Corporations Cannot Have Civil Case Stayed Based On Speculation That An Individual Co-Defendant May Invoke Self-Incrimination Privilege

Ex parte Jane Doe, [Ms. 1191073, July 9, 2021] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. 2021). The Court (Wise, J.; Parker, C.J., and Bolin, Shaw, Bryan, Sellers, Mendheim, and Stewart, JJ., concur; Mitchell, J., dissents) issues a writ of mandamus vacating the Tuscaloosa Circuit Court’s stay of a premises liability case. Plaintiff was raped by Tereza Demone Jones in a common area of an apartment complex. Jones was named as a defendant in the civil case but failed to appear. On motion of Gulf South and Pinnacle, owners of the apartment complex, the trial court stayed the civil case pending resolution of the criminal charges against Jones. Ms. *4.

The Court holds that the corporate Defendants “cannot assert the Fifth Amendment for Jones and [that] they failed to present evidence that Jones had asserted or would assert his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in response to discovery that might, at some point in the future, be served on him in this case, so as to justify the stay imposed by the trial court.” Ms. *6 (internal quotation marks omitted). The Court explains

Jones, the only defendant against whom criminal charges have been filed regarding the underlying incident, had not filed an appearance in this civil action and had not invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination when Gulf South and Pinnacle filed their motion for a stay. Instead, Gulf South and Pinnacle, which are corporations, filed the motion to stay based on speculation that Jones might later invoke his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination in response to discovery in this civil action. However

“[i]t has long been settled in federal jurisprudence that the constitutional privilege against self-incrimination is ‘essentially a personal one, applying only to natural individuals.’ It ‘cannot be utilized by or on behalf of any organization, such as a corporation.’ United States v. White, 322 U.S. 694, 698, 699 (1944).” George Campbell Painting Corp. v. Reid, 392 U.S. 286, 288-89 (1968).

Ms. **9-10.

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