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Awalt v. Marketti

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

December 8, 2014

ELIZABETH AWALT, as Administrator of the Estate of Robert Awalt, Plaintiff,
v.
RICK MARKETTI, as Administrator of the Estate of Terry Marketti; KEVIN CALLAHAN, in his official capacity as Sheriff of Grundy County; DUANE MCCOMAS, individually and in his official capacity as Superintendent of Grundy County Jail; MELANIE VAN CLEAVE; PATRICK SEALOCK; MATTHEW WALKER; KIM LEAR; ROGER THORSON; ROBERT MATTESON; DAVID OBROCHTA; COUNTY OF GRUNDY; CORRECTIONAL HEALTH COMPANIES, INC.; HEALTH PROFESSIONALS, LTD.; DR. STEPHEN CULLINAN; MARJORIE CLAUSON; unknown employees of Correctional Healthcare Companies, Inc. and Health Professionals, LTD; unknown Grundy County Correctional Officers; unknown Medical Personnel, Defendants

For Elizabeth Awalt, as Administrator of the estate of Robert Awalt, Plaintiff: Anand Swaminathan, Arthur R. Loevy, Cindy Tsai, Jonathan I. Loevy, Julie Marie Goodwin, Michael I Kanovitz, Sarah Copeland Grady, Steven Edwards Art, Thomas Kayes, Loevy & Loevy, Chicago, IL USA; Daniel Moore Twetten, Elizabeth C. Wang, Loevy & Loevy, Boulder, CO USA.

For Rick Marketti, as Administrator of the estate of Terry Marketti, Melanie Van Cleave, Patrick Sealock, Matthew Walker, County of Grundy, Duane Mccomas, individually and in his official capacity as Superintendent of Grundy County Jail, Robert Matteson, David Obrochta, Kim Lear, Roger Thorson, Defendants: Amy P. Engerman, James Gus Sotos, Jeffrey Neil Given, The Sotos Law Firm, P.C., Itasca, IL USA.

For Correctional Healthcare Companies, Inc., Healthcare Professionals, Ltd, Dr. Stephen Cullinan, M. Clauson, R.N., Defendants: Scott George Salemi, LEAD ATTORNEY, Kimberly A. Kovanda, Maura Yusof, Stephen Richard Ayres, Heyl, Royster, Voelker & Allen, Rockford, IL USA.

Page 778

Memorandum Opinion and Order

Honorable Thomas M. Durkin, United States District Judge.

Elizabeth Awalt (" Plaintiff" ), as administrator for the estate of her husband Robert Awalt (" Awalt" ), alleges that Grundy County and the Grundy County Sheriff's Office, directly and doing business through its prison medical services providers Correctional Health Companies, Inc. (" CHC" ), and Health Professional, Ltd. (" HPL" ), caused Awalt's death by being deliberately indifferent to his medical needs while he was in custody at the Grundy County Jail (the " Jail" ). R. 120. Plaintiff also alleges that former Grundy County Sheriff, Terry Marketti (" Sheriff Marketti" ), Duane McComas, individually and in his official capacity as Superintendent of Grundy County Jail, and correctional officers Melanie Van Cleave, Patrick Sealock, Matthew Walker, Kim Lear, Roger Thorson, Robert Matteson, David Obrochta (the " Correctional Officers" ), along with CHC employees Dr. Stephen Cullinan and Nurse Marjorie Clauson, are liable for Awalt's death. Id. Grundy County, the Sheriff's Office, Sheriff Kevin Callhan, Rick Marketti (as administrator for Sheriff Marketti's estate), Superintendent McComas, and the Correctional Officers (collectively, the " County Defendants" ), moved to bifurcate trial of the claims against the individual defendants Superintendent McComas and the Correctional Officers from the trial of the claims under Monell v. Department of Social Services of the City of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978), against the Sheriff's Office and the County. R. 288. CHC, HPL, Dr. Cullinan, and Nurse Clauson (collectively, the " Medical Defendants" ), also moved to bifurcate trial of the

Page 779

claims against the individual defendants Dr. Cullinan and Nurse Clauson from the trial of the Monell claims against CHC and HPL. R. 290. Plaintiff opposed these motions. R. 306. The Court granted these motions by oral ruling on November 25, 2014. R. 416; R. 418. This memorandum opinion and order supplements the reasons for granting the motions the Court stated on the record on November 25.[1]

" For 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). Bifurcation of trial of certain issues or claims is appropriate " where the efficiency of a consolidated trial is outweighed by its potential prejudice to the litigants." Houskins v. Sheahan, 549 F.3d 480, 495 (7th Cir. 2008). The decision to bifurcate trial of any issues or claims is within the Court's discretion. Id.[2]

Plaintiff has proffered a large amount of evidence relating to the liability of the County, the Sheriff's Office, CHC, and HPL (the " Entity Defendants" ). This evidence largely relates to the medical care provided to detainees at the Jail prior to and during the time Awalt was detained there. Plaintiff intends to use this evidence to show that the Entity Defendants' policies and practices regarding medical care were deficient and caused Awalt's death. Much of this evidence, however, also directly implicates the past actions of Dr. Cullinan and Nurse Clauson because they were the only two medical professionals providing care at the Jail for most, if not all, of the relevant time period. The salient issue as to Defendants' motions to bifurcate the trial is whether the unfair prejudice to Dr. Cullinan and Nurse Clauson posed by this evidence outweighs the efficiency of a consolidated trial.

Plaintiff does not argue that Dr. Cullinan and Nurse Clauson face no prejudice from the evidence of the Entity Defendants' policies and practices. This is not surprising considering the sheer amount of evidence Plaintiff intends to introduce against the Entity Defendants that also implicates Dr. Cullinan and Nurse Clauson. There are at least 13 former detainees who would testify that they received insufficient medical care at the Jail while under the care of Dr. Cullinan and Nurse Clauson. Additionally, Plaintiff's expert, Dr. Greifinger, would testify that the Entity Defendants provided deficient medical care to at least six detainees other than Awalt in the three months leading up to and including Awalt's period of detention, during which time Dr. Cullinan and Nurse Clauson were the only medical professionals working at the Jail. Plaintiff potentially intends to introduce numerous grievance and medical request forms submitted

Page 780

by detainees at the Jail that reference Dr. Cullinan and Nurse Clauson. Considering the extent of this evidence, the prejudice to Dr. Cullinan and Nurse Clauson is undeniable. Although bifurcation will clearly require several witnesses to testify twice, this inefficiency pales in comparison to the risk of unfair prejudice to Dr. Cullinan and Nurse Clauson posed by the sheer magnitude of evidence about their past actions that is relevant to the liability of the Entity Defendants.

Notably, courts in this District that have permitted claims brought pursuant to Section 1983 against both individuals and entities to proceed in the same trial did so when the evidence against the entities concerned the actions of non-party individuals and did not directly implicate the individuals on trial. See Giles v. Ludwig, 2013 WL 6512683, at *2 (N.D. Ill.Dec. 6, 2013) (citing cases). Yet, even when the evidence against the entity does not directly implicate the individuals on trial, some courts in this District still bifurcate trial of the claims against the individual and the entity because the " evidence . . . regarding [an] [entity]-wide policy, practice or custom involving multiple improper [individual] actions poses a danger of undue prejudice to the [individuals] by creating the perception that the [entity] routinely acts improperly, even if the [individuals] acted properly in this case." Veal v. Kachiroubas, 2014 WL 321708, at *6 (N.D. Ill. Jan. 29, 2014); see also Tanner v. City of Waukegan, 2011 WL 686867, at *10 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 16, 2011) (" If admitted as part of his case against the City, such evidence could prejudice the individual defendants' ability ...


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