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Blankenship v. Napolitano

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia

November 19, 2019

ANDREW NAPOLITANO et al., Defendants.


          John T. . Copenhaver, Jr. Senior United States District Judge

         Pending are the defendants' motions to stay discovery and Rule 26(f) obligations pending the resolution of dispositive motions, filed on October 28, 2019 and October 29, 2019. The first motion was filed by thirty-seven (37) defendants, and the second motion was filed by two defendants. Six other defendants filed joinders to the first motion, so that a total of forty-five (45) defendants seeks a stay out of the fifty-two (52) remaining named defendants in this action.

         I. Factual Background

         The plaintiff, Don Blankenship, filed this action in West Virginia state court, which was later removed to this court, alleging claims of defamation and false light invasion of privacy against more than one-hundred individual and organizational defendants across the United States.[1] See Notice of Removal, ECF No. 1.

         Following an explosion in a West Virginia mine on April 5, 2010 that resulted in the death of twenty-nine (29) miners, the United States government initiated an investigation into the cause of the explosion. See First Am. Compl., ECF No. 14 at 32. As one of the outcomes of this investigation, the government charged the plaintiff with three felonies and a misdemeanor. Id. at 33. At trial, a federal jury found the plaintiff innocent of the felony charges but convicted him of the misdemeanor offense. Id. The plaintiff was sentenced to one year in jail, which the plaintiff served and from which he was released in early 2017. Id. at 34.

         In January 2018, the plaintiff began a campaign to run for a United States Senate seat in West Virginia. Id. at 34. In media coverage of this campaign, and even after the 2018 primary election, in which the plaintiff was unsuccessful, the plaintiff alleges that the defendants smeared him by referring to him as a “felon” or a “convicted felon, ”[2] despite the fact that the plaintiff was cleared of the felony charges and was only convicted of the misdemeanor offense. See id. at 35-53. The plaintiff filed this suit alleging four causes of action: (1) defamation, (2) conspiracy to defame the plaintiff, (3) false light invasion of privacy, and (4) conspiracy to commit false light invasion of privacy. See id. at 53-58.

         Twenty-two (22) motions to dismiss were filed by defendants, with several defendants joining in a single motion. These motions move for dismissal of the named defendants under Rule 12(b)(2) for lack of personal jurisdiction and/or under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Seventeen (17) of these remain pending and they include forty-six (46) of the fifty-two (52) named defendants remaining in this case.[3]

         The plaintiff opposes the motions to stay. See Pl.'s First Opp., ECF No. 385; Pl.'s Second Opp., ECF No. 384. As of the filing of these motions, the parties have not filed a Rule 26(f) report and it is the court's understanding that the parties have not yet held the Rule 26(f) conference, the last day for which has been rescheduled for November 21, 2019.

         II. Legal Standard

         Rule 26(c)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that:

A party or any person from whom discovery is sought may move for a protective order in the court where the action is pending . . . The court may, for good cause, issue an order to protect a party or person from . . . undue burden or expense, including one or more of the following:
(A) forbidding the disclosure or discovery;
(B) specifying terms, including time and place or the allocation of expenses, for the disclosure or discovery . . . .

         Under this rule, a district court has the discretion to stay discovery pending the outcome of a dispositive motion.[4] See Thigpen v. United States, 800 F.2d 393, 396-97 (4th Cir. 1986), overruled on other grounds by Sheridan v. United States, 487 U.S. 392 (1988) (“Nor did the court err by granting the government's motion under Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(c) to stay discovery pending disposition of the 12(b)(1) motion.”). Such a stay “is an eminently logical means to prevent wasting the time and effort of all concerned, and to make the most efficient use of judicial resources.” United States v. Daily Gazette Co., No.CIV.A. 2:07-0329, 2007 WL 7575700, at *2 (S.D. W.Va. Oct. 18, 2007) (citation omitted).

         District courts consider whether a motion to stay under Rule 26(c)(1) is warranted on a case-by-case basis because “such an inquiry is necessarily fact-specific and depends on the particular circumstances and posture of each case.” HachetteDistribution, Inc. v. Hudson County News Co., Inc., 136 F.R.D. 356, 358 (E.D.N.Y.1991)). ...

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