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Ford v. Sessoms

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

May 18, 2015

DR. TONEY FORD, SR., Plaintiff,
v.
DEREK SESSOMS, et al., Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

SUSAN COLLINS, Magistrate Judge.

Before the Court is a "Motion to Stay Proceedings or, in the Alternative, to Stay Discovery" filed by Defendant Derek Sessoms, requesting that the Court stay this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action pending resolution of the criminal charges against pro se Plaintiff Dr. Toney Ford, Sr. (DE 21). Ford opposes the motion on various grounds, none of which are persuasive.

Accordingly, for the following reasons, the motion to stay will be GRANTED.

A. Factual and Procedural Background

In October 2014, Ford filed this § 1983 case against certain Marion, Indiana, city council members and police officers, including Sessoms, alleging various civil rights violations arising out of Ford's arrest on or about September 23, 2013. (DE 1). Specifically, Ford alleges that while driving his vehicle he noticed a "strange white car" following him, which eventually caused him to have an accident. (DE 1 at ¶ 29). Fearing for his own safety, Ford exited his vehicle and fled on foot. (DE 1 at ¶ 29). The "strange white car" turned out to be an unmarked police car, and Ford was later arrested for leaving the scene of an accident and resisting arrest. (DE 1 at ¶ 29; DE 3 at 2; DE 22 at 1).

After screening Ford's complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, only one claim remains-Ford's assertion that Sessoms violated his equal protection rights by discriminating against him on the basis of his race and nationality in his "unlawful arrest and detention."[1] (DE 3 at 3 (citing DE 1 at ¶ 49)). On March 16, 2015, Ford served Sessoms with various discovery requests. (DE 16; DE 17; DE 18). On April 6, 2015, Sessoms filed a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), which remains pending, together with the instant motion. (DE 19; DE 21).

In the motion to stay, Sessoms requests that the Court stay this case until resolution of Ford's criminal charges, which are pending in the Circuit Court of Grant County. (DE 21). Sessoms asserts that under Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971), this Court must abstain from taking jurisdiction over federal constitutional claims that may interfere with ongoing state proceedings. (DE 22 at 2). He further contends that some of Ford's discovery requests in this case appear to seek discovery for the criminal matter. (DE 22 at 2).

B. Applicable Legal Standard

Younger abstention applies to "federal claims for damages, where the federal claims are potentially subject to adjudication' in the state criminal proceeding and thus could interfere' with the state criminal proceeding." Robinson v. Lother, No. 04 C 2382, 2004 WL 2032120, at *2 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 1, 2004) (quoting Simpson v. Rowan, 73 F.3d 134, 137-39 (7th Cir. 1995)). For instance, if the plaintiff were to obtain a favorable resolution in the federal suit for damages before the conclusion of the state criminal case, the "resulting federal judgment might undermine the [state] court's consideration of [the plaintiff's] constitutional defenses to his criminal conviction." Simpson, 73 F.3d at 138. The Younger doctrine provides that a court must abstain from proceeding with the federal claims if:

(1) there is an ongoing state proceeding that is judicial in nature; (2) the state proceeding implicates important state interests; (3) there is an adequate opportunity in the state court proceeding to raise the constitutional challenge presented in the federal claims; and (4) there are no extraordinary circumstances that would render abstention inappropriate.

Trevino v. Drew Tittle, No. 1:09-cv-248RM, 2009 WL 3153754, at *3 (citing Forty One News v. Cnty. of Lake, 491 F.3d 662, 665 (7th Cir. 2007); Green v. Benden, 281 F.3d 661, 666 (7th Cir. 2002)).

Aside from Younger abstention, "[t]he court has the inherent power to stay civil proceedings, postpone civil discovery, or impose protective orders when the interests of justice so dictate." Horton v. Pobjecky, No. 12 c 7784, 2013 WL 791332, at *3 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 4, 2013) (quoting Doe v. City of Chicago, 360 F.Supp.2d 880, 881 (N.D. Ill. 2005)). Thus, "proceedings in a civil case may be stayed to prevent them from interfering with a related criminal case." Doe v. Cnty. of Milwaukee, No. 14-c-200, 2014 WL 3728078, at *5 (E.D. Wis. July 29, 2014) (collecting cases). In determining whether to stay civil proceedings because of a pending criminal action, a court may consider:

(1) whether the two actions involve the same subject matter, (2) whether the two actions are brought by the government, (3) the posture of the criminal proceeding, (4) the public interests at stake, (5) the plaintiff's interests and possible prejudice to the plaintiff, and (6) the burden ...

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