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Knaack v. Knight Transportation, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Nevada

November 21, 2017

TERRI KNAACK, individually, and as Administrator of the Estate of Joseph Knaack, deceased, ANDREW KNAACK, Plaintiffs,

          ORDER RE: ECF NOS. 24, 25


         Before the court are two motions of Knight Transportation, Inc., Knight Refrigerated, LLC (“Knight”) and Carol Walker (“Walker”): a Motion for Stay (ECF No. 24) and a Motion to Shorten Time (ECF No. 25). The Motion to Stay (ECF No. 24) is denied and the Motion to Shorten Time (ECF No. 25) is denied as moot.


         This litigation arises from a motorcycle-tractor trailer accident which occurred on September 28, 2016, in Lund, Nevada. Plaintiffs allege Walker was driving the Knight tractor trailer southbound on State Route 318 and made a left turn into a truck stop. Plaintiffs' decedent, Joseph Knaack (“Knaack”) was operating a motorcycle northbound on the highway and collided with the Knight tractor trailer. Knaack died as a result of the injuries sustained in the collision. Plaintiffs aver Walker caused the wrongful death of Knaack as an alleged consequence of Walker failing to yield the right of way to the oncoming traffic, i.e., Knaack's motorcycle.

         In addition to the pending civil litigation, on February 7, 2017, Walker was charged with vehicular manslaughter, which case is pending in Justice Court in White Pine County.[1]

         Defendants contend that because of the prosecution, any discovery “responses can and will be used in the criminal case filed against Ms. Walker . . .” (Id. at 5). Defendants therefore request a stay which would be “enforced up until two weeks post notice of entry of conviction, judgment and or entry of a plea in the criminal matter . . . .” (Id.)[2] Because of the apparent time sensitivity of Defendants' motions, which were filed on the eve Defendants' discovery responses were due to be served (ECF No. 24 at 3; ECF No. 24-1), the court has undertaken an expedited review of Defendants' motions.


         The predicate for Defendants' motion for stay is that because of the pending criminal case against Walker, she is entitled to assert the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination in both the criminal and civil proceedings. (ECF No. 24 at 7, citing Fidelity Bankers Life Ins. Co. v. Wedco, Inc., 586 F.Supp. 1123, 1125 (D. Nev. 1984)). Although the motion to stay is made on behalf of all three Defendants, the privilege against self-incrimination would apply only to Walker and not the two corporate Defendants (Knight) which have not been charged with any crime. The court, therefore, analyzes the request for stay from the standpoint of Walker.

         The constitution does not require that civil proceedings be stayed pending the outcome of criminal proceedings. Wedco, 586 F.Supp. at 1125; Fed. Sav. & Loan Ins. Corp. v. Molinaro, 889 F.2d 899, 902 (9th Cir. 1989). As Defendants recognize, whether a stay should be granted where a criminal prosecution is proceeding against a Defendant at the same time as a civil case is a decision within the court's discretion. (ECF No. 24 at 7, citing United States v. Kordel, 397 U.S. 1, 12 (1970)).

         When deciding whether to exercise its discretion to stay civil proceedings, the court must first consider “the extent to which the defendant's Fifth Amendment rights are implicated.” Molinaro, 889 F.2d at 902. In this case, it appears Plaintiffs' discovery has potentially triggered Walker's possible exercise of her Fifth Amendment rights in only one discovery document, i.e., Plaintiff Terri Knaack's Request for Admission (Defendants' Exhibit 1, ECF No. 24-1 at 1-4). The other exhibits referencing Plaintiffs' discovery (Defendants' Exhibits 2-4, ECF No. 24-2 through 24-4) pertain to Knight which was not the subject of a criminal prosecution and is not asserting the Fifth Amendment privilege. While certain of the admissions Plaintiffs seek from Walker (but not necessarily all) would seemingly justify the assertion of the privilege, Defendants do not explain why at this stage Walker could not assert the privilege in response to (certain) of the requests, and after the conclusion of the criminal case, amend her discovery responses, if necessary.

         Five additional factors have been enunciated by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals when evaluating a request for a stay under these circumstances:

(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 interests of the public in the pending civil and criminal litigation.

Perez v. Station Casinos, LLC, 2016 WL 8959135 (No. 2-15-cv-01553-JAD-NJK, 2/8/2016), citing Keating v. Office of Thrift Supervision, 45 F.3d 322, 324 (9th Cir. 1995). Although Judge Koppe in her analysis of these factors reached the conclusion a stay of the civil case was warranted in Perez, this court in applying these factors to the instant matter comes to a different conclusion.

         As to the first Keating factor, while Plaintiffs may have delayed serving discovery until “seven (7) months after the filing of their complaint, ” (ECF No. 24 at 9) (the complaint was filed on March 21, 2017), the docket reflects Defendants did not answer Plaintiffs' complaint until two months after the complaint was filed. (ECF No. 9, 5/26/17.) The Rule 26 conference was conducted approximately three weeks later on June 14, 2017. (ECF No. 13 at 1.) A Scheduling Order was entered on June 30, 2017. (Id.) A proposed Stipulated Confidentiality Order was submitted to the court on October 2, 2017. (ECF No. 18.) After the court directed the parties to ...

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