United States District Court, E.D. California
case is before the court on the motions to stay proceedings
brought by defendants Roger J. LaPant and Goose Pond AG, Inc.
LaPant Mot., ECF No. 35; Goose Pond Motion, ECF No. 37.
Plaintiff United States opposes both motions. Opp'n, ECF
No. 39. At hearing on defendants' motions, Kimberly
Almazan and Zachary Colbeth appeared for LaPant, Robert Soran
and Ashley Boulton for Goose Pond, and Gregory Broderick and
John Do for the United States. ECF No. 42. For reasons
explained below, defendants' motions are DENIED.
BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
United States filed a complaint against defendants on June
30, 2016, alleging they discharged pollutants into the
“waters of the United States” without
authorization in violation of § 301 of the Clean Water
Act (CWA), 33 U.S.C. § 1311(a). Compl. ¶ 1, ECF No.
1. The United States seeks injunctive relief and civil
penalties. Id. ¶ 2. On May 2, 2017, defendants
filed a motion to stay this case, pending the resolution of
the Ninth Circuit case denominated United States v.
Robertson, No. 16-30178 (9th Cir. filed Aug. 1, 2016).
Defendants anticipate Robertson will decide whether
a prior Ninth Circuit case, United States v. Davis,
825 F.3d 1014, 1020 (9th Cir. 2016), has had the effect of
overturning N. Cal. River Watch v. City of
Healdsburg, 496 F.3d 993, 999 (9th Cir. 2007), which
held that Justice Kennedy's concurrence in the case of
Rapanos v. United States¸547 U.S. 715, 767
(2006), provides the test for determining jurisdiction under
the CWA. The United States opposes defendants' motion.
Opp'n. Defendants have replied. LaPant Reply, ECF No. 40;
Goose Pond Reply, ECF No. 41.
district court has inherent power to control the disposition
of the cases on its docket in a manner to promote economy of
time and effort for itself, for counsel and for litigants.
CMAX, Inc. v. Hall, 300 F.2d 265, 268 (9th Cir.
1962). The trial court may, “with propriety, find it is
efficient for its own docket and the fairest course for the
parties to enter a stay of an action before it, pending
resolution of independent proceedings that bear upon the
case.” Leyva v. Certified Grocers of Cal.,
Ltd., 593 F.2d 857, 863-64 (9th Cir. 1979). This rule
applies whether the separate proceedings are “judicial,
administrative, or arbitral in character, and does not
require that the issues in such proceedings are necessarily
controlling of the action before the court.”
court's inherent power is discretionary. CMAX,
300 F.2d at 268 (9th Cir. 1962). In determining whether a
stay is warranted, the court must weigh the competing
interests resulting from granting or declining a motion to
stay. Id. Among the competing interests are (1) the
possible damage that may result from the granting of a stay,
(2) the hardship or inequity a party may suffer in being
required to go forward, and (3) the orderly course of justice
measured in terms of the simplifying or complicating of
issues, proof, and questions of law expected to result from a
stay. Id. at 268; Lockyer v. Mirant Corp.,
398 F.3d 1098, 1110 (9th Cir. 2005). Finally, “[t]he
party requesting a stay bears the burden of showing that the
circumstances justify an exercise of that discretion.”
Nken v. Holder, 556 U.S. 418, 433-34 (2009) (citing
Clinton v. Jones, 520 U.S. 681, 708 (1997);
Landis v. N. Am. Co., 299 U.S. 248, 255 (1936)). The
court weighs the competing interests in this case below.
the court must balance the “possible damage [to
plaintiff] which may result from the granting of a stay,
” with “the hardship or inequity which
[defendants] may suffer in being required to go
forward.” CMAX, 300 F.2d at 268. If there is
“even a fair possibility that the stay for which
[defendants] prays will work damage to someone else, ”
then defendants must show “a clear case of hardship or
inequity in being required to go forward.”
Landis, 299 U.S. at 255.
court must also consider “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.” CMAX, 300 F.2d at 268.
In reviewing this factor, the court is mindful of the
imperative that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure be
“construed, administered, and employed by the court and
the parties to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive
determination of every action and proceeding.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 1; see also Landis, 299 U.S. at 254-55,
57 (a court has the inherent power “to control the
disposition of the causes on its docket with economy of time
and effort for itself, for counsel, and for litigants”
and “[h]ow this can best be done calls for the exercise
of judgment, which must weigh competing interests and
maintain an even balance”).
defendants contend a stay is warranted because
Robertson is expected to be heard by the Ninth
Circuit in the next four to six months. Goose Mot. at 13;
LaPant Mot. at 10. Defendants also contend, should the case
proceed, they will face unnecessary expenditures due to
ongoing discovery. Goose Mot. at 12; LaPant Mot. at 12.
Plaintiff counters that a decision in Robertson may
not issue for more than 14 months, and ongoing litigation
costs are not a reason to justify a stay. Opp'n at 9.
court finds the first two factors weigh against staying this
action. Defendants' contentions do not warrant a stay.
First, although oral argument is set in the Circuit for
August 29, see Robertson, Dkt. No. 57, it is unclear
when the Circuit will resolve Robertson. Second, as
to ongoing litigation costs, the Ninth Circuit has said
“being required to defend suit, without more, does not
constitute a clear case of hardship or inequity within the
meaning of Landis” Lockyer, 398 F.3d at 1112.
Third, at hearing, the United States contended ongoing and
future harm would occur should the case be stayed, and delay
will thwart its efforts to obtain the right to mitigate
onsite damage to the property. This factor on balance weighs
against a stay. See Id. (“[U]nlike the
plaintiffs in CMAX and Leyva, who sought only
damages for past harm, the Attorney General seeks injunctive
relief against ongoing and future harm.”).
the orderly course of justice, the court concludes this
factor also weighs against a stay. Defendants contend a
decision in Robertson would clarify issues of CWA
jurisdiction, which remain in doubt given the pending appeal.
LaPant Mot. at 13; Goose Pond Mot. at 11. However, when
pressed at hearing about the precise effect
Robertson would have on the defendants'
discovery budget or efforts, or how exactly the Ninth
Circuit's decision might narrow defendants'
liability, defendants made only generalized and unsupported
assertions. Goose Pond's counsel did say the primary
impact would be felt during expert discovery, the parameters
of which could change significantly if Robertson is
decided as defendants hope. At hearing the court indicated it
would not impose a stay but would entertain a modified
schedule for expert discovery and trial, to provide more time
to assess the potential effects of Robertson; since
hearing the parties have met and conferred to propose an
amended schedule. They now agree ...