Summary Judgment for Malicious Prosecution Improper Without Adequate Discovery

abstract_accountant_architecture_1238932-scaledSufficient evidence is required to prevail in any lawsuit. Generally, each side obtains additional evidence through the discovery process. However, what happens if a court grants a summary judgment motion for one party before the other party has time to complete adequate discovery? The following case helps answer this question.

Shannon James Suarez supposedly threw a Twinkie box at Jerry W. Peloquin II. Peloquin claimed Suarez had previously been stalking him for months and battered him. Lori Smith also claimed Suarez had stalked her. Suarez was subsequently arrested and charged with stalking under La. R.S. 14:40.2(A)

The investigator, Bill Pousson, went to Suarez’s workplace to talk to him about the charges. Suarez claims Pousson spoke to him, told him he could make his problems disappear, and encouraged him to plead guilty, even though he knew Suarez had an attorney. Suarez then filed a lawsuit against Pousson and John DeRosier, the district attorney (the “Defendants”), claiming malicious prosecution and misconduct related to the District Attorney’s Office’s investigation. 

Suarez’s attorney sent discovery requests via certified mail to the Defendants. Defendants then filed a summary judgment motion, claiming the lawsuit should be dismissed because they had absolute immunity given their positions as prosecutors. The defendants’ counsel repeatedly asked for extensions to the time to respond to Suarez’s discovery requests. They also impeded Suarez’s attorney’s efforts to schedule depositions. Suarez’s attorney filed a motion to compel discovery. The trial court granted the Defendants’ summary judgment motion. The trial court also held the motion to compel discovery was now moot. Suarez appealed.

Summary judgment is appropriate if there are no genuine issues of material fact after adequate discovery. See La. C.C.P. art. 966. Defendants argued they were entitled to summary judgment because a prosecutor has absolute immunity. Suarez claimed adequate discovery was needed to determine if the torts in his petition fell under absolute or qualified immunity. Prosecutors are only entitled to qualified immunity when the tort at issue involves administrative, ministerial, or investigative tasks. 

The appellate court considered the history of the at-issue discovery requests. Here, Defendants did not respond to Suarez’s discovery requests for months. Although the trial court had instructed Defendants to comply with Suarez’s discovery requests and indicated they would, they never responded. The defendants’ counsel denied receiving certain requests, which had been sent via certified mail, asked for multiple extensions to the deadlines to respond, and impeded Suarez’s counsel’s efforts to schedule depositions. As a result of Defendant’s unresponsiveness, Suarez had not been able to obtain adequate discovery to oppose Defendants’ summary judgment motion. Therefore, the appellate court reversed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the Defendants and sent the case back to the trial court so that Suarez could have an opportunity for adequate discovery. The appellate court did not address the merits of Suarez’s claim for malicious prosecution. 

This case serves as a powerful reminder of the significance of adequate discovery in the pursuit of justice. When a court grants summary judgment before allowing sufficient time for discovery, it undermines the fundamental principles of fairness and due process. In Suarez’s situation, the Defendants’ repeated delays and lack of responsiveness to discovery requests impeded his ability to obtain crucial evidence to counter the summary judgment motion. The appellate court rightfully recognized this injustice and reversed the trial court’s decision, granting Suarez the opportunity for adequate discovery. 

If you find yourself involved in a lawsuit, it is vital to have a competent attorney who can guide you through the discovery process, ensuring that you serve the necessary requests and gather the evidence essential to support your claim. Remember, the path to justice demands diligent pursuit and a commitment to safeguarding your right to a fair trial with adequate discovery.

Additional Sources: Shannon James Suarez v. John Derosier, Individually and in His Capacity as the Calcasieu Parish District Attorney et al.

Additional Berniard Law Firm Article on Malicious Prosecution: Malicious Prosecution Case Lends Elements of Successful Gain

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