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McGee v. Madison County

United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Eastern Division

June 10, 2015

DENNIS CHADWICK McGEE, as Personal Representative/Administrator of the Estate of DILLON C. MCGEE, deceased, Plaintiff,
MADISON COUNTY, TENNESSEE, JOHN MEHR, Individually and in his Official Capacity as Sheriff of Madison County, and THOMAS KNOLTON, Individually and in his Official Capacity as a Deputy Sheriff of the Madison County Sheriff's Office, Defendants.


J. DANIEL BREEN, Chief District Judge.

Before the Court is the joint motion of Defendants, Madison County, Tennessee, John Mehr, individually and in his official capacity as Sheriff of Madison County, and Thomas Knolton, individually and in his official capacity as a deputy sheriff of the Madison County Sheriff's Office, to stay this action pending the resolution of a civil rights investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI"). (Docket Entry ("D.E.") 22.) Plaintiff, Dennis Chadwick McGee, as personal representative/administrator of the estate of Dillon C. McGee, has responded in opposition. (D.E. 27.) For the reasons discussed below, the motion is GRANTED.


Plaintiff filed suit on March 30, 2015, alleging, among other things, that Knolton, acting under color of state law, violated state and federal law when he shot and killed his son, Dillon C. McGee, on September 26, 2014. (D.E. 1 at 1-3.) The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation opened an inquiry into the shooting, and, on February 2, 2015, evidence was presented to the Madison County, Tennessee grand jury, which returned no true bills. (Dec. of Sheriff John Mehr ("Mehr Dec.") ¶ 3.) On February 9, 2015, Todd McCall, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's Memphis, Tennessee division, informed Sheriff Mehr that the United States Department of Justice had instructed him to open a civil rights investigation into the September 26, 2014 incident. (Id. ¶ 4.) According to Sheriff Mehr, that investigation is ongoing. (Id. ¶ 5.) Defendants move to stay this matter until the investigation is concluded.

Law and Analysis

I. Motion to Stay

A court's "power to stay proceedings is incidental to the power inherent in every court to control the disposition of the causes in its docket with economy of time and effort for itself, for counsel and for litigants, and the entry of such an order ordinarily rests with the sound discretion of the District Court.'" FTC v. EMA Nationwide, Inc., 767 F.3d 611, 626-27 (6th Cir. 2014) (quoting Ohio Envtl. Council v. U.S. Dist. Court, S. Dist. of Ohio, E. Div., 565 F.2d 393, 396 (6th Cir. 1977)). However, "nothing in the Constitution requires a civil action to be stayed in the face of a pending or impending criminal indictment.'" Id. at 627 (quoting Chao v. Fleming, 498 F.Supp.2d 1034, 1037 (W.D. Mich. 2007)).

Instead, courts "generally consider and balance certain factors when determining whether a stay of civil proceedings is appropriate in a given case: 1) the extent to which the issues in the criminal case overlap with those presented in the civil case; 2) the status of the case, including whether the defendants have been indicted; 3) the private interests of the plaintiff[] in proceeding expeditiously weighed against the prejudice to [a] plaintiff[] caused by the delay; 4) the private interests of and burden on the defendants; 5) the interests of the courts; and 6) the public interest.'" Id. (quoting Chao, 498 F.Supp.2d at 1037). Courts "should [also] consider the extent to which the defendant's [F]ifth [A]mendment rights are implicated.'" Id. (quoting Keating v. Office of Thrift Supervision, 45 F.3d 322, 324 (9th Cir. 1995)). The party seeking the stay has the burden of showing "that there is pressing need for delay, and that neither the other party nor the public will suffer harm from entry of the order.'" Id. at 627-28 (quoting Ohio Envtl. Council, 565 F.2d at 396). The Court will address each factor in turn.

A. Overlap of Issues and Status of Criminal Case

Defendants contend that the substantial overlap of the FBI's investigation and this civil action makes it very likely that deputy Knolton, absent a stay, will have to choose between potentially incriminating himself during discovery and trial, or invoking his right against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution and risk the adverse inferences that might result. (D.E. 22-1 at 4-5.) Defendants insist that any civil rights investigation into the September 26, 2014 shooting would naturally have Knolton as a primary target. (Id. ) As to the status of the criminal case, Defendants concede that while Knolton has not been indicted, the Court still possesses broad discretion to grant a stay. (Id. )

McGee maintains that because there have been no charges, and it is uncertain that the investigation will lead to any, Defendants' request is premature. (D.E. 27 at 5.) He maintains that as there is no pending criminal case to overlap with his civil action, only an investigation of unknown length and purpose exists. (Id. ) McGee notes that Defendants have not provided any evidence that they are the targets of the investigation or any information as to the focus of the investigation. (Id. at 5-6.)

Recognizing that "courts generally do not stay proceedings in the absence of an indictment, " EMA Nationwide, 767 F.3d at 628 (citation omitted), Defendants cite to Walsh Secs., Inc. v. Cristo Prop. Mgmt., Ltd., 7 F.Supp.2d 523 (D.N.J. 1998) as an example of a district court granting a motion to stay civil proceedings even though no defendant had been formally charged. Id. at 527. In Walsh, the United States Attorney, who was not a party to the civil suit, was conducting a parallel investigation into whether some defendants had engaged in criminal conduct. Id. at 526. The defendants claimed that they could not participate in civil discovery while simultaneously protecting their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Id. In holding that the matters overlapped even though no party had been indicted, the court found that the criminal investigation and civil case focused on the same allegations of misconduct and entered a temporary stay of a few months. Id. at 527-29.

Defendants also reference United States v. Any and All Assets of that Certain Business Known as Shane Co., 147 F.R.D. 99 (M.D. N.C. 1992), where a district court stayed a civil forfeiture proceeding until a criminal investigation of the claimants was finished. Id. at 100-02. The government moved to stay the civil case out of a concern that the defendants might use the liberal discovery rules to obtain information that could jeopardize the ongoing criminal investigation. Id. at 100. As in Walsh, none of the defendants in Any and All Assets had been indicted. Id. Finally, Defendants rely on Brock v. Tolkow, 109 F.R.D. 116 (E.D.N.Y. 1985), in which a district court granted a stay of civil proceedings brought by the Department of Labor pending the resolution of a parallel criminal investigation by the United States Department of Justice. Id. at 117.

McGee seeks to distinguish Walsh from the present case on the grounds that, in that case, the government informed the court that absent a stay, information turned over during discovery might harm the pending criminal investigation. (D.E. 27 at 6.) Plaintiff contends that there is no such concern here since the government is not a party to this action. (Id. ) While the Walsh court noted the government's concern about civil discovery jeopardizing the criminal investigation, the majority of its analysis focused on whether the defendants would have to choose between exercising their Fifth Amendment rights or participating ...

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