United States District Court, D. Columbia
December 2, 2005.
ESTATE OF MIKAL R. GAITHER, by and through Pearl Gaither, Personal Representative, Plaintiff,
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: COLLEEN KOLLAR-KOTELLY, District Judge
Presently before the Court is  Plaintiff's Motion to Lift
the Stay in the above-captioned case, and  Plaintiff's
Supplemental Motion to Lift the Stay. Upon a consideration of
Plaintiff's motions, the record adduced by the parties as to the
events surrounding this case, and a searching examination of the
relevant case law, the Court shall exercise its discretion, deny
both of Plaintiff's motions, and maintain the discovery stay in
this case until the completion of criminal proceedings relevant
to the events surrounding Plaintiff's claims.
Plaintiff Pearl Gaither, mother and personal representative of
the Estate of Mikal R. Gaither, filed a Complaint in the
above-captioned action on July 1, 2003, against Defendants the
District of Columbia; Odie Washington, Director of the D.C.
Department of Corrections; Marvin L. Brown, Warden of the D.C.
Jail; and Dennis Harrison, Associate Warden of Operations of the
D.C. Jail. See Compl. at 1. In its amended form, Plaintiff's
Complaint seeks compensation from Defendants for the stabbing
death of her son, Mikal R. Gaither, which occurred while he was
in the custody of the D.C. Jail. Plaintiff's Amended Complaint
brings claims for negligence (Count I), wrongful death (Count
II), and violation of constitutional rights pursuant to Title
42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count III). See generally Am. Compl.
Before the commencement of discovery in this case, Defendants
moved with Plaintiff's consent to stay further proceedings in
this case "until completion of the related criminal case." See
Defs.' Mot. for Stay at 1. On October 8, 2003, the Court granted
Defendants' motion, staying this case "until further notice from
the parties." See Gaither v. Dist. of Columbia, Civ. No.
03-1458 (D.D.C. Oct. 8, 2003) (Minute Order). Having heard
nothing from the parties for nearly two years, the Court on July
11, 2005 ordered "that the parties in the above-captioned action
are to provide the Court with a Status Report regarding the
progress of this case by Monday, August 8, 2005, including a
projection of the proper time to lift the `stay' in this case."
Gaither, Civ. No. 03-1458 (D.D.C. July 11, 2005) (Minute
The Court's July 11, 2005 Order generated an unexpected flurry
of filings by the parties: specifically, Plaintiff's Status
Report and Motion to Lift the Stay, Defendants' Opposition,
Plaintiff's Supplemental Motion to Lift the Stay, and Defendant's
Supplemental Opposition. In short, the Court was initially
informed that a criminal trial related to this case was scheduled
in D.C. Superior Court for November 7, 2005. See Defs.' Status
Rep. at 2; Pl.'s Mot. to Lift Stay at 5. In this criminal trial,
the Government is bringing murder charges against criminal
defendants Matthew Ingram and Delonte Kent, alleging that they
stabbed Plaintiff's decedent to prevent him from giving testimony
against them in their criminal trials. See Defs.' Status Rep.
at 2. However, the criminal trial of Messrs. Ingram and Kent has
now been continued to February 13, 2006. See Pl.'s Suppl. Mot.
to Lift Stay at 1; Defs.' Suppl. Opp'n at 1. Due to the lengthy passage of time since the initial stay in
this case, Plaintiff withdraws her consent to the stay and now
requests that the Court lift the previously agreed-to stay on
discovery. See Pl.'s Mot. to Lift Stay at 3. The only
justification offered by Plaintiff for the lifting of the stay so
that discovery may commence in this action is her assertion that
"[e]ach day the stay on discovery remains in effect increases the
risk to plaintiff of memories clouding and documents being lost
that would show the District's negligence in connection with
Mikal Gaither's 2002 death." Pl.'s Suppl. Mot. to Lift Stay at 2.
Defendants oppose Plaintiff's motion on multiple grounds: (1)
the U.S. Attorney will be calling multiple inmates as witnesses
in the relevant criminal case, and lifting the stay on discovery
in this case before the trial is completed could lead to the
disclosure of the government witnesses' identities and possible
retaliation against them in an effort to block their testimony,
Defs.' Status Rep. at 2; (2) the transcript obtained from the
criminal trial might resolve many of the issues that would
otherwise be a focal point during discovery in this case, saving
time, effort, and money in the eventual discovery process, and
possibly speeding up Plaintiff's ultimate recovery in this case,
Defs,' Suppl. Opp'n at 2; (3) discovery in this case would have
an adverse impact on the criminal trial and possibly injure the
integrity of murder prosecutions by complicating the tasks of the
U.S. Attorney and forcing likely witnesses to give detailed
depositions in a civil case before issues of criminal liability
are resolved, id. at 1-2; (4) Gina Powell, the homicide
detective assigned to the case, indicated that the commencement
of discovery would be disruptive and not particularly effective,
as "[a]ll or large parts" of the physical evidence or MPD files
"would likely be protected by the investigatory privilege,"
Defs.' Status Rep. at 2; and (5) the wait of three additional
months until February 2006 is "not too long to wait to advance the interests of [a] fair trial," Defs.'
Suppl. Opp'n at 1.
In response, Plaintiff argues that the kind of blanket stay of
discovery effectuated by consent on October 8, 2003, is now
unjustified, as many of Defendants' arguments are inapplicable.
See Pl.'s Mot. to Lift Stay at 3-5. Specifically, Plaintiff
contends that (1) only a tiny fraction of the evidence that
Plaintiff will seek in discovery would "touch on the limited
materials the District wishes to protect," Pl.'s Mot. to Lift
Stay at 3; (2) Defendants would not likely satisfy the required
elements to establish protection pursuant to investigative
privilege, id. at 4; (3) discovery could proceed on grounds far
removed from those that would otherwise implicate witnesses in
the criminal trial until the completion of the trial, id. at
4-5; and (4) it is possible that the criminal trial could be
postponed rather than proceeding on February 13, 2006 as
currently scheduled, Pl.'s Suppl. Mot. to Lift Stay at 1-2.
It is well-established that a district court has discretionary
authority to stay a civil proceeding pending the outcome of a
parallel criminal case when the interests of justice so require.
See United States v. Kordel, 397 U.S. 1, 12 n. 27,
90 S.Ct. 763, 25 L.Ed.2d 1 (1970); Landis v. North Am. Co.,
299 U.S. 248, 254, 57 S.Ct. 163, 81 L.Ed. 153 (1936). This authority
allows a court to "stay civil proceedings, postpone civil
discovery or impose protective orders and conditions when the
interests of justice seem to require such action." Sec. &
Exchange Comm'n v. Dresser Indus. Inc., 628 F.2d 1368, 1375
(D.C. Cir. 1980) (en banc), cert. denied, 449 U.S. 993,
101 S.Ct. 529, 66 L.Ed.2d 289 (1980). Courts are afforded this
discretion because the denial of a stay could impair a party's
Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, extend
criminal discovery beyond the limits set forth in Federal Rule of
Criminal Procedure 16(b), expose the defense's theory to the prosecution in advance
of trial, or otherwise prejudice the criminal case. Id. at
However, "[n]othing in the Constitution or the laws requires a
stay of civil proceedings pending the outcome of parallel
criminal proceedings." Barry Farm Resident Council, Inc. v. U.S.
Dep't of the Navy, Civ. Nos. 96-1450, 96-1700 (HHG), 1997 WL
118412, at *1 (D.D.C. Feb. 18, 1997) (citing Dresser Indus.,
628 F.2d at 1375). As the D.C. Circuit recognized in Dresser,
The civil and regulatory laws of the United States
frequently overlap with the criminal laws, creating
the possibility of parallel civil and criminal
proceedings, either successive or simultaneous. In
the absence of substantial prejudice to the rights of
the parties involved, such parallel proceedings are
unobjectionable under our jurisprudence.
Dresser Indus., 628 F.2d at 1374. Importantly, "[t]he case for
staying civil proceedings is `a far weaker one' when `no
indictment has been returned.'" FSLIC v. Molinaro,
889 F.2d 899
, 903 (9th Cir. 1989) (quoting Dresser Indus.,
628 F.2d at 1376).
In determining whether to stay a civil proceeding pending the
outcome of a related criminal proceeding, courts within this
Circuit have customarily weighed the following factors: (1) the
interests of the plaintiff in proceeding with the civil
litigation as balanced against the prejudice to them if it is
delayed; (2) the public interest in the pending civil and
criminal investigation; (3) the interests of and burdens on the
defendant; (4) the interest of persons not parties to the civil
litigation; and (5) the convenience of the court in the
management of its cases and the efficient use of judicial
resources. Barry Farm Resident Council, 1997 WL 118412, at *1
(citing cases). "The court must make such determinations in the
light of the particular circumstances of the case." Dresser
Indus., 628 F.2d at 1375; see also Capital Eng'g & Mfg. Co. v. Weinberger, 695 F. Supp. 36, 41-42 (D.D.C. 1988) ("the court
must determine the extent to which the civil discovery threatens
the secrecy and integrity of criminal proceedings, and, if the
discovery could prove meddlesome, whether to stay discovery
entirely or to narrow the range of discovery so as not to impinge
upon the criminal proceedings").
Upon a consideration of the relevant factors, the Court in
exercising its discretion concludes that the present discovery
stay in this case should not be lifted, and therefore shall
deny Plaintiff's motions seeking such an action. Such a
conclusion is based upon the following reasoning:
1. Plaintiff's Interest
Both Plaintiff's Motion to Lift the Stay and Plaintiff's
Supplemental Motion rely on essentially one major argument:
Plaintiff's efforts at recovery in this civil suit will be
injured because "[e]ach day that the stay on discovery remains in
effect increases the risk to plaintiff of memories clouding and
documents being lost that would show the District's negligence in
connection with Mikal Gaither's 2002 death." Pl.'s Suppl. Mot. to
Lift Stay at 2. While Plaintiff certainly has an interest in the
"expeditious resolution" of her civil case, the Court finds that
Plaintiff's interest in this case is not as great as it could
First, unlike the situation outlined in Dresser Industries,
there has been an indictment secured against criminal defendants
Ingram and Kent, making the case for a stay a stronger one than
had that not been the case. See Dresser Indus.,
628 F.2d at 1376. Second, Plaintiff's decedent, Mikal Gaither, was murdered
on December 15, 2002. See Am. Compl. ¶ 7. Plaintiff did not
bring an action seeking recovery for his death until roughly
seven (7) months later, on July 1, 2003. See Compl. at 1.
Discovery in Plaintiff's case was stayed by Plaintiff's own consent on October 8, 2003, and the agreed-upon stay has remained
in place for roughly twenty-eight (28) months. As such, at this
point, nearly three (3) full years have passed since the date of
Mikal Gaither's death. With a criminal trial relating to Mr.
Gaither's death scheduled in Superior Court for February 13,
2006, only three (3) months remain until the likely commencement
and conclusion of that related case. Certainly, a delay of only
three (3) additional months, when roughly thirty-five (35) months
have already passed, is relatively insignificant, especially if
dimming memories are considered. Third, as noted by various
courts and focused upon by Defendants, a stay of discovery in a
civil case until the resolution of a criminal case may well later
streamline discovery in the civil case, rebounding to a
plaintiff's benefit. See, e.g., Bridgeport Harbour Place I, LLC
v. Ganim, 269 F. Supp. 2d 6, 9 (D.Conn. 2002); Trustees of
Plumbers & Pipefitters Nat'l Pension Fund v. Transworld Mech.,
Inc., 886 F. Supp. 1134, 1140 (S.D.N.Y. 1995); Rosenthal v.
Giuliani, Civ. No. 98-8408 (SWK), 2001 WL 121944 (S.D.N.Y. Feb.
9, 2001). Such streamlining is likely to be the case here, as the
transcript of the criminal trial may well resolve many of the
instant discovery issues in this case. Indeed, the trial may
establish, inter alia, a motive for Mr. Gaither's killers, the
weapon(s) used, the circumstances of his death, and the
supervision by Defendants afforded both to Mr. Gaither and his
killers. In its own way, the criminal trial itself by placing a
wide range of testimony relevant to this case under oath will
actually preserve testimony and prevent memories from clouding,
thereby obviating or allaying the central concerns of Plaintiff.
Based upon these considerations, the Court concludes that
Plaintiff's interest in lifting the present discovery staff and
commencing some form of discovery in this case prior to the
resolution of the scheduled criminal trial is not particularly
strong. 2. The Public Interest
The public interest favors Defendants for one central reason:
discovery in this civil case could impact the criminal case to a
significant degree. Discovery here could possibly implicate the
Fifth Amendment rights of Ingram and Kent, reveal confidential
sources and endanger witnesses for the anticipated criminal
trial, and divert the attention of the Government and its
officers from the preparation of the criminal case. Moreover,
starting discovery in this case might unintentionally aid the
indicted criminal defendants, who could obtain more information
through civil discovery than they are entitled to under the
criminal rules of discovery. See Twenty First Century Corp. v.
LaBianca, 801 F. Supp. 1007, 1010 (E.D.N.Y. 1992) ("Allowing
civil discovery to proceed . . . may afford defendants an
opportunity to which they are not entitled under the governing
criminal discvoery rules."). Ultimately, "[t]he public has an
interest in ensuring that the criminal discovery process is not
subverted." Rosenthal, 2001 WL 121944, at *2.
While Plaintiff suggests that these problems could be worked
around and discovery limited, courts have traditionally rejected
similar arguments. For instance, the Bridgeport Harbour court
During oral argument, the plaintiff suggested that
the more appropriate course of action would be to
deny the motion to stay, allow the government to
`monitor' discovery and have the court issue specific
sealing and protective orders. The court is
concerned, however, that such a compromise could
force the government to become proactive in objecting
to specific discovery requests and thereby
inadvertently be forced to reveal some aspect about
its case prematurely. Further, plaintiff's
recommendation would likely require further judicial
intervention. Under such circumstances, the court
finds that a complete stay of discovery offers "a
more efficient" resolution.
Bridgeport Harbour Place I, LLC, 269 F. Supp. 2d at 11.
Accordingly, the Court finds that the public interests favors a continued and complete discovery stay
in this civil action.
3. Interests of/Burden on Defendants
As noted previously, Defendants would be significantly burdened
by the lifting on the present stay and the commencement of
discovery in this case. Importantly, discovery in this case
before the criminal trial is completed could lead to the
disclosure of the government witnesses' identities and possible
retaliation against them in an effort to block their testimony.
Moreover, discovery in this case could have an adverse impact on
the criminal trial and possibly injure the integrity of murder
prosecutions by complicating the tasks of the U.S. Attorney and
forcing likely witnesses to give detailed depositions in a civil
case before issues of criminal liability are resolved. Likewise,
the already-apparent divergence in opinion between Plaintiff and
Defendants as to the scope of discovery makes it clear that the
lifting of the present stay would create a flood of
privilege-related litigation, drawing resources away from the
effort in prosecuting the related criminal case.
4. Interests of Persons Not Parties to This Litigation
Given the circumstances of this case, the interests of persons
not parties to this litigation favors continuation of the present
stay. First, the possible Fifth Amendment implications for
criminal defendants Ingram and Kent should they be deposed in
this case prior to their trial weighs in favor of a continued
stay. Second, as previously mentioned, the danger to confidential
Government witnesses who may be called to testify in the
forthcoming criminal trial also argues in favor of a denial of
Plaintiff's twin motions.
5. Convenience of the Court and Judicial Economy
While not as significant as some of the other factors, the
Court has an interest in preventing unnecessary conflict and litigation that may otherwise
cloud its docket and hamper judicial economy. Here, it is clear
that overturning the present stay and allowing discovery in this
case at this point in time would in all likelihood result in
a significant amount of discovery-related litigation relating to
motions for protective orders, claims of privilege, and conflicts
over witness availability. Such litigation might well prove
wholly duplicative and unnecessary if the present stay was
continued through the conclusion of the related criminal trial.
Accordingly, judicial economy and the convenience of the court
weighs in favor of maintaining the present stay in order to head
off possibly unneeded and divisive litigation.
For the reasons set forth above, the Court exercises its
discretion and concludes that Defendants have shown "good cause"
for maintaining the present discovery stay in this civil case
until the conclusion of the related criminal case in Superior
Court. Plaintiff's slight interest in commencing civil discovery
is significantly outweighed by other relevant interests. Like the
Bridgeport Harbour court, the Court finds that only a blanket
discovery stay would supply the necessary protections required to
ensure that justice occurs. Moreover, in its own way, the
criminal trial itself will cement relevant testimony provided
under oath, preventing the kind of potential memory clouding
which so concerns Plaintiff. Accordingly, the Court shall deny
Plaintiff's motions to lift the discovery stay, and shall direct
that the parties file a joint status report by Tuesday, February 28, 2006 updating the Court as to the
progress of the pending criminal case. An Order accompanies this
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