When May or Must a District Court in the Eleventh Circuit Stay a Civil Case in Light of a Pending Criminal Case?

As a general matter, federal district courts have "broad discretion to stay proceedings." Coquina Investments v. Rothstein, et al., No. 10-60786-Civ., 2011 WL 2530945, at *1 (S.D. Fla. Jun. 24, 2011) (citing Landis v. N. American Co., 299 U.S. 248, 254-55 (1936)). However, Eleventh Circuit law mandates the issuance of a stay in a civil proceeding if "special circumstances so require in the interest of justice." United States v. Lot 5, Fox Grove, Alachua County, Fla., 23 F.3d 359, 364 (11th Cir. 1994). If no special circumstances exist, a court is free to deny a stay "so long as the ... invocation [of the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination] does not compel an adverse judgment against the claimant." Id. (citing United States v. Premises Located at Route 13, 946 F.2d 749, 756 (11th Cir. 1991)). 

A vague "blanket assertion" of the privilege does not provide adequate justification for a stay. Lot 5, Fox Grove, Alachua County, Fla., 23 F .3d at 364 ("[A] blanket assertion of the privilege is an inadequate basis for the issuance of a stay.").  If, however, the invocation of the privilege will result in certain loss by automatic summary judgment, it may constitute a special circumstance warranting a stay. See, e.g., Mitchell v. Hunt, No. 8:15-cv-2603-T-23TGW, 2016 WL 7396670, at *1 (M.D. Fla. Feb. 10, 2016) (noting that the special circumstances exception can be triggered when "the invocation of the privilege [results] in an adverse judgment, not merely the loss of [the] most effective defense"); Regions Bank v. Kaplan, No. 8:12-CV-1837-T-17MAP, 2015 WL 5247809, at *3 (M.D. Fla. Sep. 8, 2015) (denying stay in part because movants had not "explained why each specific claim and defense cannot be proven and substantiated through other testimony or evidence").

In summary, a party wishing to stay a case based on an overlapping pending criminal matter must articulate and demonstrate special circumstances justifying a stay, by specifically explaining how their case will be harmed, how their ability to present a proper defense will be impaired by invocation of the privilege, and how invocation of the privilege will result in the automatic loss of the case. See Mitchell, 2016 WL 7396670, at *1 (denying motion to stay because it failed "to demonstrate that invoking the Fifth Amendment privilege will automatically result in summary judgment against the defendants"). 

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