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Dalton v. Town of Silver City, ex rel. Silver City Police Department

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

March 29, 2019

KARRI DALTON as the Personal Representative of the Estate of NIKKI BASCOM, deceased, and Next Friend to M.B., a minor child, and A.C., a minor child, Plaintiffs,



         Pending before the Court is the “Opposed Motion to Stay Pending Resolution of Qualified Immunity Appeal” (“Motion”) [ECF 113], filed by Defendants Town of Silver City, Ed Reynolds, and Ricky Villalobos. The Motion is fully briefed. See ECFs 119 (response), 120 (reply). Because the general rule is that a district court stays all proceedings in a case in which any defendant has taken an interlocutory appeal of the denial of qualified immunity, and there being no sufficiently persuasive reason to deviate from that rule in the instant case, the Court will GRANT the motion.[1]

         Relevant Procedural History

         In a Memorandum Opinion and Order [ECF 110] filed March 7, 2019, Chief Judge Johnson granted in part and denied in part the Motion for Partial Summary Judgment filed by Defendants Town of Silver City, Ed Reynolds, and Ricky Villalobos [ECF 59]. As part of the motion, Defendants Reynolds and Villalobos sought the dismissal of certain equal protection and due process claims against them on the basis of qualified immunity. See ECF 59 at 28-31. The Memorandum Opinion and Order denied dismissal with respect to the equal protection claim and in so doing rejected the qualified immunity defense. See ECF 110 at 20-22.

         On March 20, 2019, Defendants Reynolds and Villalobos filed a Notice of Appeal [ECF 112] of the Memorandum Opinion and Order to the extent it denied them qualified immunity on the equal protection claim. On the same day, Defendants Town of Silver City, Reynolds, and Villalobos filed the instant Motion, in which they seek an order staying all proceedings as against all defendants in this case.

         Defendants' Motion

         In their Motion, the Silver City Defendants (hereafter “Defendants”) remind the reader that the denial of qualified immunity is an immediately appealable order. See Mot. to Stay 1-2. Defendants then contend that their appeal “relates to the entire action. . . and divests the District Court of jurisdiction to proceed with any part of the action until the qualified immunity appeal is resolved.” Id. at 2 (citing Stewart v. Donges, 915 F.2d 572, 576 (10th Cir. 1990)) (internal quotations omitted) (emphasis added). Defendants conclude with a request global in scope: “Given the nature of the qualified immunity defense, these Defendants are entitled to take an immediate interlocutory appeal, and as such, the Silver City Defendants request that this case be stayed while that appeal is pending.” Id. at 3 (emphasis added).

         Plaintiff's Response

         In opposing the Motion, Plaintiff makes three principal arguments. First, she asserts that the interlocutory appeal is frivolous, an infirmity that should result in the district court retaining rather than losing jurisdiction over the particular claim being appealed.[2] Pl.'s Resp. 1-2. Second, Plaintiff emphasizes that the only defendants who are even eligible to appeal are the individual defendants - Reynolds and Villalobos - whose qualified immunity invocations were denied. Consequently, the remaining claims against all remaining defendants, particularly the Town of Silver City, remain pending and are and will be unaffected by the ongoing appeal or its eventual result. Id. at 2-4. Finally, Plaintiff contends that the Court should deny the stay on the basis of judicial estoppel because Defendants' counsel agreed to litigate an unrelated discovery issue during the originally-imposed stay in these proceedings. Id. at 4-6.

         Defendants' Reply

         Relying heavily on Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009) and its progeny, Defendants argue that the great weight of authority in this district is that an entire case should be stayed when an issue of qualified immunity is pending before this Court or on interlocutory appeal. Defs.' Reply 2-5. Defendants point out that the vast majority of cases cited in Plaintiff's opposition predate the Iqbal decision and its clear instruction that issues of qualified immunity are important enough such that discovery should be stayed until the issues are resolved. Id. at 2-5. In addition, Defendants specifically deny that the interlocutory appeal is frivolous, id. at 5-11, or that they are barred by judicial estoppel from requesting the stay. Id. at 11-12.

         Legal Standard

         “Qualified immunity balances two important interests - the need to hold public officials accountable when they exercise power irresponsibly and the need to shield officials from harassment, distraction, and liability when they perform their duties reasonably.” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009). The Supreme Court has repeatedly highlighted the broad protection that this defense provides and has stressed that it protects officials not only from having to stand trial, but from having to bear the burdens attendant to litigation, including pretrial discovery. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 685; see also Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 200 (2001). Because qualified immunity protects against the burdens of discovery as well as trial, the Supreme Court has also emphasized that trial courts should resolve the issue before discovery if at all possible. See Siegert v. Gilley, 500 U.S. 226, 231-33 (1991); Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818-19 (1982) (“Until this threshold immunity question is resolved, discovery should not be allowed.”); accord Jones v. City and Cnty. of Denver, 854 F.2d 1206, 1211 (10th Cir. 1988).

         As a consequence, the Tenth Circuit holds that when defendants file a dispositive motion based on qualified immunity, they are ordinarily entitled to a stay of discovery. Jiron v. City of Lakewood, 392 F.3d 410, 414 (10th Cir. 2004); Workman v. Jordan,958 F.2d 332, 336 (10th Cir. 1992). Moreover, once a single defendant raises the issue of qualified immunity in a ...

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