Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Judge Zulick Weighs Plaintiff's Right to Ongoing Discovery Against Defendants Facing Criminal Charges in Companion Case

In his recent decision in the case of Liu v. Pi Delta PSI Fraternity, Inc., 302-CV-2015 (C.P. Monroe Co. Aug. 22, 2016 Zulick, J.), Judge Arthur L. Zulick reviewed the law surrounding a Motion to Stay a civil litigation matter pending the disposition of criminal charges asserted against the Defendants in a companion case.  

This matter arose out of fatal injuries sustained by the Plaintiff’s decedent allegedly as a result of hazing incidents with a fraternity.

During the pendency of this civil litigation matter, criminal charges were also proceeding against certain Defendants.  

After the Plaintiffs served discovery on the Defendants, certain Defendants filed a motion seeking to stay the civil litigation matter pending the disposition of their criminal charges.   One basis for the motion was that the Defendants asserted that they would be forced to choose between waiving their constitutional privilege against self-incrimination and also would risk information being used against them in the subject criminal cases.  

Judge Arthur L. Zulick
Monroe County
In his decision, Judge Zulick reviewed the Fifth Amendment and Article 1, Section 9 of the Pennsylvania Constitution regarding the privilege against self-incrimination and its application in civil litigation matters.  

Judge Zulick also found that the question of whether to stay all or part of a civil proceeding because of a pending criminal prosecution requires a balancing of the various interests of the parties.   Judge Zulick noted that, while the Pennsylvania Appellate Courts have not adopted a specific balancing test to be applied in these situations, the federal courts have.   The court cited the factors noted in the case of In Re Adelphia, 2003 WL 22358819 (E.D. Pa. May 13, 2013).

The court applied the following factors in this Lui case:

1.         The extent to which the issues in the civil and criminal cases overlap

2.          The status of the criminal proceedings and whether any Defendants have been indicted  

3.         The Plaintiff’s interests in an expeditious civil proceeding weighed against the prejudice to the Plaintiff caused by the delay

4.         The burden on the Defendants

5.         The interests of the court

6.         The public interests

After applying these factors to the case before him, Judge Zulick issued a split decision, granting the Motion to Stay in part but allowing other parts of discovery to proceed as well.  

Anyone wishing to review Judge Zulick's decision in the Lui case may click this LINK.

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