United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division
MICHAEL EDWARD HAMMONDS, BILLY WAYNE NIPPER, and DEBBIE BLACK, individually, and MICHAEL EDWARD HAMMONDS and BILLY WAYNE NIPPER, AS CO-ADMINISTRATORS OF THE ESTATE OF BETTY JEAN NIPPER, DECEASED, Plaintiffs,
GRAY TRANSPORTATION, INC.; MICHAEL G. ELIAS; RYDER TRUCK RENTAL; and HUDSON INSURANCE COMPANY; Defendants.
ORDER DENYING MOTION TO STAY AND GRANTING MOTION TO
E. SELF, III, JUDGE
the Court is Defendants Gray Transportation, Inc. and Michael
G. Elias's Motion to Stay Proceedings Pending Resolution
of Criminal Proceeding [Doc. 12] and Defendant Hudson
Insurance Company's Motion to Dismiss [Doc. 16]. After
reviewing the parties' submissions, the Court
DENIES the Motion to Stay [Doc. 12] and
GRANTS the Motion to Dismiss [Doc. 16]. As
the Court has now ruled on all of the pending motions in this
case, it LIFTS the stay it previously
case arises out of a catastrophic auto accident that resulted
in the severe injury and ultimate death of Betty Jean Nipper.
[Doc. 1, at ¶ 23]. Plaintiffs alleges that at the time
of the accident Ms. Nipper was driving a 2014 Honda Accord on
Georgia Highway 257 in Dooly County, Georgia. [Id.
at ¶ 20]. Plaintiffs further allege that Defendant
Elias, a commercial truck driver employed by Defendant Gray
Transportation and allegedly acting within the course and
scope of his employment, was driving a freightliner truck
owned by Defendant Ryder Truck Rental, Inc.
(“Ryder”) and allegedly following the Honda
Accord “too closely” and “traveling at an
excessive rate of speed.” [Id. at ¶¶
21 & 24]. The accident allegedly occurred when Ms.
Nipper, after signaling her intent to turn, attempted to make
a left hand turn off of Highway 257 into a driveway.
[Id. at ¶ 20]. Plaintiffs maintains that, as
Ms. Nipper began to turn, Defendant Elias “attempted to
improperly change lanes in the area of a double yellow
line/no passing zone to make an improper and unsafe passing
maneuver” resulting in a “violent
collision.” [Id. at 22].
the accident, Plaintiffs Michael Edward Hammond, Billy Wayne
Nipper, and Debbie Black-Ms. Nipper's surviving
children-brought this action under Georgia's wrongful
death statute. [Id. at ¶ 41]. Plaintiffs
Hammond and Nipper also bring this action as
co-administrators of Ms. Nipper's estate to recover for
the pain and suffering she experienced as a result of this
accident prior to her death. [Doc. 1, at ¶ 39].
Plaintiffs assert claims against Defendant Elias under
general theories of negligence and negligence per se
and Defendant Gray Transportation under the doctrine of
respondeat superior and for negligent hiring,
retention, and entrustment; negligent training and
supervision; violations “of the Federal Motor Carrier
Regulations”; and “under principles of Georgia
law applicable to joint ventures.” [Id. at
¶¶ 32 & 34]. Plaintiffs also asserts claims
against Defendant Ryder based on its alleged breached of a
voluntarily assumed duty to vet drivers, including Defendant
Elias, and under the doctrine of respondeat superior
and principles of Georgia law applicable to joint ventures.
[Id. at ¶ 35]. Finally, Plaintiff asserts
claims against Defendant Hudson Insurance based on an excess
indemnity agreement it had with Defendant Gray
Transportation, a surety bond it filed for Defendant Gray
Transportation, and for its breach of a voluntarily assumed
duty to vet potential drivers. [Id. at ¶ 33].
response to Plaintiffs' Complaint, Defendants filed the
instant motions asking the Court to stay the proceedings and
to dismiss the claims as to Defendant Hudson Insurance.
See generally [Docs. 12 & 16].
motion to dismiss tests the sufficiency of the allegations in
a plaintiff's complaint. Acosta v. Campbell, 309
Fed.Appx. 315, 317 (11th Cir. 2009). A complaint survives a
motion to dismiss if it pleads “sufficient factual
matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556
U.S. 662, 678 (2009). But the Court need not accept as true
“[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of
action” or “conclusory statements.”
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Thus, to decide whether a
complaint survives a motion to dismiss, district courts are
instructed to use a two-step framework. See McCullough v.
Finley, 907 F.3d 1324, 1333 (11th Cir. 2018). The first
step is to identify the allegations that are “no more
than mere conclusions.” Id. (quoting
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). “Conclusory
allegations are not entitled to the assumption of
truth.” Id. (citation omitted). After
disregarding the conclusory allegations, the second step is
to “assume any remaining factual allegations are true
and determine whether those factual allegations
‘plausibly give rise to an entitlement to
relief.'” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556
U.S. at 679).
Motion to Stay Proceedings [Doc. 12]
their Motion to Stay Proceedings, Defendants Gray
Transportation and Elias ask the Court to stay the
proceedings until the state resolves its criminal charges
against Defendant Elias. They argue that a stay is necessary
to allow them full access to information essential to their
defense. Specifically, Defendants Gray Transportation and
Elias argue that Georgia Code Annotated § 50-18-72(4)
prevents the disclosure of Georgia's investigative
reports of the subject accident while the charges against
Defendant Elias are pending. [Doc. 12, at p. 3]. They further
argue that allowing this case to proceed places Defendant
Elias “in the untenable position of not being able to
respond to Plaintiffs' written discovery or otherwise
testify in his own defense without waiving his Fifth
Amendment rights in the underlying criminal charges.”
[Id.]. In response, Plaintiffs argue that Defendants
should not be permitted to delay the proceedings when only a
small portion of discovery will overlap with information
protected by the Fifth Amendment. [Doc. 25, at p. 3].
Court finds that a stay is not appropriate in this case and
therefore denies Defendants Gray Transportation and
Elias's motion. The decision to grant a stay of this type
is squarely within the Court's discretion. See
[[Doc. 12, at p. 2]; [Doc. 25, at p. 4]; Fed.R.Civ.P.
26(d)Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(d). Other courts confronted with
similar situations have identified several useful factors in
guiding the Court's exercise of its discretion but none
of these factors are binding or dispositive. See Golden
Quality Ice Cream Co. v. Deerfield Specialty Papers, 87
F.R.D. 53, 56 (E.D. Pa. 1980); Trs. of the Plumbers &
Pipefitters Nat'l Pension Fund v. Transworld Mech.,
886 F.Supp. 1134 (S.D.N.Y. 1995). But see Louis Vuitton
Malletier S.A. v. LY USA, Inc., 676 F.3d 83, 99 (2d Cir.
2012) (“These tests, however, no matter how carefully
refined, can do no more than act as a rough guide for the
district court as it exercises its discretion.”). Of
these cases, the Court finds the factors outlined in
Golden Quality Ice Cream Co. particularly helpful in
deciding this motion. In Golden Quality Ice Cream
Co., the court considered the following factors in
deciding whether to stay a civil case during the pendency of
a parallel criminal case:
(1) the interest of the plaintiffs in proceeding
expeditiously with this litigation or any particular aspect
of it, and the potential prejudice to plaintiffs of a delay;
(2) the burden which any particular aspect of the proceedings
may impose on defendants; (3) the convenience of the court in
the management of its cases, and the efficient use of
judicial resources; (4) the interests of persons not parties
to the civil litigation; and (5) the interest of the public
in the pending civil and criminal litigation.
87 F.R.D. 53, 56 (E.D. Pa. 1980).
these factors to this case, the Court is persuaded that a
stay is not warranted. The Court is sympathetic to the
emotional and financial toll that protracted litigation would
have on Plaintiffs and gives great weight to their desire to
resolve this dispute expeditiously. [Doc. 25, at p. 6]. The
Court is, of course, aware of the difficulties that allowing
this case to proceed may impose on Defendants. That said,
Defendants were short on specifics as to how the lack of
access to certain investigative reports would uniquely
prejudice them. Defendants' arguments on this point are
little more than speculation. After all, it may well be the
case that the reports are of no value to them whatsoever or
that the reports actually damage their legal position-a fact
Plaintiffs aptly note. See [Id. at p. 7]
(“[Defendant Elias] has the same equal access to law
enforcement reports regarding the wreck report as
Plaintiffs.”). The Court will not allow this case to
linger to avoid such speculative harms.
arguments with regard to Defendant Elias's Fifth
Amendment rights are less speculative, but ultimately
unconvincing. It seems plausible that Defendant Elias will
have to contend with the adverse inferences that are
permitted in a civil case when a party invokes his Fifth
Amendment rights for purposes of a parallel criminal
proceeding. See United States v. Two Parcels of Real
Prop. Located in Russell Cty., 92 F.3d 1123, 1129 (11th
Cir. 1996) (authorizing negative inference in civil
proceeding where a plaintiff invokes Fifth Amendment rights
to avoid self-incrimination in parallel criminal proceeding).
However, such adverse inferences are only permitted
“when independent evidence exists of the fact to which
the party refuses to answer.” Joe Hand Promotions,
Inc. v. Chios, Inc., 544 Fed.Appx. 444, 446 (5th Cir.
2013) (quoting Doe ex rel. Rudy-Glanzer v. Glanzer,
232 F.3d 1258, 1264 (9th Cir. 2000)). This requirement
substantially mitigates the risk of undue prejudice that
Defendants complain of so that any such prejudice is
outweighed by Plaintiffs' interest in expeditiously
resolving this case.
Court's interest in resolving this case quickly and
efficiently also weighs against the risk of prejudice about
which Defendants Gray Transportation and Elias complain.
Defendants offered no evidence (or even conjecture) as to
when Defendant Elias's criminal charges will be resolved.
In light of the lack of information on this issue, the Court
fears that granting this stay will be the first chapter in a
multi-year saga in what should be a relatively
straightforward auto accident case. The Court acknowledges
that by granting the stay, it would essentially place this
case on the shelf to gather dust thereby drawing little from
the Court's scant resources. Nevertheless, even cases on
the shelf require periodic maintenance like regular
communication with the parties for status updates.
case does not implicate the final two factors -the interests
of parties not involved in litigation and the interests of
the public-identified in Golden Quality Ice Cream
Cos. Having weighed the equities of the situation, and
exercising its considerable discretion, the Court concludes
that granting a stay is unwarranted. Plaintiffs' interest
in quickly resolving their dispute and the Court's
interest in judicial efficiency outweigh the ...