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Galarza v. Whittle-Kinard

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

May 18, 2017

Galarza
v.
Whittle-Kinard, et al.

          LETTER OPINION & ORDER

          HONORABLE STEVEN C. MANNION, U.S.M.J.

         Counsel:

         Before this Court is Defendant Prime Healthcare Services - St. Michael's, LLC's (“Prime Healthcare”) informal motion to stay discovery pending the resolution of its motion to dismiss the Second Amended Complaint.[1] Plaintiff, Maria Galarza (“Ms. Galarza”) opposes the stay and Prime Healthcare has replied.[2] Having considered the parties' respective submissions, the telephonic arguments of counsel heard on May 17, 2017, and for the reasons discussed below, the Court grants in part Prime Healthcare's informal request to temporarily stay discovery pending decision on its motion to dismiss.

         I. BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         At issue is Prime Healthcare's request to stay discovery pending the outcome of its motion to dismiss. Prime Healthcare entered an appearance in this matter in September 2016 after Ms. Galarza amended the removed complaint.[3] Her first amended complaint alleged successor liability claims[4] and the second amended complaint added allegations to support a joint employer theory of liability against Prime Healthcare in connection with its purchase of St. Michael's, Ms. Galarza's former employer.[5] Ms. Galarza also seeks relief from her former co-workers, Defendants Roslyn Whittle-Kinard, Lota Herrera, Dennis Sparks, David Ricci, and Dennis Pettigrew (collectively, the “Individual Defendants”) for alleged retaliation and firing her for “exercising her rights”.[6]

         After removing this action to federal court, the parties began exchanging discovery in accordance with the December 13, 2016 fact discovery deadline set by the Court.[7] The Court subsequently extended this deadline to April 13, 2017[8] and then to July 14, 2017.[9] Following oral argument, the Court again extended all discovery dates approximately sixty (60) days with the understanding that counsel will aggressively pursue discovery.

         Prime Healthcare's request seeks to stay discovery pending the disposition of its motion to dismiss.[10] Ms. Galarza opposes a stay.[11] The Individual Defendants do not.[12]

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Rule 26(c) Standard for Discovery Stay

         A party seeking to stay discovery pending the outcome of a dispositive motion bears the burden of demonstrating “good cause.”[13] “Courts generally do not favor granting motions to stay discovery because when discovery is delayed or prolonged it can create case management problems which impede the court's responsibility to expedite discovery and cause unnecessary litigation expenses and problems.”[14] “[I]t is well settled that the mere filing of a dispositive motion does not constitute ‘good cause' for the issuance of a discovery stay.”[15] The party seeking a stay must demonstrate “a clear case of hardship or inequity in being required to go forward, if there is even a fair possibility that the stay will work damage to someone else.”[16] A finding of “good cause” requires a balancing of competing interests and the court's inherent interest in promoting “fair and efficient adjudication” of the claims.[17]

         B. Analysis

         Despite the use of burden shifting language in Prime Healthcare's Reply, the burden of demonstrating good cause remains with Prime Healthcare as the party seeking the stay. Prime Healthcare argues that a balance of the following factors demonstrate that a stay is appropriate.[18]First, it contends that a stay would not prejudice Ms. Galarza or present Prime Healthcare with clear tactical disadvantage. Second, it avers that denial would create a clear case of hardship or inequity for Prime Healthcare. Third, it argues that the pending motion to dismiss has a strong likelihood of success which would result in Prime Healthcare's dismissal from this action. Lastly, it proffers that discovery is in its infancy stage and a trial date has not been set.

         On balance, the Court finds that Prime Healthcare has demonstrated good cause for the issuance of a stay pending the resolution of the motion to dismiss. The first factor, whether a stay would result in prejudice to Ms. Galarza, weighs in favor of staying this action. Here, Ms. Galarza argues she would be substantially prejudiced if discovery is stayed because 1) she has already engaged in extensive discovery with the Individual Defendants, including the exchange of thousands of documents, answering interrogatories, providing initial disclosures and providing an economic expert report; 2) it would “obstruct Plaintiff's ability to conduct discovery by that time, or even an extended period of time;” 3) she will be forced to take the depositions of the Individual Defendants' witnesses without the benefit of interrogatory responses or documents from Defendant; and 4) a stay would provide Prime Healthcare with an “unfair advantage for the purposes of both filing a Summary Judgment Motion and preparing for trial.”[19] In response, Prime Healthcare dismisses each of the above contentions as “purely speculative” and argues that if Ms. Galarza was concerned about discovery “she would not have waited 8 months” to serve “her first and only discovery requests on Prime Healthcare.”[20]

         Ms. Galarza's arguments amount to her belief that a stay will prejudice her by delaying discovery and the adjudication of this matter. However, “delay in resolving [a] dispositive motion does not, without more, establish that undue prejudice will result from issuance of a stay.”[21] The Court further finds that any delay in discovery falls on Ms. Galarza's shoulders. While she has engaged in extensive discovery with the Individual Defendants, the opposite is true with regards to Prime Healthcare. Prime Healthcare has been a party to this case since August 22, 2016.[22] Since then, Ms. Galarza has served only one request for the production of documents upon Prime Healthcare dated April 17, 2017.[23] Ms. Galarza has not identified any Prime Healthcare witnesses she intends to or needs to depose before resolution of the dismissal motion, what information she hopes to obtain from Prime Healthcare, or how the information sought is relevant.[24] For these reasons, Prime Healthcare has met its burden of showing that Ms. Galarza would not be prejudiced by a stay pending disposition of the motion to dismiss.

         Turning to the third argument, the Court finds that disposition of Prime Healthcare's motion to dismiss is a neutral factor with regard to the instant request to stay. “Where there is a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the court should take a preliminary look at the allegedly dispositive motion to see whether it is a challenge as a matter of law or to the sufficiency of the allegations.”[25] If the motion “merely addresses the sufficiency of the complaint, resolution of the pending motion is not necessarily dispositive because the pleadings may be amended to correct the deficiencies.”[26] Here, the Court's review of the motion to dismiss reveals that Prime Healthcare challenges the sufficiency of the joint employer claim[27] but also challenges the successor liability claim as a matter of law. Ms. Galarza's opposition asserts the same. Accordingly, the Court cannot conclude that only one result can be reached. Even if the successor liability claims are dismissed, the joint employer claims against Prime Healthcare may survive. Regardless, this case will move forward because the Individual Defendants do not seek a stay nor have they ...


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