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Jane Doe v. William A. Sipper

June 25, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: James E. Boasberg United States District Judge


Plaintiff Jane Doe filed this action on May 10, 2011, seeking damages from an incident in which Defendant William Sipper allegedly raped her. The incident took place on November 12, 2010, while both parties were on a business trip in Washington, D.C. A warrant was subsequently issued for Defendant's arrest over a year later, and he surrendered to police on March 6, 2012. The criminal action in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia is currently pending grand jury indictment. In the instant Motion, Defendant moves to stay the civil case or, in the alternative, to obtain a protective order with respect to his deposition, pending further developments in the criminal case. The Court finds Defendant has sufficiently demonstrated that he would be prejudiced if the civil proceedings continue as currently scheduled. It will therefore issue a stay for ninety days, at which point it will determine how next to proceed.

I. Background

According to Plaintiff's Complaint, at the time of the incident, Defendant was an executive at New Leaf Brands, Inc., a tea company, and Plaintiff was a part-time employee. Compl., ¶¶ 6, 10. On the evening of November 12, 2010, both were in Washington for business.

Id., ¶ 11. After discussing Plaintiff's future employment while at the hotel bar, the two went up to Defendant's room so he could book work-related travel for Plaintiff. Id., ¶¶ 25, 27-28. While Defendant was purchasing the tickets, Plaintiff fell asleep on one of the two beds in Defendant's room and awoke to find Defendant raping her. Id., ¶¶ 28, 30. Plaintiff fled Defendant's hotel room, called 911, and received a medical examination later that night at Washington Hospital Center. Id., ¶¶ 32, 35-36. When she returned to New York, she began medical and psychological treatment and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Id., ¶ 45.

Although Plaintiff reported the incident to the police right away, a warrant was not issued for Defendant's arrest until December 7, 2011. Def. Mem. at 2 n.1. The criminal case in Superior Court, United States v. Sipper, Criminal No. I-2754-11, began March 6, 2012, when Defendant surrendered to police. Id. at 1, 3. Defendant is charged with second-degree sexual assault, Opp. at 5, and the case is currently pending action of the grand jury. Defendant has not yet been indicted. Def. Mem. at 3. According to the defense, "[t]he expectation is that within a few months, there should be clarification as to whether and how the criminal case will be going forward." Id.

Defendant filed the instant Motion to Stay on May 18, and the briefing was completed on June 11.

II. Legal Standard

The Court has the discretion to stay civil proceedings in the interest of justice and "in the light of the particular circumstances of the case." Sec. & Exch. Comm'n v. Dresser Indus., Inc., 628 F.2d 1368, 1375 (D.C. Cir. 1980). As the Supreme Court has noted, "[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 .." Landis v. N. Am. Co., 299 U.S. 248, 254 (1936). To prevail on a motion to stay, the movant needs to satisfy a high burden. Id. at 255. Another court in this District recently outlined the factors that are commonly weighed when a party moves to stay civil proceedings in light of parallel criminal proceedings. These are: 1) the relationship between the civil and criminal actions; 2) the burden on the court; 3) the hardships or inequalities the parties would face if a stay was granted; and 4) the duration of the requested stay. See U.S. ex rel. Westrick v. Second Chance, No. 04-280, 2007 WL 1020808, at *2 (D.D.C. Mar. 31, 2007); see also Horn v. Dist. of Columbia, 210 F.R.D. 13, 15 (D.D.C. 2002) (laying out similar factors). The factors serve only as a "rough guide" for a court as it exercises its discretion. Louis Vuitton Muleteer S.A. v. LY USA, Inc., 676 F.3d 83, 99 (2d Cir. 2012); see also Favaloro v. S/S Golden Gate, 687 F. Supp. 475, 482 (N.D. Cal. 1987) (court's decision based on "facts of each case"). The Court may give each factor as much weight as it determines to be necessary. Gabriel L. Gonzalez et. al., Parallel Civil and Criminal Proceedings, 30 Am. Crim. L. Rev. 1179, 1193 (1993).

III. Analysis

In making its determination, the Court will look at each of the four aforementioned factors in turn.

A. Relationship Between Two Actions

The civil and criminal actions here indisputably stem from identical events. Plaintiff has sued Defendant for his actions in connection with the alleged rape, and the criminal case charges him with sexual abuse. See Dresser, 628 F.2d at 1375-76 (strongest case for stay is where both actions involve same matter). If both cases proceeded at the same time, this could implicate Defendant's Fifth Amendment rights. Defendant would be forced to choose between waiving his Fifth Amendment right to defend himself in the civil suit or "asserting the privilege and probably losing the civil case." Walsh Sec., Inc. v. Cristo Prop. Mgmt., Ltd., 7 F. Supp. 2d 523, 528 (D.N.J. 1998). A close relationship between the two actions, furthermore, is often viewed as the most significant factor in the balancing test. See id. at 527.

Plaintiff argues that there is no parallel criminal action because Defendant has not been indicted. Opp. at 6. It is true that the lack of an indictment makes the case for a stay "far weaker," Dresser, 628 F.2d at 1376, and "inevitably much reduced." A-1 Hotels, 175 F. Supp. 2d at 577; see also Fed. Savings & Loan Ins. Corp. v. Molinaro, 889 F.2d 899, 903 (9th Cir. 1989) (case for pre-indictment stay is far weaker); Walsh, 7 F. Supp. 2d at 527 (case for pre-indictment stay generally denied); Barry Farm Resident Council, Inc. v. U.S. Dept. of Navy, No. ...

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