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D.C. v. County of San Diego

United States District Court, S.D. California

April 14, 2017

D.C., a minor by and through his Guardian Ad Litem, Helen Garter, on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
v.
COUNTY OF SAN DIEGO; JESSIE POLINSKY CHILDREN'S CENTER; and SAN DIEGO COUNTY HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES AGENCY, Defendants.

          ORDER DENYING MOTION TO STAY CASE [DOC. NO. 47]

          Hon. Michael M. Anello United States District Judge

         Plaintiff D.C., a minor, has filed this putative class action through his guardian ad litem pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging Defendants violated his and putative class members' constitutional rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. See Doc. No. 19. Defendant County of San Diego[1] now moves the Court to stay this action. See Doc. No. 47. The Court found the matter suitable for determination on the papers and without oral argument pursuant to Civil Local Rule 7.1(d)(1). For the following reasons, the Court DENIES Defendant's motion to stay the case.

         Background

         Plaintiff contests the constitutionality of medical examinations conducted on children at Polinsky Children's Center (“Polinsky”), “a 24-hour facility for the temporary emergency shelter of children who are separated from their families.” See First Amended Complaint (“FAC”), Doc. No. 19 ¶ 10. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that in May 2014, the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency (“HHSA”), an agency of Defendant San Diego County, determined that Plaintiff “had been injured while in the custody of his father, and that the injury was suspicious for child abuse.” FAC ¶ 21. On August 20, 2014, Plaintiff alleges his mother, Katy Evans, was on a ship pursuant to her duties as a Petty Officer First Class in the United States Navy. The FAC states that a friend of Evans's, Wes Bowen, was caring for Plaintiff that day. Plaintiff was two years old at the time. While in Bowen's care, Plaintiff purportedly fell and scraped his forehead. Plaintiff alleges Bowen informed Evans immediately, and Evans contacted Defendant HHSA.

         On August 21, 2014, Plaintiff alleges his father had a supervised visit with him during which the supervisor did not monitor his father adequately. Plaintiff contends that on August 22, 2014, he was examined by a child abuse specialist at the Chadwick Center for Children and Families. Chadwick Center is a “hospital-based child advocacy and trauma treatment center.” See FAC ¶ 24. The specialist allegedly concluded Plaintiff's injuries to his forehead were likely caused by an accident, but found a small bruise behind his right ear which she found suspicious of child abuse because it was similar to the injury Plaintiff's father had inflicted on Plaintiff in May 2014. Plaintiff alleges that he was then removed from Evans's control and care.

         On August 22, 2014, Plaintiff alleges he was taken to Polinsky and upon his arrival, he was given a “cursory ‘wellness' check by staff” and placed into the general population. See FAC ¶ 26. The next morning, Plaintiff contends he was subjected to a physical examination, including an external examination of his genitalia and rectum. He alleges that his mother was not notified of the examination, was not present for it, and did not consent to it. Plaintiff contends that there were no exigent circumstances to justify the examination, nor had the County or its agents obtained a court order or warrant.

         Based on the examination at Polinsky, Plaintiff alleges a violation of his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable investigatory searches, and a violation of his Fourteenth Amendment right to family association. Plaintiff contends that Defendant County is liable to him and putative class members because Polinsky maintained, and may still maintain, a policy, custom, and practice of subjecting all children admitted to Polinksy to the same “22-point” physical examination that Plaintiff was subjected to within 24 hours of their admittance. See FAC ¶ 30. The FAC states that the County's policy, custom, and practice explicitly prohibits parents from attending the examinations, and that County physicians routinely conduct the examinations without first notifying the children's parents or legal guardians, and without a court order, warrant, or the presence of exigent circumstances.

         Legal Standard

         “A district court has discretionary power to stay proceedings in its own court under Landis v. North American Co.Lockyer v. Mirant Corp., 398 F.3d 1098, 1109 (9th Cir. 2005) (citing Landis v. North American Co., 299 U.S. 248, 254 (1936)). “The power to stay a case 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.'” Halliwell v. A-T Sols., No. 13-CV-2014-H KSC, 2014 WL 4472724, at *7 (S.D. Cal. Sept. 10, 2014) (quoting Landis, 299 U.S. at 254). A district court may stay a case “pending resolution of independent proceedings which bear upon the case, ” even if those proceedings are not “necessarily controlling of the action before the court.” See Leyva v. Certified Grocers of California, Ltd., 593 F.2d 857, 863-64 (9th Cir. 1979). However, “[o]nly in rare circumstances will a litigant in one cause be compelled to stand aside while a litigant in another settles the rule of law that will define the rights of both.” See Landis, 299 U.S. at 255.

         In determining whether to grant a stay pursuant to Landis, courts in the Ninth Circuit weigh the “competing interests which will be affected by the granting or refusal to grant a stay, ” including “the possible damage which may result from the granting of a stay, the hardship or inequity which a party may suffer in being required to go forward, and the orderly course of justice measured in terms of the simplifying or complicating of issues, proof, and questions of law which could be expected to result from a stay.” See Lockyer, 398 F.3d at 1110 (quoting CMAX, Inc. v. Hall, 300 F.2d 265, 268 (9th Cir. 1962)).

         However, judicial economy and case management concerns “standing alone [are] not necessarily [] sufficient ground[s] to stay proceedings.” See Dependable Highway Exp., Inc. v. Navigators Ins. Co., 498 F.3d 1059, 1066 (9th Cir. 2007); Yong v. I.N.S., 208 F.3d 1116, 1119 (9th Cir. 2000) (stating “considerations of judicial economy . . . cannot justify [] indefinite, and potentially lengthy stay[s]”). Further, “if there is even a fair possibility that the stay for which [the movant] prays will work damage to some one else, ” the movant “must make out a clear case of hardship or inequity in being required to go forward.” See Landis, 299 U.S. at 255; Dependable Highway Exp., Inc., 498 F.3d at 1066. The Ninth Circuit has instructed that “being required to defend a suit, without more, does not constitute a ‘clear case of hardship or inequity' within the meaning of Landis.See Lockyer, 398 F.3d at 1112. Also, courts in the Ninth Circuit have indicated that the potential harm of delaying a plaintiff injunctive relief weighs more heavily against granting a stay than the potential harm to a plaintiff seeking only monetary relief. See Lockyer, 398 F.3d at 1112; I.K. ex rel. E.K. v. Sylvan Union Sch. Dist., 681 F.Supp.2d 1179, 1191 (E.D. Cal. 2010) (“Delayed reception of ordinary money damages, however, is not a type of potential damage that is particularly weighty under a Landis analysis.”); Aldapa v. Fowler Packing Co., Inc., No. 115CV00420DADSAB, 2016 WL 6124216, at *1 (E.D. Cal. Oct. 20, 2016) (“[S]taying a suit seeking injunctive relief against ongoing or future harm causes a more significant hardship against a plaintiff resisting a stay than a suit for damages.”).

         Lastly, “[a] stay should not be granted unless it appears likely the other proceedings will be concluded within a reasonable time in relation to the urgency of the claims presented to the court.” Leyva, 593 F.2d at 864. “Generally, stays should not be indefinite in nature.” See Dependable Highway Exp., Inc., 498 F.3d at 1066. The Ninth Circuit has stated that even a stay that terminates “upon the ‘resolution of [an] appeal'” has an indefinite term because the Supreme Court could grant certiorari to review the appellate court's decision, or the appellate court could remand to the district court for further proceedings. Yong, 208 F.3d at 1119. Thus, a district court should give due weight to the requested length of a stay in exercising their discretionary power to stay proceedings. See id.

         Discussion

         A. Request for ...


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