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Dunning v. Varnau

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Western Division

March 26, 2018

George Dunning, Jr., et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
Judith A. Varnau, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION & ORDER

          MICHAEL R. BARRETT UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court upon Plaintiffs' Motion to Stay Discovery to Prevent Interference in Parallel Proceedings. (Doc. 87). Defendants have filed a Memorandum in Opposition (Doc. 91) and Plaintiffs filed a Reply. (Doc. 92).

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case arises from the death of Zachary Goldson, an inmate found dead in his cell at the Brown County Jail. (Doc. 10). Plaintiffs were officers employed by the Brown County Sheriff's Office at the time of Goldson's death. Defendant Dr. Varnau is the former Brown County Coroner who investigated Goldson's death. Defendant Dennis Varnau is the husband of Dr. Varnau. Dr. Varnau authorized her husband to assist her in her duties as coroner.

         On November 30, 2013, Dr. Varnau wrote on Goldson's death certificate that the manner of death was a homicide by strangulation. Dr. Varnau specified that it was from a nylon leash called a hobble strap used by police officers as a restraint. This opinion was based on the investigation conducted by Dr. Varnau and Dennis Varnau. The Varnaus also authored a “Coroner's Investigative Report on Death of Zachary Goldson-October 5, 2013” based on the information they collected from the investigation. The Varnau's report accused Plaintiff John Schadle of destroying evidence and covering up Goldson's murder. The Varnaus' report was published to news agencies. The Varnaus named specific officers to the press, sent emails with attachments and their investigatory findings to BCI, and sent the coroner's report including surveillance footage, phone calls and autopsy and scene photos to the press. Their findings were also published on their website www.varnau.us.

         On December 11, 2014, the grand jury returned with a no bill because they did not find sufficient probable cause to indict any of the Plaintiffs.

         Plaintiffs claim that as a result of the Varnaus' actions, Plaintiffs have been referred to as the “Death Squad” by the community. Plaintiffs also claim that the citizens of Brown County have been uncooperative with law enforcement, and labeled them as murderers, manipulative and corrupt. Further, Plaintiffs' children have been harassed at school by their peers.

         Following this Court's ruling on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 30), only Plaintiffs' claims for defamation and civil conspiracy remain.

         Plaintiffs are named defendants in a related case: Ashley Bard v. Brown County, et al., No. 1:15cv643. This is a parallel case to a wrongful death case brought by the family of Zachary Goldson.

         II. ANALYSIS

         “[T]he power to stay proceedings is incidental to the power inherent in every court to control the disposition of the causes on its docket with economy of time and effort for itself, for counsel, and for litigants.” Landis v. North American Co., 299 U.S. 248, 254, 57 S.Ct. 163, 81 L.Ed. 153 (1936). The movant bears the burden of showing

a clear case of hardship or inequity in being required to go forward, if there is even a fair possibility that the stay for which he prays will work damage to someone else. Only in rare circumstances will a litigant in one cause be compelled to stand aside while a litigant in another settles the rule of law that will define the rights of both.

299 U.S. at 255, 57 S.Ct. at 166. “The most important factor is the balance of the hardships, but ‘[t]he district court must also consider whether granting the stay will further the interest in economical use of judicial time and resources.'” F.T.C. v. E.M.A. Nationwide, Inc., 767 F.3d 611, 627-28 (6th Cir. 2014) (citing Int'l Bhd. of Elec. Workers v. AT & T Network Sys., No. 88-3895, 879 F.2d 864, 1989 WL 78212, at *8 (6th Cir. Jul. 17, 1989) (internal citations omitted)).

         In determining whether or not to grant a stay of proceedings, courts have considered the following factors: “[1] the potentiality of another case having a dispositive effect on the case to be stayed, [2] the judicial economy to be saved by waiting on a dispositive decision, [3] the public welfare, and [4] the hardship/prejudice to the party opposing the stay, given its duration.” Dugas v. Wittrup, No. ...


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