Anderson, 2013 WL 5934394 at *5; Swepi, LP v. Mora County, No. CIV 14-0035 JB/SCY, 2014 WL 7474084 at *16 (D.N.M. Dec. 19, 2014) (Browning, J.).

         The party seeking a stay faces a “difficult burden.” Pueblo of Pojoaque, 214 F.Supp.3d at 1084 (citing Clinton v. Jones, 520 U.S. at 708 (“The proponent of a stay bears the burden of establishing its need.”)). “In particular, where a movant seeks relief that would delay court proceedings by other litigants he must make a strong showing of necessity because the relief would severely affect the rights of others.” Commodity Futures Trading Comm'n v. Chilcott Portfolio Mgmt., Inc.,713 F.2d 1477, 1484 (10th Cir. 1983). “The underlying principle clearly is that ‘[t]he right to ...


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