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Case Clarett v. Suroviak et al.

January 3, 2011

CASE CLARETT
v.
SUROVIAK ET AL.



Name of Assigned Judge Sitting Judge if Other or Magistrate Judge Joan B. Gottschall than Assigned Judge

TITLE DOCKET ENTRY TEXT

Defendants' Motion to Bifurcate and Bar Discovery [32] is granted in part and denied in part. Defendants' Motion to Deem Facts Admitted [30] is denied. However, Clarett must submit responses to some of defendants' requests for admission as described below.

O[ For further details see text below.] Docketing to mail notices.

STATEMENT

This § 1983 lawsuit centers around a traffic stop and arrest of plaintiff Patricia Clarett. Defendants Dennis Suroviak, Christopher Spierowski, Jason Mann, and Alberto Castillo are police officers employed by defendant the Village of Lynwood. Clarett raises a number of claims against the defendant officers including false arrest, failure to intervene, conspiracy, First Amendment retaliation, and malicious prosecution. Clarett also asserts a Monell claim against the Village of Lynwood, alleging that the Village "has a policy or practice of facilitating the very type of misconduct at issue here," that the Village has failed to train its officers, and that the Village policy makers are aware of misconduct but maintain a "code of silence" facilitating continuing violations. (Compl. ¶ 60.)

Motion to Bifurcate and Bar Discovery

Defendants have moved to bifurcate Clarett's Monell claim and bar discovery on that claim. (Doc. 32.) Clarett has propounded discovery requests seeking information about a wide range of past misconduct by Lynwood police officers. In their motion, Defendants have agreed that, if Clarett successfully proves the liability of individual officers, the Village will consent to judgment for compensatory damages on Monell liability. Thus the court and the parties could potentially avoid a significant expenditure of time and resources by bifurcating the Monell claim and first considering only the issue of liability for the individual officers. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 42(b) permits bifurcation, at the court's discretion, "to expedite and economize" litigation in situations like this one. See Treece v. Hochstetler, 213 F.3d 360, 364-65 (7th Cir. 2000) (affirming decision of district court to bifurcate Monell claim); Parker v. Banner, 479 F. Supp. 2d 827, 834 (N.D. Ill. 2007) (bifurcating Monell claim and postponing Monell discovery).

In Lopez v. City of Chicago, No. 01 C 1823, 2002 WL 335346 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 1, 2002), Judge Darrah outlined the important considerations in addressing a motion to bifurcate in a lawsuit such as this:

STATEMENT

Bifurcating the Monell claims has several advantages. First, in most cases, a disposition of the individual claims will either legally or practically end the litigation. If a plaintiff fails to prove that he suffered a constitutional injury based on the individual police officer's conduct, plaintiff's claim against the individual police officer fails and, as such, so does plaintiff's claim against the municipality. See City of Los Angeles v. Heller, 475 U.S. 796, 799 (1986). Furthermore, if the plaintiff prevails against the individual police officer, he may not want or need to move forward on the Monell claims because Illinois law, 745 ILCS 10/9-102, directs the local government to pay tort judgments for compensatory damages for which the local government employee is liable. This statute allows a Section 1983 plaintiff to bring a claim directly against the municipality and obtain a judgment against the municipality to pay the officer if required to pay the plaintiff. See Wilson v. City of Chicago, 120 F.3d 681, 684-85 (7th Cir.1997).

Second, bifurcation is generally likely to bring about an earlier disposition of the suit because bifurcation allows a bypass of discovery relating to the Monell claims, which can add significant, and possibly unnecessary, time, effort, cost, and complications to the discovery process. See [Medina v. City of Chicago, 100 F. Supp. 2d 893, 895 (N.D. Ill. 2000); Jones v. City of Chicago, No. 98 C 5418, 1999 WL 160228, at *3 (N.D. Ill. 1999).]

Third, bifurcation can remove potentially unfair prejudice against the police officers at trial. Without bifurcation, the jury would likely hear evidence against the City of various acts of alleged police misconduct committed by numerous non-party officers to establish a policy or practice. Such evidence can be prejudicial to the individual defendants. See Medina, 100 F. Supp. 2d at 895; Jones, 1999 WL 160228 at * 3.

Bifurcation of Monell claims also can have disadvantages. For example, individual public employees may be able to defeat a plaintiff's claims through the defense of qualified immunity. See Wilson, 100 F. Supp. 2d at 896. However, municipalities are not entitled to this defense. See Owen v. City of Independence, 445 U.S. 622 (1980). Therefore, if a plaintiff loses his claim against individual public employees based on the defense of qualified immunity, the plaintiff may still go forward with his claims against the municipality. Thus, a second trial is not avoided, and a large part of the second trial is likely to be duplicative of the first trial.

In addition, there is no guarantee that a municipality will concede liability under 745 ILCS 10/9-102 if a verdict is rendered against the individual officers. The municipality may dispute payment, arguing that the police officer was not acting within the scope of his employment-a requirement under the Illinois statute. See 745 ILCS 10/9-102; Wilson, 120 F.3d at 685. If the ...


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