Magistrate grants motion to stay discovery in case brought by former ICE detainees

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The Clay County Justice Center is the only ICE detention facility in Indiana. (IL file photo)

A federal magistrate judge has granted local defendants’ motion to stay discovery in a case involving noncitizen U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees at the Clay County Jail while a motion to dismiss is pending.

The Clay County defendants — including the county council, sheriff’s office and individuals — are accused of diverting federal funds from basic needs at the jail, such as sanitation and food.

The federal defendants — including ICE and the Department of Homeland Security — are accused of knowing about the county’s alleged misuse of funds and of colluding with county officials to make sure the jail didn’t get a failing grade from an inspection.

The Indiana Southern District Court previously dismissed most of the claims for relief but ruled that the former detainees have standing and that the federal agency’s performance evaluation of the jail constituted a final agency action.

The detainees then filed an amended complaint.

The motion to stay discovery was brought only by county defendants, but Magistrate Judge Kellie Barr noted the federal defendants have represented that they “consent to and agree with” the request.

Both sets of defendants have filed motions to dismiss the amended complaint.

The county defendants renewed their motion to stay merits discovery, arguing the plaintiffs’ claims are weak and have been previously rejected.

The former detainees opposed the request, arguing they are no longer making threshold arguments about their standing to sue.

In general, Barr ruled, a stay of discovery is inappropriate simply because a motion to dismiss is pending.

“After considering the procedural history of this case and the arguments raised by the Parties, however, the Court finds that good cause exists to stay merits based discovery on Plaintiffs’ claims,” the Wednesday order says. “The Clay County Defendants have met their burden of proof to show the Court that it should exercise its discretion in this manner.”

Barr specifically cited the county defendants’ previous success on a full motion to dismiss.

“While the undersigned makes no predictions on the outcome of that dismissal motion, continuing the stay of merits discovery while that motion is pending will greatly simplify the issues for the Parties,” the order says.

Barr also wrote that while the plaintiffs would “of course” prefer the full merits discovery process continue, their response brief “downplays the significant progress that has been made in this case since it was initially filed.”

The detainees filed their complaint in April 2022, accusing the county jail of operating as a “cash cow.”

The lawsuit claims the county spent $783,000 of the $1.4 million received from holding ICE detainees in 2020 on expenses outside of jail services, as reported by the Brazil Times.

The complaint also claims facilities used by ICE must comply with certain standards to continue operations. If an ICE detention center fails two consecutive inspections, the contract must be terminated, per the Annual DHS Appropriations Act cited by the plaintiffs.

The Clay County Jail failed an inspection in May 2021. In a follow-up report, issues persisted but the facility passed its overall inspection.

The plaintiffs allege county and federal officials conspired to make sure a failing grade wasn’t given in the second inspection so the agreement between them would stay intact.

The case is Xirum, et al. v. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), et al., 1:22-cv-00801.

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