United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fayetteville Division
OPINION AND ORDER
TIMOTHY L. BROOKS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
before the Court are the Motion to Stay filed by Defendants
John Montgomery, Brad Lewis, Sergeant Eric Neal, and Baxter
County (collectively, "Baxter Defendants") (Doc.
36), the Baxter Defendants' Brief in Support (Doc. 37)
and Plaintiff Human Rights Defense Center's
("HRDC") Response to that Motion (Doc. 40). As
further explained below, the Motion to Stay is
GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART.
brought this lawsuit to challenge the legality of Baxter
County's postcard only policy that prohibits, with
certain exceptions for privileged legal mail, any mail from
entering or leaving the County's jail that is not written
on a postcard. HRDC alleges that this policy violates its
First Amendment rights because it prevents it from sending
assorted items to prisoners, including its 72-page magazine,
Prison Legal News. It further alleges that the
Baxter County jail's failure to provide adequate notice
and an opportunity to challenge what HRDC deems to be
censorship of its publications amounts to a denial of
HRDC's due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment.
As such, it filed a Complaint (Doc. 1) against the County and
three of its officials seeking declaratory and injunctive
relief, as well as damages. The Baxter Defendants have filed
a Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 18), asserting various defenses
including qualified immunity. That Motion is still pending.
Baxter Defendants now ask the Court to stay any and all
proceedings in this case, including Rule 26(f) deadlines, the
Case Management Hearing scheduled for November 28, 2017, and
any further scheduling, discovery, or trial until these
qualified immunity issues have been resolved. See
Doc. 36, ¶ 1- They also ask that this stay preclude any
party from skirting the Court's order by filing Freedom
of Information Act ("FOIA") requests. Citing to the
Supreme Court's landmark qualified immunity decisions,
including the Court's recent statement in Pearson v.
Callahan that "stressed the importance of resolving
immunity questions at the earliest possible stage in
litigation, " 555 U.S. 223, 232 (2009), the Baxter
Defendants argue that a total stay would best serve the
interests of justice and judicial efficiency.
Court is not persuaded that a total stay is warranted, much
less appropriate, in this case. As Plaintiff correctly points
out, only the individual capacity claims against John
Montgomery, Brad Lewis, and Eric Neal are subject to
dismissal on the basis of the qualified immunity defense.
See, e.g., Brandon v. Holt, 469 U.S. 464, 472
(1985); see also Tubbesing v. Arnold, 742 F.2d 401,
404 (8th Cir. 1984); Burnham v. lanni, 119 F.3d 668,
673 n.7 (8th Cir. 1997). Regardless of this Court's
ultimate decision on whether these three officials are
shielded by the defense of qualified immunity on these
individual capacity claims, the official capacity claims
against them and the claims against the County will remain
pending. Plaintiff's First Motion for a Preliminary
Injunction (Doc. 26) will also remain pending.
around the country have held that a complete stay of
discovery pending resolution of the qualified immunity issues
is not warranted. For instance, in Lugo v. Alvarado,
the First Circuit acknowledged that "the suspension of
discovery proceedings on the equitable claims, solely because
of an allegation of qualified immunity, only delays the case
unnecessarily, because sooner or later the parties will have
the right to engage in discovery . . . irrespective of
whether there is a surviving damage action." 819 F.2d 5,
8 (1st Cir. 1987). District courts in this Circuit have ruled
similarly. See, e.g., Semrad v. Dooley, 2009 WL
700203, at *2 (D.S.D. Mar. 17 2009); Cobb v. Knode,
2010 WL 1258095, at *3 (D.S.D. Mar. 26, 2010).
total stay of discovery is not warranted in this case.
Nevertheless, the Court recognizes that because qualified
immunity is "an immunity from suit rather than
a mere defense to liability, " Mitchell v.
Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 526 (1985) (emphasis in
original), "even such pretrial matters as discovery are
to be avoided if possible." Id. Therefore, the
Court will stay any discovery or other disclosures that are
solely relevant to the individual capacity damage claims
against John Montgomery, Brad Lewis, and Eric Neal pending
the Court's decision on qualified immunity.
Court will deny the request for a stay of all other deadlines
and hearings, including the upcoming case management hearing.
This is especially true because, pursuant to the Court's
Scheduling Order, any pending motions, including the Baxter
Defendants' Motion to Dismiss on qualified immunity
grounds, will be taken up at that hearing. See Doc.
22, ¶ 8. For similar reasons, the Court will also not
impose any restrictions on any party's ability to make
requests under either the Federal or Arkansas FOIA laws.
THEREFORE ORDERED that the Motion to Stay filed by Defendants
Baxter County, John Montgomery, Brad Lewis, and Eric Neal
(Doc. 36) is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART as described
 The Court notes here that it is not
making any decision at this time as to whether this stay
should extend beyond its ruling on the pending Motion to
Dismiss. If, for instance, the Court ultimately denies
qualified immunity on either or both of the individual
capacity claims asserted against them and Defendants elect to
pursue an interlocutory appeal of that order, the Court would
at that point entertain any further motions by the ...