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Estate of Russell v. Wortham

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Eastern Division

March 21, 2018

ESTATE OF JEFFREY K. RUSSELL, Plaintiff,
v.
WILLIAM WORTHAM, RANDY GARNER, and JAMES CAMPBELL, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. Introduction

         Before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 49) and Plaintiff's Rule 56(d) Motion (Doc. 52). For the reasons herein stated, the Rule 56(d) Motion is GRANTED in part. The Court will grant Plaintiff 21 days to substantively respond to the Motion for Summary Judgment. Defendants have 14 days to reply thereafter. The Court will take the Motion for Summary Judgment under submission at that time.

         Plaintiff originally filed his Complaint in the Northern District of Alabama on June 26, 2015. (Doc. 1). Plaintiff filed his Amended Complaint on February 29, 2016. (Doc. 14). The events of the Amended Complaint stem from a tragic suicide while Mr. Russell was in the City of Anniston municipal jail. (See Id. at 6). Mr. Russell was booked into jail on February 20, 2014, and found unresponsive in his cell the next day. (See id.).

         II. Rule 56(d) Standard

         Judge Steele in Vision Bank v. Merritt ably states the relevant rule:

That rule provides that “[i]f a nonmovant shows by affidavit or declaration that, for specified reasons, it cannot present facts essential to justify its opposition, the court may: (1) defer considering the motion or deny it; (2) allow time to obtain affidavits or declarations or to take discovery; or (3) issue any other appropriate order.” Id. This rule is “infused with a spirit of liberality.” Reflectone, Inc. v. Farrand Optical Co., 862 F.2d 841, 844 (11th Cir.1989). The grant or denial of relief under Rule 56(d) lies within the sound discretion of the trial court. See Barfield v. Brierton, 883 F.2d 923, 931 (11th Cir.1989).
Notwithstanding the discretionary nature of Rule 56(d), there are black-letter limits to the exercise of that discretion. The law of this Circuit provides that, as a general proposition, “the party opposing a motion for summary judgment should be permitted an adequate opportunity to complete discovery prior to consideration of the motion.” Jones v. City of Columbus, Ga., 120 F.3d 248, 253 (11th Cir.1997) (citations omitted); see also Dean v. Barber, 951 F.2d 1210, 1214 (11th Cir.1992) (“A party opposing summary judgment should be given the opportunity to discover information relevant to the summary judgment motion.”); Snook v. Trust Co. of Georgia Bank of Savannah, N.A., 859 F.2d 865, 870 (11th Cir.1988) (“summary judgment should not be granted until the party opposing the motion has had an adequate opportunity for discovery”); Baucom v. Sisco Stevedoring, LLC, 506 F.Supp.2d 1064, 1067 n. 1 (S.D.Ala.2007) (reciting general rule). Thus, “[i]f the documents or other discovery sought would be relevant to the issues presented by the motion for summary judgment, the opposing party should be allowed the opportunity to utilize the discovery process to gain access to the requested materials.” Snook, 859 F.2d at 870. Where district courts fail to honor these principles, appellate courts have found error. See, e.g., Jones, 120 F.3d at 253 (district court abused its discretion in deciding summary judgment motion where plaintiffs never had opportunity to examine requested documents or to depose defendant's witnesses); Dean, 951 F.2d at 1213-14 (district court abused discretion by granting summary judgment for defendant without ruling on plaintiff's motion to compel, such that summary judgment was entered on potentially inadequate record).
That said, something more than a casual citation to Rule 56(d) is needed before a nonmovant may be granted relief from a precipitous summary judgment motion. In particular, the party seeking to delay adjudication of the motion “may not simply rely on vague assertions that additional discovery will produce needed, but unspecified, facts, but rather he must specifically demonstrate how postponement of a ruling on the motion will enable him, by discovery or other means, to rebut the movant's showing of the absence of a genuine issue of fact.” Reflectone, 862 F.2d at 843 (citations and internal quotations omitted).

Vision Bank v. Merritt, No. 10-0301-WS-C, 2010 WL 5474161, *2 (S.D. Ala. Dec. 8, 2010) (Steele, J.) (internal footnotes omitted). The case goes on to state that:

A party cannot use Rule 56(d) as a springboard for a fishing expedition or a delay tactic, but must instead specify what documents or discovery are needed, and why those materials are relevant to the issues raised on summary judgment.

Id. at *3.

         III. Analysis

         With those principles in mind, the Court turns to the motions at hand. These motions are really the second act of the Defendants' attempts to show the Court that the Plaintiff's claims are barred by the statute of limitations. The Court has previously discussed this issue, in its opinion from last August:

In Counts I and II, Plaintiff alleges Section 1983 constitutional violations. In Count III, Plaintiff alleges violations of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (the “RA”) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”).
All constitutional claims brought pursuant to Section 1983 are “tort actions, subject to the statute of limitations governing personal injury actions in the state where the § 1983 action has been brought.” Powell v. Thomas, 643 F.3d 1300, 1303 (11th Cir. 2011) (internal citation omitted). In Alabama, that limitations period is two years. Id. (citing Jones v. Preuit & Mauldin, 876 F.2d 1480, 1483 (11th Cir. 1989)) (“[T]he two year limitations period . . . applies to section 1983 actions in Alabama.”). Similarly, for discrimination claims under the ADA and the RA, “the applicable limitations period is governed by the most analogous state statute of limitations . . . in Alabama, where this action was brought, the applicable limitations period is two ...

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