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Ackerman v. Allen

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

April 27, 2017



          Ruben Castillo United States Chief Judge.

         Leonard Ackerman ("Plaintiff) brings this civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Chicago Police Officers James Allen and Mark Czapla (collectively "Defendant Officers") and the City of Chicago, Illinois (the "City") (collectively "Defendants"). Defendants now move to bifurcate and stay discovery on Plaintiffs municipal liability claims pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 42(b). (R. 24, Mot. to Bifurcate at 1.) For the reasons stated below, Defendants' motion is granted.


         Plaintiff is a 59-year-old man who suffers from a variety of health problems, including heart disease, diabetes, herniated and bulging discs, spinal stenosis, sciatica, temporomandibular joint disorder, and an injury to his right shoulder that left him without a rotator cuff and with limited range of motion on that side. (Id. ¶¶ 1, 12.) As a result of these conditions, Plaintiff has been prescribed oxycodone since 2012. (Id. ¶¶ 13-14.) On June 23, 2014, Plaintiffs doctor issued him a new prescription for 30 mg tablets of oxycodone. (Id. ¶ 17.) Plaintiff alleges that the prescription was valid and legal. (Id. ¶ 18.)

         Later that day, Plaintiff stopped at the Walgreens Pharmacy located at 3019 West Peterson Avenue in Chicago, Illinois, to pick up his 30 mg tablet prescription from the pharmacy. (Id. ¶¶ 21-22.) After Plaintiff handed his prescription to a Walgreens pharmacy employee, the employee told him that the pharmacy did not have 20 mg tablets in stock. (Id. ¶ 23.) The employee did not give Plaintiff back his prescription. (Id.) Plaintiff explained that his new prescription was for 30 mg tablets, not 20 mg tablets, and asked if she would check again to see if the correct dose was available. (Id. ¶ 24.) Plaintiff alleges that the employee refused to look for the medication and continued to retain Plaintiffs prescription. (Id.)

         After Plaintiff asked to speak to a manager, he alleges that the manager refused to look for the 30 mg dose of the medication and asked Plaintiff to leave. (Id. ¶¶ 25-26.) Plaintiff asked several times for his prescription, but no one would return it to him. (Id. ¶¶ 26-27.) Several minutes later, Defendant Officers arrived. (Id. ¶¶ 28.) Plaintiff alleges that he immediately approached Defendant Officers to seek their assistance in getting his prescription back so that he could take it to another pharmacy. (Id. ¶ 29.)

         Defendant Officers explained that someone from Walgreens had called them because Plaintiff would not leave the store. (Id. ¶ 30.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Officers accused him of having no prescription or of attempting to fill his prescription three weeks early. (Id. ¶¶ 31-32.) Plaintiff alleges that he informed them that his prescription was valid and not early. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that Officer Czapla suddenly grabbed his wrist and pulled his arms behind his back, without any warning that Plaintiff was being arrested. (Id. ¶ 33.) Plaintiff alleges that he explained to Officer Czapla that he had had shoulder surgery and that if Officer Czapla persisted in twisting his arm, he would break it. (Id. ¶ 35.) Officer Czapla allegedly replied, "Good, we'll break both your arms." (Id.)

         Plaintiff alleges that Officer Allen then took Plaintiffs right arm and continued to pull it back, while Officer Czapla began gouging his thumb into the muscle of Plaintiff s inner left forearm. (Id. ¶¶ 37-38.) Plaintiff claims that this action severely injured his left arm, left it swollen and bruised black, and dislocated his left elbow. (Id. ¶ 39.) Plaintiff alleges that Officer Czapla said, "This is what we do to people who resist arrest" before striking Plaintiffs dislocated elbow, while Officer Allen broke his right elbow. (Id. ¶¶ 41, 43.) The pain caused Plaintiff to lose consciousness. (Id. ¶ 42.) During the arrest, Officer Czapla allegedly stated, "You don't get any rights." (Id. ¶ 44.) Finally, Defendant Officers called an ambulance, which took Plaintiff to Swedish Covenant Hospital where only his left elbow was treated. (Id. ¶ 45.) Plaintiff was charged with trespass, battery, and resisting arrest; the first two charges were dropped, while Plaintiff was acquitted of resisting arrest at trial. (Id. 48.)


         On June 14, 2016, Plaintiff filed his complaint, listing three counts under Section 1983 against the Defendant Officers: excessive force (Count I), conspiracy to use excessive force (Count II), and failure to intervene to prevent the violation of his constitutional rights (Count III). (Id. ¶¶ 53-69.) Additionally, each count includes a municipal-liability claim against the City under Monell v. Department of Social Services of New York, 436 U.S. 658 (1978), as Plaintiff claims that his injuries stemmed from the City's policy, practice, or custom of failing to prevent such incidents. (See Id. at ¶¶ 58, 64, 69.) Defendant Officers and the City answered separately on September 6, 2016. (See R. 16, Officers' Answer; R. 17, City's Answer.) In their answer, Defendant Officers raised three affirmative defenses: qualified immunity, failure to mitigate damages, and contributory negligence. (R. 16, Officers' Answer at 12.)

         On November 8, 2016, Defendants filed their joint motion to bifurcate and to stay discovery on Plaintiffs Monell claims. (R. 24, Mot. to Bifurcate.) Defendants argue that bifurcating the Monell claims would result in more efficient, streamlined litigation, would prevent undue prejudice to Defendants, and would allow for more concentrated discovery. (Id. at 3.) Additionally, Defendants attached to their motion a limited consent by the City to the entry of judgment against it if Plaintiff prevails on the claims against the individual officers. (R. 24-3, Limited Consent.) The City would not admit any wrongdoing or culpability under Monell, but it would consent to judgment against it for compensatory damages and attorney's fees (without requiring Plaintiff to prove the City responsible under Monell) if either Defendant Officer were found to have violated Plaintiffs constitutional rights, even if the Defendant Officers were found not liable due to qualified immunity. (Id. at 2.)

         Plaintiff responded to the motion on December 9, 2016. (R. 27, Resp.) Plaintiff argues that bifurcation would actually increase the burden of discovery and would create a much greater burden on the Court and Plaintiff, by requiring the parties to proceed through two complete trials dealing with similar issues over the course of years, (Id. at 4-12.) Further, Plaintiff argues that proceeding to trial on all claims would not substantially prejudice Defendants, as limiting instructions are sufficient to counter any improper inferences of guilt by the jury. (Id. at 9-11.) Finally, Plaintiff argues that the limited consent would provide Plaintiff no benefits he is not already entitled to and would unfairly deprive Plaintiff of the opportunity to hold the City publicly responsible for its policies and practices, so it should not weigh in favor of bifurcation. (Id. at 7-9.)


         Under Rule 42(b), the Court has considerable discretion to decide claims or issues in separate trials "[f]or convenience, to avoid prejudice, or to expedite and economize." Fed.R.Civ.P. 42(b); Krocka v. City of Chi., 203 F.3d 507, 516 (7th Cir. 2000) ("The district court has considerable discretion to order the bifurcation of a trial, and we will overturn this decision only upon a clear showing of abuse." (citation and internal quotation marks omitted)). A court may order bifurcation "if the separation would prevent prejudice to a party or promote judicial economy, " so long as bifurcating "will ...

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