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Bradley v. City of Chicago

February 3, 2010

PHILLIP BRADLEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF CHICAGO, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Samuel Der-Yeghiayan United States District Court Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

SAMUEL DER-YEGHIAYAN, District Judge

This matter is before the court on Defendant City of Chicago's (City) motion to bifurcate. For the reasons stated below, we deny the motion to bifurcate.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Phillip Bradley (Bradley) alleges that on October 18, 2007, he was driving a vehicle in Chicago, Illinois, when Defendant Officer Joe Dortha Parker (Parker), a Chicago police officer, pulled over Bradley's vehicle. Bradley contends that he was not committing any crimes at the time and Parker had no basis to pull him over. Bradley claims that Parker conducted a field sobriety test and a Breathalyzer test and then arrested Bradley for driving under the influence despite the fact that there was no evidence of any impairment on the part of Bradley. Bradley includes in his complaint a false arrest claim brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Section 1983) against Parker (Count I), an indemnification claim brought against the City (Count II), a Section 1983 Monell claim brought against the City (Count III), a malicious prosecution claim brought against Parker (Count IV), and a respondeat superior claim brought against the City (Count V). The City now moves pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 42(b) (Rule 42(b)) to bifurcate the Section 1983 claim brought against it from the Section 1983 claim brought against Parker, and to stay discovery and the trial as to the Section 1983 claim brought against the City. Bradley opposes the proposed bifurcation of the Section 1983 claims.

LEGAL STANDARD

Pursuant to Rule 42(b), "[f]or convenience, to avoid prejudice, or to expedite and economize, the court may order a separate trial of one or more separate issues, claims, crossclaims, counterclaims, or third-party claims. . . ." Fed. R. Civ. P. 42(b); Krocka v. City of Chicago, 203 F.3d 507, 516 (7th Cir. 2000)(stating that "[t]he district court has considerable discretion to order the bifurcation of a trial"); Berry v. Deloney, 28 F.3d 604, 610 (7th Cir. 1994)(stating that "[o]nly one of [the] criteria need be satisfied for a court to order a separate trial")(internal quotations omitted)(quoting DeWitt, Porter, Huggett v. Kovalic, 991 F.2d 1243 (7th Cir. 1993)).

DISCUSSION

The City argues that the court should allow Bradley to proceed with his case against Parker and that, if the jury finds that Parker violated Bradley's constitutional rights, "the City has stipulated to judgment being entered against it, and the City will pay any compensatory damages (and reasonable attorneys' fees) awarded to" Bradley. (Reply 1). The City argues that such an approach will serve judicial economy since it will allow the parties to avoid the burdensome discovery and the lengthy trial that would be connected to the Monell claim. The City also contends that bifurcation would allow Parker to avoid the prejudice that would result if Parker's individual trial included evidence concerning broad City policies and practices with which Parker had no involvement. In addition, the City argues that bifurcation will not affect Bradley's potential recovery of compensatory damages since he can only get one recovery for compensatory damages.

I. Prior Cases and Thomas

The City contends that other district courts have granted similar motions for bifurcation, citing district court cases in this district in which courts have granted such motions. (Mot. 5). However, as Bradley points out, courts in this district have also denied such motions for bifurcation. (Ans. 3-4); See, e.g., Turner et al. v. Parker et al., 09 C 1177 (Doc. 55). Bradley also correctly points out that the Seventh Circuit recently held in Thomas v. Cook County Sheriff's Dept., 588 F.3d 445 (7th Cir. 2009), that "a municipality can be held liable under Monell, even when its officers are not, unless such a finding would create an inconsistent verdict." Id. at 456 (emphasis in original).

The City cites City of Los Angeles v. Heller, 475 U.S. 796 (1986) and argues that in this case, if a jury found that Parker had not violated Bradley's constitutional rights, the City could not be held liable. (Reply 1-2). In Heller, the Court concluded that it was "inconceivable" that the defendant city and its police commission could be found liable for an officer's actions since "[t]hey were sued only because they were thought legally responsible for [the officer's] actions." Id. at 799. The Court in Heller stated that "neither Monell . . . nor any other of [the Court's] cases authorizes the award of damages against a municipal corporation based on the actions of one of its officers when in fact the jury has concluded that the officer inflicted no constitutional harm." Id.; see also Schor v. City Of Chicago, 576 F.3d 775, 779 (7th Cir. 2009)(relying on Heller in stating that since the court "concluded that th[e] plaintiffs ha[d] not alleged any plausible constitutional violation committed by [the defendant mayor] or the officers, it follows that there is no wrongful conduct that might become the basis for holding the City liable" because "[i]n order to support such a claim . . . the plaintiff must begin by showing an underlying constitutional violation").

The City's reliance on Heller in the instant case is misplaced. In Thomas, the Seventh Circuit specifically addressed the holding in Heller and stated that to interpret the holding in Heller to constitute a "rule that requires individual officer liability before a municipality can ever be held liable for damages under Monell" is "an unreasonable extension of Heller." 588 F.3d at 455. The Court in Thomas indicated that to evaluate potential Monell liability in the absence of individual liability, a court should consider "the nature of the constitutional violation, the theory of municipal liability, and the defenses set forth." Id. at 456. The Court in Thomas noted that, in certain instances, a constitutional violation could solely be tied to an unconstitutional municipal policy if it could be shown that the public entity's "policies caused the ...


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