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Timpson v. Haley

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Greenville Division

March 21, 2018

Johnny Timpson, by and through his, Conservator, Sandra Timpson, and Sandra Timpson, in her individual capacity, Plaintiff,
Nikki Haley, et al., Defendants.


          Donald C. Coggins, Jr. United States District Judge

         This matter comes before the Court upon Defendant Nikki Haley's Motion for Clarification, or Alternatively, for Other Relief, and Motion to Stay, ECF No. 133, and Plaintiffs' Motion to Substitute Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 25(d) and to Depose Interim Directors of DHHS and DDSN and CMS Witnesses, ECF No. 144. The motions have been briefed, and the matters are ripe for consideration.


         Plaintiffs allege violations of numerous state and federal statutes related to the implementation and administration of South Carolina's Medicaid Program. In the Amended Complaint, Plaintiffs name a number of defendants, including “Nikki Haley, Governor of the State of South Carolina.” ECF No. 41.

         On January 3, 2017, Defendant Nikki Haley, Governor of the State of South Carolina, filed a Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and (6), in which she asked the Court to dismiss the action against her because, inter alia, Governor Haley is not a proper defendant because “[t]here is no allegation that the Governor was personally or individually involved in the Plaintiff's care or case.” ECF No. 66 at 3. Thereafter, on February 16, 2017, following Defendant Haley's confirmation as Ambassador to the United Nations but prior to her scheduled deposition, she “move[d] that she be removed as a party Defendant and her successor, Governor Henry McMaster, be substituted as a party Defendant.” ECF No. 78 at 2. Plaintiffs filed a response, in which they acknowledged that Governor Henry McMaster should automatically be substituted for the claims against Defendant Haley in her official capacity, but stated that they “are entitled to take the deposition of Nikki Haley[1] to establish facts alleged in their amended complaint and to determine whether she may be liable, in her individual capacity, for any of the claims alleged in the amended complaint.” ECF No. 80 at 1-2 (emphasis added).

         In response, on February 23, 2017, counsel for the Defendant Office of the Governor, moved for a protective order regarding Defendant Haley's deposition, claiming that the deposition notice was not served until February 9, 2017, which was after Defendant Haley left her position as Governor. ECF No. 82 at 4. Therefore, counsel asserted that it could not accept service of the deposition notice or produce her for a deposition. ECF No. 82 at 4. On February 24, 2017, counsel filed a Joint Status Report, in which they informed the Court that they could not reach an agreement regarding Defendant Haley's deposition. ECF No. 83. Thereafter, the parties filed responses and replies to the various pending motions, but Nikki Haley's deposition did not go forward. See, e.g., ECF Nos. 86, 98, 100-02, 104.

         On August 24, 2017, the Court issued an Order in which it denied Defendant Haley's Motion to Dismiss, finding, inter alia, that “Plaintiffs allege Haley possessed personal knowledge of systemic abuse, neglect, and exploitation of mentally disabled adults such as [Plaintiff Johnny Timpson], failed to take reasonable action to protect them, and even retaliated against those who complained. In that the Court must accept Plaintiffs' allegations as true when considering Haley's motion to dismiss, the Court must deny this section of Haley's motion . . . .” ECF No. 113 at 6. The Court further granted in part and denied in part Defendant Haley's Motion to Substitute, finding that “McMaster should be substituted for Haley for any allegations made towards Haley in her official capacity in the office of the Governor. McMaster, however, is unable to be substituted for Haley as to the allegations against her individually.” Id. at 7. With respect to Defendant Haley's Motion for a Protective Order, the Court held that it “is of the opinion Haley has failed to establish she is an improper party to this lawsuit. Hence, the Court will deny her motion and order she make herself available to being deposed by Plaintiffs' counsel within sixty days of the filing of this Order.” Id. at 8.

         On August 31, 2017, Defendant McMaster filed a Motion to Clarify. ECF No. 118. The Motion to Clarify states that it “is filed on behalf of the Office of the Governor and not on behalf of Nikki Haley, individually, whom counsel does not represent.” Id. at 2. The Court found that, “[t]o the extent Defendant McMaster makes arguments on behalf of Defendant Haley regarding the effectiveness of service and whether Defendant Haley is being sued in her individual capacity, the Court rejects those contentions inasmuch as those issues must be raised, if at all, by Defendant Haley.” ECF No. 129. The Court further ordered that Plaintiffs file a certificate of service “showing they have personally served Defendant Haley with (1) a copy of the Court's August 24, 2017, Order as well as (2) their subpoena for Defendant Haley's deposition not later than Friday, October 6, 2017. Given the important duties and obligations Defendant Haley has as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, the Court directs Plaintiffs to make every reasonable accommodation in scheduling Defendant Haley's deposition.” Id. Thereafter, Plaintiffs attempted to serve Defendant Haley at her South Carolina residence as well as at the United Nations to no avail. ECF No. 132 at 2. However, on October 4, 2017, attorney James W. Fayssoux, Jr., contacted Plaintiffs, informed Plaintiffs that he represents Defendant Haley, and later accepted service of the subpoena. Id.

         On October 19, 2017, Defendant Haley filed a Motion for Clarification, or Alternatively, for Other Relief, and a Motion to Stay. ECF No. 133. In the Motion, Defendant Haley seeks a “declar[ation] that she is not a party to the above action.” ECF No. 133 at 1. Defendant Haley argues that she “has never been served with a Complaint . . . [s]he has never received notice of a hearing . . . [and] [u]ntil now, she has never been represented.” ECF No. 133-1 at 2. Defendant Haley spends the bulk of this Motion arguing that the Court's prior ruling, which found that Plaintiffs had alleged claims against Defendant Haley, was incorrect. However, in the alternative, Defendant Haley requests that the Court issue an Order requiring that she be served with a copy of the Complaint and be provided a meaningful opportunity to respond. Id. at 14. Finally, Defendant Haley moves the Court to stay enforcement of its prior Order requiring her to give a deposition until the matters raised in the Motion were resolved. Id. Plaintiffs filed a response, in which they contend that the Court's prior Order regarding Defendant Haley's individual capacity was correct, and arguing that Defendant Haley has had ample notice of the claims against her since the inception of the litigation. ECF No. 137. The Court issued an Order staying the case pending resolution of Defendant Haley's Motion for Clarification. ECF No. 135.


         I. Motion for Clarification, or Alternatively, for Other Relief

         Defendant Haley asks this Court to take one of two alternatives paths in this litigation: (1) reverse its prior holding and declare that Defendant Haley is not a party in this action; or (2) permit Defendant Haley to file a belated responsive pleading and reopen the discovery period so that she may meaningfully participate in the litigation. ECF No. 133. For the reasons detailed below, the Court defers ruling on Defendant Haley's Motion until Plaintiffs are permitted to ask Defendant Haley a limited number of written interrogatories.

         Throughout this litigation, the issue of whether Defendant Haley is required to submit to an oral deposition has been the subject of many filings by many interested parties. While Plaintiffs have repeatedly sought to take Defendant Haley's deposition, they have also acknowledged that “[i]f Nikki Haley testifies under oath that she had no personal knowledge or involvement in the matters alleged in the amended complaint, then her deposition should be short.” ECF No. 80 at 3. In light of this concession, the Court takes this opportunity to clarify its prior Order[2] directing Defendant Haley to submit to an oral deposition conducted by Plaintiffs.

         “[A] district court has wide latitude in controlling discovery and [its] rulings will not be overturned absent a showing of clear abuse of discretion.” Ardrey v. United Parcel Serv., 798 F.2d 679, 682 (4th Cir. 1986) (citations omitted). “The latitude given the district court extends as well to the manner in which it orders the course and scope of discovery.” Id. (citations omitted). To that end, “[t]he court may, for good cause, issue an order ...

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