United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Harrison Division
OPINION AND ORDER ADDING AMICUS CURIAE AND
ADMINISTRATIVELY STAYING THE CASE
TIMOTHY L. BROOKS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
13, 2016, Plaintiff Mitchell Purdom brought this lawsuit
challenging the constitutionality of an Arkansas statute that
criminalizes a tenant's failure to pay rent. See
Ark. Code Ann. § 18-16-101. On July 8, 2016, this Court
entered "a preliminary injunction enjoining Mr. Morgan
in his official capacity from enforcing Ark. Code Ann. §
18-16-101 against Mr. Purdom during the pendency of this
action." (Doc. 23). Mr. Morgan is the only Defendant
remaining in this case. See Doc. 38 (dismissing with
prejudice all claims against Defendants Don and Judy Lewis
pursuant to the terms of a settlement agreement).
August 22, 2016, Mr. Purdom filed an Unopposed Motion for
Declaratory and Injunctive Relief (Doc. 33), along with a
Brief in Support (Doc. 33-1) and joint Stipulation of
Undisputed Facts (Doc. 34), essentially seeking summary
judgment on his claims against Mr. Morgan. The Court received
oral argument on the Motion at a hearing on October 17, 2016,
and requested supplemental briefing on whether the case was
still justiciable under Article III of the United States
Constitution, given the non-adversarial stance of the
remaining parties. After receiving this supplemental
briefing, see Doc. 41, and pondering the matter
further, the Court decided to solicit amicus curiae
briefing from the Arkansas Attorney General ("the
AG") in defense of the challenged statute, in order to
sharpen the presentation of the merits. See Doc. 42.
January 4, 2017, the AG accepted this Court's invitation,
but directed the Court's attention to Arkansas Senate
Bill 25 ("the Bill"), which is currently pending in
the Arkansas General Assembly and which, if enacted, would
substantially amend Ark. Code Ann. § 18-16-101.
See Doc 43, pp. 3-4. The AG opined that the Bill
would likely moot "at least some, and possibly all, of
the constitutional challenges levied in this case, " and
significantly alter the contours of any constitutional issues
not mooted. See Id. at 1. The AG added that it
"closely monitors and in many cases heavily reviews
legislation during legislative sessions, " which
"consumes a great deal of the office's personnel and
resources." Id. at 2. Accordingly, the AG
requested that this Court either:
(1) issue a temporary sua sponte stay of this case
pending notification of the final status of Senate Bill 25 in
the 91st General Assembly, or (2) set a briefing schedule
with deadlines beyond the conclusion of the legislative
session, so that the parties may properly account for the
passage of Senate Bill 25 (if that occurs) in their briefing
on the constitutionality of Ark. Code Ann. §18-16-101.
January 5, 2017, counsel for Mr. Purdom informed the Court
that they "welcome the [AG]'s participation, "
but that they "object to the [AG]'s request that the
Court stay merits briefing pending the General Assembly's
consideration of Senate Bill 25." See Doc. 44,
p. 1. Mr. Purdom's counsel contends that the Bill
"is irrelevant to this lawsuit" because it does not
currently contain any language imposing its terms
retroactively and because Arkansas law "may"
prohibit the inclusion of any such retroactivity provision in
the Bill. See Id. He further argues that a lengthy
briefing schedule would be inappropriate because the AG
should prioritize "[defending the constitutionality of
enacted legislation in federal court" over
"monitoring pending bills" in the General Assembly.
See Id. at 2. The Court has reviewed the authority
Mr. Purdom's counsel cites in support of these arguments,
and can only say at this time that it is not immediately
obvious to the Court whether Mr. Purdom is correct or
incorrect as a matter of law.
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." Landis v. N. Am.
Co., 299 U.S. 248, 254 (1936). "How this can best
be done calls for the exercise of judgment, which must weigh
competing interests and maintain an even balance."
Id. at 254-55. This Court favors speedy resolution
of the cases before it, and is generally very reluctant to
enter administrative stays pending resolution of matters in
other forums. Cf. Mojica v. Securus Techs., Inc.,
2015 WL 429997, at *3-*4 (W.D. Ark. Jan. 29, 2015) (declining
to stay putative class actions involving issues within the
primary jurisdiction of the Federal Communications
Commission, where the resolution of such issues had already
been pending before that agency for nearly fifteen years with
no clear end in sight). But the stay proposed by the AG in
the instant case would last only a few months, and it would
have a clearly defined end-point: the enactment of the Bill
into law or the conclusion of the present legislative session
in the Arkansas General Assembly, whichever is earlier.
Either of those events will bring further clarity to the
issues being litigated in this case, and implementing a brief
stay while those events come to fruition would avoid the risk
that the Court and the parties might otherwise expend
unnecessary resources in the meantime. Furthermore, the stay
would not prejudice Mr. Purdom, because the
previously-entered preliminary injunction protecting him from
prosecution under the challenged law would remain in effect
at all times throughout the stay's pendency.
THEREFORE ORDERED that upon receipt of an appropriate Notice
of Appearance from the Arkansas Attorney General as
amicus curiae, the Clerk of the Court shall take
appropriate steps to ensure that the Arkansas Attorney
General receives electronic notification of all future
activity in this case.
FURTHER ORDERED that immediately following the Arkansas
Attorney General's entry of appearance, this case shall
be stayed until the Arkansas General Assembly concludes its
current legislative session or a law is enacted amending Ark.
Code Ann. § 18-16-101, whichever is earlier. Any party
having knowledge of the occurrence of either of these events
shall promptly file a notice on the docket of such
event's occurrence and request that this case be