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Forrest v. Corzine

November 9, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joel Schneider United States Magistrate Judge

[Doc. No. 47]


The issue before the Court is whether to grant the City of Camden's ("Camden") motion to stay all or a portion of the case pending the completion of an ongoing criminal investigation and prosecution of five (5) Camden police officers. For the reasons to be discussed Camden's motion is DENIED.*fn2


This action stems from alleged police misconduct involving two (2) Camden police officers.*fn3 Plaintiff Alanda Forrest ("Forrest") filed his pro se complaint on April 2, 2009. Forrest subsequently retained an attorney who filed a third amended complaint ("complaint") on April 9, 2010. Forrest alleges that on July 1, 2008 Camden Police Officers Kevin Parry ("Parry") and Jason Stetser ("Stetser") planted drugs and beat him up. He contends that Parry and Stetser then "falsely made a statement that [plaintiff]. . . resisted arrest by going into a fighting position and that he had drugs in his possession." Complaint ¶11. Forrest alleges that Parry, Stetser and John Does conspired between May 2007 and October 28, 2009 to violate the constitutional rights of New Jersey citizens by planting evidence, intentionally using unreasonable force, falsifying police reports and testifying falsely under oath. Id. ¶¶42-43. Forrest also contends that Parry lied under oath to a Camden County Grand Jury to conceal his actions. Id. ¶44. Forrest contends that as a result of the false charges he was "convicted and sentenced to jail for three years and served time in jail from July 1, 2008 to January 6, 2010 when [he] was released and the conviction vacated." Id. ¶46.

As to Camden, Forrest alleges it "failed to properly train and/or supervise the police officer defendants in the justification for and use of force." Id. ¶31. He also alleges that Camden was aware of the unjustified violent and/or aggressive actions of Parry and Stetser and encouraged, tolerated, and/or acquiesced to their unlawful/unconstitutional actions. Id. ¶¶31, 32. In addition, Forrest alleges that Camden was willfully indifferent to its police officers' illegal actions. He contends that Camden should have been aware of Parry and Stetser's illegal conspiracy and stopped it before January 6, 2010. Id. ¶47.

When Camden filed its motion it asked to stay the entire case. In its Reply Brief ("RB") Camden limited its request to an "an order [to] be entered staying discovery in this matter with the limited exception of the Defendants' production of documents relative to (1) Monell issues; and (2) Supercession issues." RB at 3.*fn4

Camden argues a stay is appropriate because it "is unable to communicate with the Police Department and Chief of Police regarding the core subject of this litigation." Brief at 5. According to Camden's attorney, "It is [his] understanding that [Police] Chief Thompson has been advised by the United States Attorney's Office that he is not permitted to speak to anyone about any of the matters that are subject of the ongoing criminal investigation - including the actions of the alleged officers involved, the criminal investigation itself, and the civil investigation that has resulted therefrom including, but not limited to, the instant matter." See Certification of Marc Riondino, Esq. ¶3 ("Riondino Cert."). Camden argues that due to this alleged instruction unless a stay is entered it "would be unable to construct a defense, gather appropriate evidence, and effectively communicate with [its] client and officers of the Police Department in order to effectively defend this litigation during the course of the criminal investigation." Brief at 5.*fn5 In response, plaintiff argues Camden does not have a right to block discovery and he will be prejudiced by a stay. Plaintiff further argues there is no due process right to stay a civil case when a related criminal case is pending.


The stay of a civil proceeding is an extraordinary remedy and is not favored. Landis v. N. Am. Co., 299 U.S. 248, 254 (1936); Walsh Sec., Inc. v. Cristo Prop. Mgmgt., Ltd., 7 F. Supp. 2d 523, 526 (D.N.J. 1998). However, a court has the discretion to stay a case if the interests of justice so require. U.S. v. Kordel, 397 U.S. 1, 12 n. 27 (1970). A stay of a civil case where there are pending criminal proceedings is not constitutionally required but may be warranted in certain circumstances. Id.; DeVita v. Sills, 422 F.2d 1173, 1181 (3d Cir. 1970); see also Warner v. Kozub, No. 05-2871 (JBS), 2007 WL 162766, at *3 (D.N.J. January 18, 2007) (staying case pending the outcome of the pro se plaintiff's criminal prosecution following plaintiff's invocation of his Fifth Amendment rights throughout discovery). Whether to stay a case "calls for the exercise of judgment which must weigh competing interests and maintain an even balance." Landis, 299 U.S. at 254-55.

Since Camden is asking the Court to order all but two discrete areas of discovery "off limits," the Court deems Camden's motion to ask for the entry of a protective order pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(c). Pursuant to this Rule, the Court may limit, bar or stay discovery if the moving party establishes "good cause." Specifically, in accordance with Rule 26(c)(1)(B) the court may specify terms, including time and place, for discovery, and pursuant to Rule 26(c)(1)(D) the court may forbid inquiry into certain matters or limit the scope of discovery to certain matters. The Court finds that Camden has not demonstrated good cause to grant a complete or partial stay of discovery. In addition, the Court finds that Camden will not be materially prejudiced in the absence of a stay, but on the other hand, plaintiff will be prejudiced if Camden's motion is granted. Accordingly, Camden's motion will be denied.

The crux of Camden's argument is that its defense is prejudiced while the Camden police investigation and prosecution is ongoing. Camden's argument is rejected. Camden relies upon its in-house attorney's Certification that avers, "it is [his] understanding" that the United States Attorney's Office told its Chief of Police that "he is not permitted to speak to anyone about any of the matters that are subject of the ongoing criminal investigation." See Riondino Cert., supra, ¶3.*fn6 However, even assuming the instruction was given, Camden did not cite any authority to the effect that it is bound by the U.S. Attorney's request or instruction. Nor has the City cited any authority barring the Court from compelling relevant discovery despite a contrary direction from the U.S. Attorney.

In addition, the Court notes that Camden is not the subject of a criminal investigation or prosecution. Thus, unlike the cases Camden relies upon to support its motion, Camden does not run the risk that it may waive its Fifth Amendment rights or expose itself to criminal liability because of its civil testimony. Further, Camden does not face a risk that its criminal defense strategy will be revealed in this civil case. The Court, therefore, does not find that Camden will be prejudiced if discovery takes its usual course.

To be sure, the Court is not unmindful of the interplay between the related civil and criminal proceedings. The problem with Camden's motion, however, is that it seeks to bar broad areas of relevant discovery when only a limited adjustment may be necessary. By way of example, if Camden's motion is granted plaintiff might be barred from obtaining copies of the official police reports regarding his arrest since Camden might argue the reports ...

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