United States District Court, D. South Dakota, Southern Division
LANCE G. OWEN, Plaintiff,
DARIN YOUNG, TROY PONTO, JAN WAGNER, ART ALLCOCK, AW AT SDSP; Defendants.
ORDER ON MOTIONS: DOCKET NO. 35-PROTECTIVE ORDER
DOCKET NO. 38-TO STRIKE DOCKET NO. 40-FOR DISCOVERY
VERONICA L. DUFFY United States Magistrate Judges.
matter is before the court on plaintiff Lance G. Owen's
pro se amended complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983. See Docket No. 9. Currently pending are
three motions. Defendants have moved to stay discovery and
for a protective order pending the filing of a motion on
qualified immunity. See Docket No. 35. Mr. Owen
moved to strike defendants' motion. See Docket
No. 38. Mr. Owen then moved for conditions for discovery
motions. See Docket No. 40. All of these motions
have been referred to this magistrate judge for determination
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A) & (B) and the
October 16, 2014, standing order of the Honorable Karen E.
Schreier, district judge.
Owen, in his amended complaint, asserts that the South Dakota
Department of Corrections (DOC) is taking more money out of
his account for Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) filing
fees than what Mr. Owen owes under the PLRA. See
Docket No. 9. He filed a motion for summary judgment,
attaching his prison account statements for May and June of
2016. See Docket No. 31. Those statements showed
that $352 had been taken from Mr. Owen's prison account
to pay PLRA filing fees. See Docket Nos. 31-1 and
31-2. The filing fee for a single civil case in federal court
is $350. See 28 U.S.C. § 1914.
what Mr. Owen failed to take into consideration is that he
had filed two civil suits in this court: the instant
one and another one previously in 2013 on which PLRA filing
fee payments were still being made. This court issued a
report recommending that Mr. Owen's summary judgment be
denied because he had not shown that the DOC had taken more
than the $700 he owed collectively in filing fees on his two
federal civil cases.
now seek to have this case stayed while they prepare and file
a dispositive motion on the issue of qualified immunity.
See Docket No. 35. Mr. Owen moves to strike
defendants' motion because he had previously filed a
motion for summary judgment. See Docket No. 38. At
the same time as he filed his motion to strike, Mr. Owen
filed a motion seeking conditions for discovery motions.
See Docket No. 40.
order to show a prima facie case under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983, Mr. Owen must show (1) defendants acted under
color or state law and (2) “ ‘the alleged
wrongful conduct deprived him of a constitutionally protected
federal right.' ” Zutz v. Nelson, 601 F.3d
842, 848 (8th Cir. 2010) (quoting Schmidt v. City of
Bella Villa, 557 F.3d 564, 571 (8th Cir. 2009)).
immunity protects government officials from liability and
from having to defend themselves in a civil suit if the
conduct of the officials “does not violate clearly
established statutory or constitutional rights.”
Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982).
Qualified immunity is immunity from suit, not just a defense
to liability at trial. Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S.
511, 526 (1985). Therefore, the Supreme Court has
“repeatedly stressed the importance of resolving
immunity questions at the earliest possible stage in
litigation.” Hunter v. Bryant, 502 U.S. 224,
determine whether an official may partake of qualified
immunity, two factors must be determined: (1) whether the
facts that plaintiff has shown make out a violation of a
constitutional right and (2) whether that constitutional
right was “clearly established” at the time of
the official's acts. Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S.
194, 201 (2001). If the court finds that one of the two
elements is not met, the court need not decide the other
element, and the court may address the elements in any order
it wishes “in light of the circumstances of the
particular case at hand.” Pearson v. Callahan,
555 U.S. 223, 236 (2009).
are entitled to qualified immunity if the answer to either of
the Saucier prongs is “no.”
“Qualified immunity gives government officials
breathing room to make reasonable but mistaken judgments,
” and “protects ‘all but the plainly
incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.'
” Stanton v. Sims, 571 U.S., 134 S.Ct. 3, 5
(2013) (quoting Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731,
131 S.Ct. 2074, 2085 (2011) (quoting Malley v.
Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 341 (1986))). “ ‘We do
not require a case directly on point' before concluding
that the law is clearly established, ‘but existing
precedent must have placed the statutory or constitutional
question beyond debate.' ” Stanton, 134
S.Ct. at 5. “ ‘Officials are not liable for bad
guesses in gray areas; they are liable for transgressing
bright lines.' ” Ambrose v. Young, 474
F.3d 1070, 1077 (8th Cir. 2007) (quoting Hunter, 502
U.S. at 229).
Supreme Court has stated that “if the defendant does
plead the [qualified] immunity defense, the district court
should resolve that threshold question before permitting
discovery.” Crawford-El v. Britton, 523 U.S.
574, 598 (1998) (citing Harlow, 457 U.S. at 818).
Only if the plaintiff's claims survive a dispositive
motion on the issue of qualified immunity will the plaintiff
“be entitled to some discovery.” Id.
Even then, the Court has pointed out that Fed.R.Civ.P. 26
“vests the trial judge with broad discretion to tailor
discovery narrowly and to dictate the sequence of
discovery.” Id. Such discretion includes the
ability to establish limits on the number of depositions and
interrogatories, to limit the length of depositions, to limit
the number of requests to admit, to bar discovery on certain
subjects, and to limit the time, place, and manner of
discovery as well as its timing and sequence. Id.
defendants' motion for a protective order and to stay
discovery in this case until a qualified immunity motion can
be placed before the court is well placed. Defendants are
entitled to assert the defense of qualified immunity before
subjecting themselves to further discovery or motions
practice. Accordingly, the court will grant defendants'
motion. Having so ordered, the court notes two things.
Defendants should have already filed such a motion- they have
had three months since they filed their motion seeking a stay
in which to do so. Defendants are ordered to get their motion
before the court sooner rather than later. Also, ...