United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S
MOTION FOR LIMITED DISCOVERY
STEPHAN M. VIDMAR UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for
Limited Discovery [Doc. 30], filed on July 3, 2018. Defendant
Kenneth Lacey responded on July 17, 2018. [Doc. 35].
Plaintiff did not file a reply, and the time for doing so has
passed. The Court heard oral argument on October 18, 2018.
[Doc. 53]. Having considered the briefing, argument, relevant
portions of the record, and relevant authorities, and being
otherwise fully advised in the premises, the Court finds that
Plaintiff's motion is well-taken and will be GRANTED.
April 3, 2016, Plaintiff was arrested and booked into the
Curry County Detention Center (“CCDC”) in Clovis,
New Mexico. [Doc. 1] at 2. He was placed into the
“alpha pod, ” the maximum-security pod of the
facility, despite being classified as “low, ” or
not showing signs of violence or disruptive behavior.
Id. He alleges that on April 8, 2016, two inmates
hid in the showers to avoid returning to their cells on the
bottom tier of alpha pod for lockdown following their
recreation time. Id. at 3. Plaintiff alleges that
the two inmates then went to the top tier of alpha pod, which
was not on lockdown, and attacked Plaintiff in his cell.
Id. at 3-4. Plaintiff alleges the attack lasted more
than half an hour. Id. at 4. Plaintiff alleges that
“[i]t is clear” from the surveillance video of
the incident that an attack is occurring inside his cell.
filed the instant lawsuit against the Board of County
Commissioners of Curry County (“County”) and
Kenneth Lacey, a detention officer, on March 8, 2018,
asserting claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and related
state-law claims. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Lacey, who
was assigned to the alpha pod at the time of the attack,
failed to check each individual bottom-tier cell during
lockdown and failed to check the shower area. Id. at
3. Had he done so, Plaintiff alleges, he would have
discovered that the inmates who attacked him were not in
their cells for lockdown. Id. Plaintiff further
alleges that Lacey left the alpha pod while the top tier was
unlocked and neither he nor any other CCDC employee monitored
the pod through video or otherwise after Lacey left.
Id. He alleges that Lacey's actions and
CCDC's policies created the unsafe conditions at the jail
that led to his attack.
Court entered an Initial Scheduling Order [Doc. 12] on May 2,
2018, and the parties held their discovery conference
pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(f). On May 23, 2018, Plaintiff
served an interrogatory on the County asking it to
“[i]dentify and explain the role of any person other
than Kenneth Lacey who was tasked with monitoring alpha pod
during the incident.” [Doc. 30] at 1. On June 22, 2018,
one day before the discovery response was due, Defendant
Lacey filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings and for
qualified immunity. [Doc. 22]. Defendants concurrently filed
a Motion to Stay Discovery pending resolution of Defendant
Lacey's qualified immunity defense. [Doc. 23]. The
Court granted the Motion to Stay on June 26, 2018, without
waiting on responsive briefing from Plaintiff. [Doc. 26].
thereafter, Plaintiff filed the instant motion requesting
that the Court lift the discovery stay in part. [Doc. 30].
Plaintiff seeks to complete discovery regarding the
identification of any other person who was responsible for
monitoring alpha pod during the incident. He asserts that
this discovery is necessary so he may learn of any other
culpable parties and move to add them as defendants within
the applicable statute of limitations, which he asserts will
expire “within the next ten months.” Id.
at 1. Plaintiff maintains that he will suffer irreparable
injury to the vindication of his constitutional rights if he
is unable to complete this discovery and timely join
additional parties. Id. at 3. Plaintiff further
points out that he is requesting information from the County,
which does not have a qualified immunity defense, and not
from Defendant Lacey. Id. at 3-4. Finally, Plaintiff
suggests that the qualified immunity motion is “likely
to be denied on all grounds.” Id. at 4. In a
response filed July 17, 2018, Defendants maintain that
Supreme Court and Tenth Circuit precedent favor staying
discovery pending resolution of qualified immunity defenses,
and the limited circumstances under which courts have
permitted discovery to proceed are not applicable here. [Doc.
doctrine of qualified immunity “protects government
officials ‘from liability for civil damages insofar as
their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory
or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would
have known.'” Pearson v. Callahan, 555
U.S. 223, 231 (2009) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald,
457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982)). It “is an immunity from
suit rather than a mere defense to liability.”
Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 526 (1985). It
therefore protects officials not only from having to stand
trial, but also from having to bear the burdens associated
with litigation, including pretrial discovery. Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 685-86 (2009); Workman v.
Jordan, 958 F.2d 332, 335 (10th Cir. 1992).
in the Tenth Circuit, a defendant is generally entitled to a
stay of discovery when he files a motion for qualified
immunity. Workman, 958 F.2d at 336 (“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.”). The policies
underlying the stay require that all discovery in the case be
stayed, including as to other parties and claims that are
unrelated to the question of qualified immunity.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 685-86; Herrera v. Santa Fe
Pub. Sch., 11-cv-0422 JB/KBM, 2012 WL 6846393, at *10
(D.N.M. Dec. 20, 2012); Morrow v. State of New
Mexico, 15-cv-0026 WJ/WPL, [Doc. 37] at 3 (D.N.M. June
15, 2015) (“Standard practice in this District is to
stay discovery-as to all defendants-when the defense of
qualified immunity has been raised.”).
qualified immunity doctrine seeks to strike a balance
“between the interests in vindication of citizens'
constitutional rights and in public officials' effective
performance of their duties.” Anderson v.
Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 639 (1987); cf. Plummer v.
Quinn, No. 07 Civ 6154 (WHP), 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS
9951, at *4, 2008 WL 383507, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 12, 2008)
(“The purpose of the qualified immunity doctrine is to
‘strike a fair balance between (1) the need to provide
a realistic avenue for vindication of constitutional
guarantees, and (2) the need to protect public officials who
are required to exercise their discretion and the related
public interest in encouraging the vigorous exercise of
official authority.'” (quoting Jemmott v.
Coughlin, 85 F.3d 61, 66 (2d Cir. 1996))). The qualified
immunity doctrine should protect an official from
“broad-reaching” discovery, but not necessarily
all discovery. Crawford-El v. Britton, 523 U.S. 574,
593 n.14 (1998); see Martin v. City of Albuquerque,
219 F.Supp.3d 1081, 1087 (D.N.M. 2015) (“[O]fficials
are not protected from all discovery, ‘but only from
discovery which is either avoidable or overly
broad.'” (quoting Garrett v. Stratman, 254
F.3d 946, 953 (10th Cir. 2001))).
example, a plaintiff confronted with a summary judgment
motion raising a qualified immunity defense may be entitled
to discovery in order to develop facts essential to opposing
that motion and defense. Crawford-El, 523 U.S. at
593 n.14 (“[L]imited discovery may sometimes be
necessary before the district court can resolve a motion for
summary judgment based on qualified immunity[.]”). The
general rule barring discovery pending resolution of a
qualified immunity defense is not absolute, however.
Government officials are not protected from all discovery,
“but only from discovery which is either avoidable or
overly broad.” Garrett, 254 F.3d at 953
(internal quotation marks omitted). However, this exception
“is not a license for a fishing expedition.”
Lewis v. City of Fort Collins, 903 F.2d 752, 759
(10th Cir. 1990). “It is insufficient for the party
opposing the [stay] to merely assert that additional
discovery is required to demonstrate a factual dispute or
that evidence supporting a party's allegation is in the
opposing party's hands.” Id. (internal
quotation marks omitted); see also Torres v. Madrid,
16-cv-1163 LF/KK, [Doc. 40] at 3 (D.N.M. June 1, 2017)
(rejecting motion for limited discovery to take two
depositions because the plaintiff “does not even
attempt to demonstrate how the discovery ‘will enable
[her] to rebut [defendants'] showing of objective
reasonableness' in their Motion to Dismiss.”).
Plaintiff does not seek discovery in order to adequately
respond to Defendant Lacey's qualified immunity motion.
Indeed, no discovery is necessary to resolve a motion that
merely “tests the legal sufficiency of a
complaint.” Plaintiff nevertheless asks the Court to
permit limited discovery in the interest of fairness.
Plaintiff maintains that the discovery he seeks is essential
to providing him a “realistic avenue for vindication of
constitutional guarantees, ” such that it ...