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Carr v. City of North Chicago

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

November 8, 2012

Gloria CARR and Delorean McKinney as Co-Independent Administrators of the Estate of Darrin E. Hanna, deceased, Plaintiffs,
v.
CITY OF NORTH CHICAGO, et al., Defendants.

Page 927

Kevin William O'Connor, Muriel Collison, Collison & O'Connor, Ltd., Chicago, IL, for Plaintiffs.

Clifford Gary Kosoff, Julie M. Koerner, O'Halloran, Kosoff, Helander & Geitner, P.C., Benjamin Matthew Jacobi, Bhairav Radia, Elisha S. Rosenblum, O'Halloran Kosoff Geitner & Cook, LLC, Northbrook, IL, Laura Lee Scarry, Emily Erin Schnidt, Deano & Scarry LLC, Chicago, IL, Howard P. Levine, James L. Deano, Deano & Scarry, LLC, Wheaton, IL, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

ARLANDER KEYS, United States Magistrate Judge.

On November 6, 2011, North Chicago police officers responded to a domestic battery call at the home of Darrin E. Hanna. Mr. Hanna left on a stretcher and died seven days later. On December 13, 2011, Mr. Hanna's mother Gloria Carr and son Delorean McKinney (" Plaintiffs" ) [1] filed this suit against the City of North Chicago (" City" ), North Chicago Mayor Leon Rockingham, Jr., and former North Chicago Police Chief Michael Newsome (collectively, " Municipal Defendants" ) as well as six North Chicago police officers and one North Chicago police sergeant (collectively, " Defendant Officers" ). In their Third Amended Complaint, Plaintiffs assert 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims for violations of Mr. Hanna's Fourth and/or Fourteenth Amendment rights against the City

Page 928

and Defendant Officers alleging excessive force (Count I), failure to protect (Count III), and conspiracy to interfere with Civil Rights (Count X); state law claims against the City and Defendant Officers alleging wrongful death (Count II), survival (Count IV), assault and battery (Count VI), and negligence (Count VII); a state law claim against the City for indemnification (Count V); and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims against the Municipal Defendants alleging a policy and practice of excessive force (Count VIII) and negligent hiring, training and supervision (Count IX) (" Monell claims" ). Currently before the Court is the Municipal Defendants' motion to bifurcate the Monell claims and stay discovery and trial on those claims until the claims against the Defendant Officers are resolved. For the reasons explained below, the motion is granted.

Factual Background

On November 6, 2011, Defendant Officers responded to a call of domestic battery at Mr. Hanna's home in North Chicago, where they made a forced entry. (3d Amend. Compl. at ¶¶ 11-12.; Answer ¶¶ 11-12.) The domestic dispute was apparently between Mr. Hanna and his girlfriend. After entering the apartment, Defendant Officers allegedly Tasered and beat Mr. Hanna repeatedly " before and/or after he was placed in handcuffs." (3d Amend. Compl. at ¶¶ 15-16.) The Third Amended Complaint further alleges that Mr. Hanna was not armed ( Id. at ¶ 13), and that no Defendant Officer attempted to protect him from the beating. ( Id. at ¶ 17.) It is undisputed that Mr. Hanna left his home on a stretcher. He was taken to Vista East Memorial Hospital and died seven days later. The Third Amended Complaint alleges that the conduct of Defendant Officers constituted excessive force against Mr. Hanna, in violation of his constitutional right to be free from such force ( Id. at ¶ 19, 21-22), and that the Municipal Defendants " acquiesced and/or promoted" a pattern and practice of excessive force and the use of Tasers by the City's police officers. ( Id. at ¶ 20.)

Discussion

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 42(b) states, in relevant part, that " [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) . As Rule 42(b) 's language suggests, courts have broad discretion in deciding whether to bifurcate issues presented in a case or to try them separately. Krocka v. City of Chicago, 203 F.3d 507, 516 (7th Cir.2000). Certain conditions, however, must be met in order to support a motion to bifurcate. A court must determine if separate trials would avoid prejudice to a party or serve the purpose of judicial economy, though only one of these criteria need be met. Houseman v. U.S. Aviation Underwriters, 171 F.3d 1117, 1121 (7th Cir.1999); MCI Communications v. Am. Tel. & Te. Co., 708 F.2d 1081, 1166 (7th Cir.1983). This standard also applies when, as here, a plaintiff brings a § 1983 claim against a municipality pursuant to Monell v. Dep't of Social Servs. of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978) (authorizing claims for constitutional harms resulting from a municipality's customs and policies). See Treece v. Hochstetler, 213 F.3d 360, 364-65 (7th Cir.2000); Medina v. City of Chicago, 100 F.Supp.2d 893, 894 (N.D.Ill.2000) (" There is no question that a district court has the discretion to sever a Monell claim against a municipality from claims against individual police officers and stay litigation of the Monell claim until the rest of the case is resolved." ) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

Page 929

I. Convenience and Judicial Economy

Municipal Defendants argue that bifurcation of the Monell claims against them will promote convenience and judicial economy, as those claims can only succeed if it is first determined that the Defendant Officers violated Mr. Hanna's constitutional rights. (Def.'s Mot. at 4.) Applying the three factors of Thomas v. Cook County Sheriff's Dep't, 604 F.3d 293 (7th Cir.2009), Municipal Defendants argue that the claims against it are " wholly contingent on the conduct of Defendant Officers." (Def.'s Mot. at 4.) As a result, Municipal Defendants opine that a finding that the Defendant Officers did not violate Mr. Hanna's rights, but the Municipal Defendants are nonetheless liable for a constitutional harm, would be inconsistent and contrary to City of Los Angeles v. Heller, 475 U.S. 796, 106 S.Ct. 1571, 89 L.Ed.2d 806 (1986). (Def.'s Mot. at 8.) A finding in favor of Defendant Officers will, therefore, also resolve the Monell claims. On the other hand, if the Defendant Officers are found to have violated Mr. Hanna's constitutional rights, the Municipal Defendants argue that their proposed Certification of Entry of Judgment Against Defendant City of North Chicago will likewise relieve the Plaintiffs of any need to litigate the Monell claims. ( Id. at 13.) Therefore, since the Monell claims will not need to be litigated regardless of who ultimately prevails, Municipal Defendants assert that bifurcation will allow both the court and the parties to avoid the time and costs involved in the Monell discovery and litigation.

Conversely, Plaintiffs argue that bifurcation will encourage " piecemeal li [ti]gation of individual claims" because the Defendant Officers could prevail on a qualified immunity defense, requiring a second trial on the Monell claims. ( Id. at 6-7.) Plaintiffs additionally contend that the Monell discovery will be limited, and some of that discovery will be needed to litigate their claims against Defendant Officers. ( Id. at 8.) Bifurcation would therefore not result in any economies. Lastly, ...


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