Legal Memorandum: Court's Power to Stay Civil Proceedings

Issue: May the federal court stay civil proceedings when there are criminal proceedings brought against the same defendant?

Area of Law: Litigation & Procedure
Keywords: Stay of the civil proceeding; Criminal proceeding; Overlapping issues
Jurisdiction: Federal
Cited Cases: 397 U.S. 1; 385 F.3d 72; 7 F. Supp. 2d 523; 820 F.2d 1198
Cited Statutes: None
Date: 01/01/2006

When there are criminal and civil proceedings brought against the same defendant for the same underlying facts, federal courts have long recognized that a stay of the civil proceeding, pending resolution of the criminal proceeding may be appropriate.  See United States v. Kordel, 397 U.S. 1, 12 n.27 (1970); Landis v. N. Am. Co., 299 U.S. 248, 254-55 (1936); Peden v. United States, 512 F.2d 1099, 1103 (Ct. Cl. 1975) (“We believe it has long been the practice to ‘freeze’ civil proceedings when a criminal prosecution involving the same facts is warming up or under way.”).  The authority to grant such a stay is part of the court’s inherent power.  Landis, 299 U.S. at 254; Afro-Leon, Inc. v. United States, 820 F.2d 1198, 1202 (Fed. Cir. 1987); Doe v. City of Chicago, 360 F. Supp. 2d 880, 881 (N.D. Ill. 2005) (“The court has the inherent power to stay civil proceedings, postpone civil discovery, or impose protective orders when the interests of justice so dictate.”). 

The stay of a civil tax matter may be particularly appropriate when there is a threat of a criminal prosecution involving the same parties and overlapping issues.  This is because of the very different discovery rules governing the respective civil and criminal proceedings.  Campbell v. Eastland, 307 F.2d 478, 487 (5th Cir. 1962).  The federal district court has the authority to stay a civil proceeding under these circumstances and has exercised such power when appropriate.  See […]

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