United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division
KEITH WATKINS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
case is about the constitutionality of an Alabama rule that
allows the State to suspend individuals' driver's
licenses for not paying traffic tickets. Before the court is
Defendant's motion to stay discovery and all Rule 26
obligations pending a ruling on its motion to dismiss. (Doc.
# 28.) Defendant's motion to dismiss raises several
jurisdictional attacks on Plaintiffs' complaint,
including standing, mootness, and sovereign immunity, in
addition to challenging the merits. (Docs. # 20, 21.)
Defendant argues a stay of discovery is warranted because it
would conserve the parties' and the court's resources
while threshold issues of jurisdiction and sovereign immunity
are litigated. Plaintiffs oppose a stay of discovery. They
encourage the court to “take a ‘peek' at the
merits of the motion to dismiss and balance the harm produced
by delaying discovery against the possibility that the motion
will be granted and entirely eliminate the need for such
discovery.” (Doc. # 33, at 1.) For the following
reasons, the court will grant Defendant's motion and stay
discovery pending a ruling on Plaintiffs' motion to
courts are entitled to broad discretion in managing pretrial
discovery matters.” Perez v. Miami-Dade Cty.,
297 F.3d 1255, 1263 (11th Cir. 2002). Trial courts have a
responsibility to “manage pretrial discovery properly
in order to avoid a massive waste of judicial and private
resources and a loss of society's confidence in the
courts' ability to administer justice.”
Id. (quotation omitted). “Granting a discovery
stay until an impending motion to dismiss is resolved is a
proper exercise of that responsibility.” Rivas v.
The Bank of New York Mellon, 676 Fed.Appx. 926, 932
(11th Cir. 2017).
challenges to the legal sufficiency of a claim or defense,
such as a motion to dismiss based on failure to state a claim
for relief, should . . . be resolved before discovery
begins.” Chudasama v. Mazda Motor Corp., 123
F.3d 1353, 1367 (11th Cir. 1997) (footnote omitted).
“Such a dispute always presents a purely legal
question; there are no questions of fact because the
allegations contained in the pleading are presumed to be
true. Therefore, neither the parties nor the court have any
need for discovery before the court rules on the
motion.” Id. (citations omitted).
court finds that a stay is justified here. Defendant has
raised four grounds for dismissal that are potentially
dispositive of the entire case - sovereign immunity,
standing, mootness, and failure to state a claim. Those
grounds present purely legal issues that do not require
factual investigation. And sovereign immunity presents a
special concern that a party raising the defense should not
be subjected to the burdens of litigation before the defense
has been decided. See Bouchard Transp. Co. v. Fla.
Dep't of Envtl. Prot., 91 F.3d 1445, 1448 (11th Cir.
1996) (quoting Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511,
526 (1985)). Indeed, the Eleventh Circuit has explicitly held
that the district court must resolve a claim of immunity
before subjecting a party asserting it to discovery or Rule
26 obligations. Howe v. City of Enterprise, 861 F.3d
1300, 1302-03 (11th Cir. 2017).
argues that Defendant's immunity argument is meritless.
That may very well be. But the court may not, in the face of
these authorities, order Defendant to participate in
discovery while its immunity defense remains pending. Nor
will the court take a “peek” at the merits of the
motion to dismiss at this point. Plaintiff cites no binding
authorities that require the court to preview its ruling on a
motion to dismiss in a ruling on a motion to stay discovery.
In examining the source of the notion that the court should
take a peek at the merits of the motion to dismiss in
deciding whether to stay discovery, Judge Steele noted that
it originated with a Magistrate Judge who cited no authority
for it, yet was passed on from Magistrate Judge to Magistrate
Judge until it was stated permissively -
i.e., that the court “may, ” but does
not have to, take a peek at the merits - by some lower courts
in the Eleventh Circuit. United States ex rel. Carver v.
Physicians' Pain Specialists of Ala., P.C.,
No. 13-0392-WS-N, 2017 WL 4224587, at *2 (S.D. Ala. Sep. 22,
2017) (Steele, J.).
authorities that are binding, however, are those of the
Circuit, and those authorities signal that the court should
not allow discovery in the face of a pending motion to
dismiss that tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint -
especially when that motion also asserts an immunity defense.
Plaintiff distinguishes these authorities on the ground that
the district court in those cases had expressly deferred
ruling on the motion to dismiss and ordered the parties
to engage in discovery. (See Doc. # 33, at 9.) But
were the court to deny Defendant's motion and order the
parties to have their Rule 26(f) meeting and exchange initial
disclosures, that is essentially what it would be doing.
Thus, Defendant's motion will be granted, and all
discovery obligations will be stayed pending a ruling on
Defendant's motion to dismiss.
(1) Defendant's motion to stay discovery and Rule 26
obligations pending a ruling on its motion to dismiss (Doc. #
28) is GRANTED.
(2) The parties' discovery and Rule 26 obligations are
STAYED pending the court's ruling on Defendant's