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National Grange of Order of Patrons of Husbandry v. California Guild

United States District Court, E.D. California

April 3, 2017

The NATIONAL GRANGE OF THE ORDER OF PATRONS OF HUSBANDRY and the CALIFORNIA STATE GRANGE, Plaintiffs,
v.
CALIFORNIA GUILD, formerly doing business as “California State Grange, ” and ROBERT MCFARLAND, Defendants.

          ORDER RE: EX PARTE APPLICATION TO STAY DISCOVERY

          WILLIAM B. SHUBB, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Order On March 13, 2017, plaintiffs the National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry (“National Grange”) and the California State Grange filed a motion to disqualify counsel for defendant Robert McFarland, the Ellis Law Group. (Docket No. 114.) According to plaintiffs, the Ellis Law Group employs an attorney, Anthony Valenti, who worked at Porter Scott, a firm that represented the National Grange on a prior related matter. (Pls.' Mem. at 2 (Docket No. 115-1).) Defendants do not deny that Valenti worked at Porter Scott, and further concede that Valenti worked specifically on the National Grange's case while at Porter Scott. (See McFarland's Opp'n at 3 n.3 (Docket No. 117).) Defendants dispute whether disqualification of the Ellis Law Group is necessary in light of Valenti's alleged non-participation in this case. (Id. at 4.) Plaintiffs' motion to disqualify the Ellis Law Group is currently set for hearing on May 1, 2017.

         Before the court now is plaintiffs' ex parte application to stay discovery in this case until resolution of their motion to disqualify. (Docket No. 115.) Defendants have each filed an opposition to plaintiffs' application. (Docket Nos. 116-117.)

         The court has inherent authority to manage the cases before it. Landis v. N. Am. Co., 299 U.S. 248, 254-255 (1936) (“[T]he 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.”). It “may, for good cause, issue an order to protect a party or person from annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or expense, ” including “specifying [the] time and place . . . for . . . discovery.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(c)(1). “The burden is upon the party seeking the [protective] order to show good cause by demonstrating harm or prejudice that will result from the discovery.” Rivera v. NIBCO, Inc., 364 F.3d 1057, 1063 (9th Cir. 2004). Stays of discovery are committed to the discretion of the court. See Little v. City of Seattle, 863 F.2d 681, 685 (9th Cir. 1988) (noting that a district court's stay of discovery “will not be overturned unless there is a clear abuse of discretion”); Jarvis v. Regan, 833 F.2d 149, 155 (9th Cir. 1987) (reviewing district court's stay of discovery for abuse of discretion).

         Plaintiffs argue that requiring them to proceed with discovery while their motion to disqualify is pending poses the risk that they will be prejudiced by the Ellis Law Group's use of privileged information obtained by Valenti in conducting such discovery. (Pls.' Mem. at 3.) So long as their motion is pending, plaintiffs represent, there will likely be “substantial disputes” between the parties as to how discovery should be conducted. (Id.) Such disputes, according to plaintiffs, would make it “likely impossible for the parties to [engage in any] meaningful discovery.” (Id.)

         The court finds that plaintiffs have shown good cause to stay discovery until resolution of their motion to disqualify. There is evidence before the court indicating that Valenti worked on a case involving the National Grange while at Porter Scott, (see Decl. of Mark Ellis ¶ 11 (Docket No. 117-1)), and that he was, at one point, counsel of record for defendant McFarland in this case, (see Docket No. 112 (referring to Valenti as “attorney[] of record for Defendant Robert McFarland”)). Such evidence suggests that the Ellis Law Group may have used Valenti in a conflicting fashion in this case, and there is a risk plaintiffs will be prejudiced by the Ellis Law Group's continued involvement in this case. Staying discovery will help avoid that risk. The court is not aware of any prejudice that would result to defendants from granting plaintiffs' requested stay, which is not likely to last longer than one month.[1] To the extent the stay makes it difficult for defendants to complete discovery prior to the discovery deadline in this case, [2] defendants may seek leave of court to extend that deadline.

         IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that plaintiffs' ex parte application to stay discovery until the resolution of their motion to disqualify the Ellis Law Group be, and the same hereby is, GRANTED.

---------

Notes:

[1] Defendants note that they recently propounded discovery on plaintiffs which plaintiffs have yet to respond to. (Cal. Guild's Opp'n at 3 (Docket No. 116).) Defendants provide no explanation, however, as to why a delay in plaintiffs' response to such discovery would result in detriment to them.

[2]The discovery deadline in this case is currently set for May 29, 2017. (Dec. 13, 2016 Order at 2 ...


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