Name of Assigned Judge Sitting Judge if Other or Magistrate Judge Robert M. Dow, Jr. than Assigned Judge
For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies Defendants' motion to bifurcate .
O[ For further details see text below.] Docketing to mail notices.
*Copy to judge/magistrate judge.
This matter arises out of Plaintiff Antonio Allison's detention at the Cook County Jail ("CCJ") in October 2009. Plaintiff alleges that on October 31, 2009, he was making a phone call when several other detainees gained access to the deck and began to attack Plaintiff with shanks. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants failed to adequately protect him during this encounter. In his complaint, Plaintiff asserts individual § 1983 claims against Defendants for deliberate indifference and failure to protect and state law claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress, respondeat superior, and indemnification. Plaintiff also asserts a Monell claim against the Sheriff of Cook County for allegedly allowing a widespread practice to exist, contributing to Plaintiff's injuries. Currently before the Court is Defendants' motion to bifurcate Plaintiff's § 1983 claims against the County pending the resolution of claims against the individual Defendants and to stay discovery on claims involving Cook County's customs and policies related to the operation of CCJ.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 42(b) authorizes federal courts to order a separate trial of one or more separate issues or claims if separation (or bifurcation) is warranted "[f]or convenience, to avoid prejudice, or to expedite and economize." Bifurcation may be appropriate if one or more of the Rule 42(b) criteria is met. See, e.g., Treece v. Hochstetler, 213 F.3d 360, 365 (7th Cir. 2000). District courts approach bifurcation motions with a pragmatic mindset, and the district court's exercise of its "'considerable discretion to order the bifurcation of a trial'" will be set aside on appeal "'only upon a clear showing of abuse.'" Id. at 364-64 (quoting Krocka v. City of Chicago, 203 F.3d 507, 516 (7th Cir. 2000)).
Motions to bifurcate Monell claims are now commonplace, and "[c]courts in our district have both granted and denied similar motions." Ojeda-Beltran v. Lucio, 2008 WL 2782815, at *1 (N.D. Ill. July 16, 2008). "Thus, there is a growing body of precedent in this district for both granting and denying bifurcation in § 1983 cases" (Elrod v. City of Chicago, 2007 WL 3241352, at *2 (N.D. Ill. Nov. 1, 2007)), with the result in each instance "reflect[ing] a case-specific assessment of the advantages and disadvantages of bifurcation." Ojeda-Beltran, 2008 WL 2782815, at *1.
The spate of bifurcation motions and the willingness of many judges to grant them stems in large part from the recognition that, in many instances, "claims of municipal liability require an extensive amount of work on the part of plaintiff's attorneys and experts, and an extraordinary amount of money must be spent in order to prepare and prove them." Moore v. City of Chicago, 2007 WL 3037121, at *9 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 15, 2007); see also OjedaBeltran, 2008 WL 2782815, at *2 (noting that litigating plaintiffs' Monell claim will be a "more burdensome and time-consuming task" than litigating plaintiffs' claims against the individual officer defendant). Here, the claims against the County alleged in Plaintiff's complaint refer to a sufficiently wide-ranging set of potentially relevant policies and practices that the concerns in Moore and Ojeda-Beltran are present here as well. Not only does Plaintiff allege a widespread practice by the Sheriff to utilize cell doors and locks that allow of the use of blocks or "caps," Plaintiff also alleges a widespread practice of generally violating inmates' rights and failing to adequately punish, discipline, supervise, and control officers at CCJ. The potential discovery related to these various topics could be extensive and expensive, as has been the case in several recent § 1983 lawsuits before this Court.
However, Plaintiff assures the Court that this should not be the case. Plaintiff states that this case "does not involve extensive document production" and that Monell discovery likely will involve "only a few depositions of supervisory personnel involved in the compilation or review of those reports and related documents." These representations allay the Court's concerns about the burden and scope of Monell discovery at this time.
Furthermore, Plaintiff correctly points out that municipal liability may be found even in the absence of underlying individual liability. See Thomas v. Cook County Sheriff's Dept., 588 F.3d 445, 456 (7th Cir. 2009) (holding that "a municipality can be held liable under Monell, even when its officers are not, unless such a finding would create an inconsistent verdict." ). Without opining on the merits of Plaintiff's claims, the Court agrees that the facts in this case tend to support Plaintiff's position that municipal liability could be ...