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Stavrianoudakis v. U.S. Department of Fish & Wildlife

United States District Court, E.D. California

December 20, 2019

PETER STAVRIANOUDAKIS, et al., Plaintiffs,
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF FISH & WILDLIFE, et al., Defendants.



         Currently before the Court is a motion to stay discovery filed by Defendants United States Department of Fish and Wildlife Service, Margaret Everson in her official capacity as the Principal Deputy Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Charlton Bonham in his official capacity as the Director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (“Defendants”). (Doc. No. 51.) Plaintiffs Peter Stavrianoudakis, Katherine Stavrianoudakis, Eric Ariyoshi, Scott Timmons, and American Falconry Conservancy (“Plaintiffs”) filed an opposition on November 27, 2019, and Defendants replied on December 13, 2019. (Doc. Nos. 52, 56.)

         The Court found the matter suitable for decision without the need for oral argument pursuant to Local Rule 230(g) and vacated the hearing on the motion set for December 20, 2019. (Doc. No. 57.) Having considered the motion, the opposition, the reply, the parties' arguments, as well as the entire record in this case, the Court grants Defendants' motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs originally filed this action on October 30, 2018. (Doc. No. 1.) In the First Amended Complaint, filed on January 18, 2019, Plaintiffs allege that certain federal and California regulations applicable to the practice of falconry are unconstitutional and violate the Administrative Procedures Act. (Doc. No. 16.)

         On January 28, 2019, Plaintiffs filed a motion for a preliminary injunction. (Doc. No. 17.) Defendants filed motions to dismiss and an opposition to the motion for preliminary injunction on March 15, 2019. (Doc. Nos. 24-26.) The Court took the motion for preliminary injunction and motions to dismiss under submission on April 9, 2019. (Doc. No. 43.) Due to the judicial emergency in this District, the Court has not yet issued a written decision on the pending motions.

         On October 30, 2018, when the case was first filed, the Court set an Initial Scheduling Conference for February 5, 2019. (Doc. No. 4.) The parties subsequently submitted five separate stipulations to continue the Initial Scheduling Conference due to the pending motions, and the Initial Scheduling Conference was ultimately scheduled for December 12, 2019. (Doc. Nos. 15, 19, 46, 48, 50.) On November 22, 2019, after Plaintiffs indicated that they were not willing to stipulate to any further continuances of the Initial Scheduling Conference, Defendants filed the instant motion to stay. (Doc. No. 51-1 at 2, 4.) On December 5, 2019, the Court converted the Initial Scheduling Conference to a Telephonic Status Conference. (Doc. No. 54.) At the conference on December 12, 2019, the Court and the parties discussed the status of the action, including the pending motion to stay discovery, and the judicial emergency in the Fresno Division of the Eastern District of California. (Doc. No. 55.) No. scheduling deadlines were set. (Id.)


         A district court “has broad discretion to stay proceedings as an incident to its power to control its own docket” and may stay discovery while a dispositive motion is pending. Clinton v. Jones, 520 U.S. 681, 706 (1997) (citing Landis v. North American Co., 299 U.S. 248, 254 (1936)); Orchid Biosciences, Inc. v. St. Louis Univ., 198 F.R.D. 670, 672 (S.D. Cal. 2001) (citing Data Disc, Inc. v. Sys. Tech. Associates, Inc., 557 F.2d 1280 (9th Cir. 1977)). The party seeking the stay bears the burden of establishing the need for a stay. Clinton, 520 U.S. at 708.

         Defendants seek to stay all discovery in this case until thirty (30) days after the Court issues an order resolving the pending motions to dismiss in order to avoid “potentially unnecessary, expensive discovery.” (Doc. No. 51 at 4.) Defendants further seek to continue the Initial Scheduling Conference until after the pending motions are resolved. (Id.) Plaintiffs oppose a stay on the grounds that Defendants have failed to carry their burden to establish that a stay of discovery is warranted. (Doc. No. 52.)

         The parties disagree regarding the applicable standard governing Defendants' motion to stay. Defendants contend that a two-part test applies, wherein the Court must determine: 1) whether the pending motion is potentially dispositive of the entire case or dispositive of the issue at which discovery is aimed; and 2) whether the pending motion can be decided without additional discovery. (Doc. No. 51-1 at 3.) Citing to Mlejnecky v. Olympus Imaging America, Inc., 2011 WL 489743, at *7 (E.D. Cal. Feb. 7, 2011), Plaintiffs argue that Defendants “must make a ‘clear and convincing showing' or demonstrate the ‘immediate and clear possibility' that they will prevail on the merits of their dispositive motions.” (Doc. No. 52 at 2.) On reply, Defendants note that Mlejnecky acknowledged that the Ninth Circuit has not articulated a controlling standard for issuance of a stay of discovery, that the decision to stay is within the discretion of the trial court, and several variations of the two-part test have emerged. (Doc. No. 56 at 2.) Defendants further argue that, regardless of which standard applies, it has been satisfied here. (Id.)

         In Mlejnecky, the defendant filed a motion for a protective order seeking to stay the exchange of initial disclosures and discovery in the case due to a pending motion to dismiss. Mlejnecky, 2011 WL 489743, at *1. The parties, as here, disagreed regarding the applicable standard used to evaluate motions to stay discovery while a dispositive motion is pending, which the court recognized was “a not uncommon dispute” in the context of such motions. Id. at *5, 7 n. 10. The Mlejnecky court reviewed the standards used by other courts in the Ninth Circuit in determining motions to stay discovery. Id. at *5-8. Specifically, the Court recognized that:

“[t]he Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has not announced a clear standard against which to evaluate a request or motion to stay discovery in the face of a pending, potentially dispositive motion. However, federal district courts in California, including this court, have applied a two-part test when evaluating such a request for a stay. First, the pending motion must be potentially dispositive of the entire case, or at least dispositive on the issue at which discovery is aimed. Second, the court must determine whether the pending, potentially dispositive motion can be decided absent additional discovery. . . . Discovery should proceed if either prong of the test is not met.”

Id. at *7. As to the first prong, the defendant argued that it need only demonstrate that there is a “clear possibility” that the potentially dispositive motion would be granted. Id. The plaintiff, in turn, argued that the defendant was required to show “by clear and convincing evidence” that it would prevail on the merits of the dispositive motion. Id. Without deciding which standard should apply, the Mlejnecky court concluded that neither had been met and declined to stay discovery. Id. In doing so, the court “recognize[d] the awkward nature” of reviewing the merits of the potentially dispositive motion in evaluating whether a stay should issue. Id. at *8. ...

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