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Williams v. Jamison

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Paducah Division

June 19, 2018

AUSTIN WILLIAMS, et. al., PLAINTIFFS
v.
WILLIAM TERRY JAMISON, DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Thomas B. Russell, Senior Judge

         Plaintiffs Austin Williams, as administrator of the estate of Mark Williams, and Anthony Williams bring this action against Defendant William Terry Jamison alleging wrongful death and intentional interference with a business expectancy. [DN 1.] Plaintiffs have filed a motion to stay this civil action pending the final resolution of Defendant's related criminal case. [DN 11.] Defendant responded in opposition, [DN 14], and Plaintiffs replied, [DN 17.] Fully briefed, this matter is now ripe for adjudication. For the reasons explained in detail below, Plaintiffs' motion to stay is GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND

         Defendant William Jamison shot and killed Mark Williams on October 1, 2016. [DN 11 at 1.] Following a four-day jury trial from August 14 to 17, 2017 in Fulton County Circuit Court, Jamison was convicted of murder without the justification of self-defense and sentenced to twenty years in prison. [Id.] Jamison appealed his sentence and conviction to the Kentucky Supreme Court on November 8, 2017. [Id. at 2.] Jamison filed his appeal brief on February 9, 2018, and the Commonwealth of Kentucky has moved for an extension which would make its brief due June 6, 2018. [DN 11 at 2; DN 17 at 3.] Jamison will then have an opportunity to file a reply brief, and he has also requested oral argument. [DN 17 at 3.]

         The Plaintiffs in this civil action are Austin Williams, Mark Williams's adult son and the administrator of his estate, and Anthony Williams, Mark Williams's brother. [Id. at 1.] Plaintiffs assert wrongful death and intentional interference with business expectancy claims against Jamison. Now, Plaintiffs move to stay discovery and the case in its entirety pending the resolution of Jamison's criminal appeal. [DN 11.]

         As grounds, Plaintiffs cite complications they have encountered with obtaining records from the criminal case from the Kentucky State Police (KSP). [DN 11 at 3-5.] Specifically, on February 20, 2018, Plaintiffs' counsel sent an Open Records Request letter to KSP requesting copies of several categories of evidence used in Jamison's criminal case, including photographs, forensic examiners' reports and credentials, body camera footage, and 911 recordings. [DN 11-1 at 1-2 (Plaintiffs' Letter to KSP).] In response, KSP explained that, due to the ongoing status of Jamison's appeal, the case is not yet “closed” under KSP policy and therefore KSP denied Plaintiffs' request for a copy of its investigative file. [DN 11-2 at 1 (KSP's Response Letter).] Counsel for KSP later “offered overtures that agreements from KSP investigators, the Commonwealth Attorney, or court orders could be additional considerations in their evaluation of the production of information, as well as an observation of asking this Court to stay the civil action pending the criminal proceeding.” [DN 11 at 4.]

         Plaintiffs acknowledge that they have options for challenging KSP's denial of their Open Records Request, including “appealing to the Kentucky Attorney General from the KSP denial, or if that decision were adverse, appealing to the appropriate Circuit Court, ” which “are options when information is denied by a state agency.” [Id.] Apparently, “before they “contacted [KSP] about information, the Commonwealth Attorney had advised plaintiffs' counsel that he did not have an objection if the civil action proceeded.” [Id.]

         Plaintiffs also contacted the Kentucky Medical Examiner's Office (MEO), which performed the autopsy on Mark Williams. [Id.] Unlike KSP, the MEO “responded that upon payment for copies, certain records would be provided.” [Id. at 4-5.] Plaintiffs again contacted KSP to notify them that the MEO would provide the relevant records, but KSP advised that its position had not changed because MEO is its own separate agency. [Id. at 5.]

         Ultimately, Plaintiffs' counsel states that it can obtain the records from the MEO and can also obtain certain court records from the Fulton County Circuit Court trial. [Id.] However, Plaintiffs argue that “without access to additional information from KSP, plaintiffs' counsel will be limited in compliance with the Scheduling Order (DN 8), and preparation of this case.” [Id.]

         In addition, Plaintiffs argue that, “[s]ince the criminal action is pending on appeal, the possibility of a retrial in Fulton Circuit Court remains.” [Id. at 3.] “[O]n appeal, the defendant strongly argues that the Commonwealth should not have made repeated comments about his silence after Miranda warnings were initially provided to him at the scene. The defendant also argues regarding the propriety of the instructions and trial court rulings regarding restrictions on defense witnesses.” [Id. at 7-8.] Accordingly, Plaintiffs argue that, if Jamison's conviction is reversed and his case is remanded for a new trial, a stay of this action would preserve the integrity of the evidence and “could allow the Kentucky Supreme Court to clarify or eliminate potential substantive issues in this case.” [Id. at 8.]

         DISCUSSION

         “The power to stay proceedings is incidental to the power inherent in every court to control the disposition of the causes in its docket with economy of time and effort for itself, for counsel and for litigants, and the entry of such an order ordinarily rests with the sound discretion of the District Court.” F.T.C. v. E.M.A. Nationwide, Inc., 767 F.3d 611, 626-27 (6th Cir. 2014) (quoting Ohio Envtl. Council v. U.S. Dist. Court, S. Dist. of Ohio, E. Div., 565 F.2d 393, 396 (6th Cir. 1977)). The Sixth Circuit reviews this Court's decision of whether to stay a civil action for abuse of discretion. Id. at 627.

         Though “nothing in the Constitution requires a civil action to be stayed in the face of a pending or impending criminal indictment, ” id. (quoting Chao v. Fleming, 498 F.Supp.2d 1034, 1037 (W.D. Mich. 2007)), and “there is no requirement that a civil proceeding be stayed pending the outcome of criminal proceedings, ” id. (quoting S.E.C. v. Novaferon Labs, Inc., No. 91-3102, 941 F.2d 1210, 1991 WL 158757, at *2 (6th Cir. Aug. 14, 1991)), district courts nonetheless “have ‘broad discretion in determining whether to stay a civil action while a criminal action is pending or impending.” Id. (quoting Chao, 498 F.Supp. at 1037).

         Courts generally consider six factors in determining whether to stay a civil action ...


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