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Bradford v. City of Chicago

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

October 16, 2019

Linda Bradford, as Special, Administrator of the Estate of Develt Bradford, deceased, and Linda Bradford, Individually, Plaintiffs,
v.
City of Chicago, a Municipal Corporation, Chicago Police Officer Phyllis Gill, Chicago Police Officer John Otto, and Detention Aide Darrin West, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Honorable Thomas M. Durkin United States District Judge

         Before the Court is the City of Chicago (the “City”), Chicago police officers Phyllis Gill and John Otto, and detention aide Darrin West's (Gill, Otto, and West together, “the Individual Defendants, ” and the City and the Individual Defendants together, “Defendants”) joint motion to bifurcate plaintiff Linda Bradford's (“Plaintiff”) claim against the City under Monell v. Department of Social Services of the City of New York, 436 U.S. 658 (1987), stay Monell discovery, and enter the City's limited consent to liability for compensatory damages. R. 175. For the following reasons, that motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         Background [1]

         This case involves the suicide of Develt Bradford (“Bradford”) while in the City of Chicago's custody. Bradford was arrested by Chicago police officers and taken to a Chicago police station on November 15, 2011. R. 44 ¶¶ 9, 10, 12. The next evening, Bradford was informed that he was being charged with first degree murder and robbery. Id. ¶ 42. According to the allegations in the operative complaint, he was placed in a cell in lockup at approximately 9:00 p.m. that night by the Individual Defendants and other Chicago police officers who are not party to this suit. Id. ¶¶ 13-14. Bradford's cell was out of sight and sound of the booking area where lockup personnel sat, and contained cameras that when operative transmitted live video footage to the front of the lockup to prevent inmate harm. Id. ¶¶ 15-18, 44-45. But the cameras were not functioning and hadn't been operable for a period of years-a fact of which Defendants were aware. Id. ¶¶ 14, 23-26, 45. Later that same evening, Bradford learned that his bond hearing would not take place within the customary 48 hours of his arrest. Id. ¶ 20. A few hours later, Bradford was found dead, hanging from his neck, suspended by a pair of pants in his cell. Id. ¶¶ 21-22.

         Plaintiff initially filed this action in Illinois state court in December 2011 as administrator for the estate of Bradford, her late husband. The court permitted several iterations of her complaint, in each case alleging only state law claims. But after completing discovery, Plaintiff filed a Fifth Amended Complaint alleging a federal claim (against the Individual Defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983) for the first time. R. 1. Defendants removed the action to this Court in January 2016. Id. At that time, discovery was complete on the then-current allegations. Defendants moved for summary judgment in August 2016. R. 22. Ultimately, however, the Court permitted Plaintiff to amend her pleading once more in February 2017, this time to include a Monell claim against the City. R. 43; R. 44. Accordingly, the Court denied the summary judgment motion without prejudice. Id.

         In all, the Sixth Amended Complaint sets forth: (1) Illinois state law claims against the Individual Defendants under the Wrongful Death Act, 740 ILCS 180/0.01, et seq. (Count I) and the Survival Act, 755 ILCS 5/27-6, et seq. (Count II); (2) respondeat superior and indemnification theories against the City (Counts V and VI, respectively); (4) a Fourth Amendment Section 1983 claim against the Individual Defendants[2] (Count III); and 5) a Monell claim against the City (Count IV). R. 44.

         In Count III, Plaintiff alleges that the Individual Defendants' failure to properly supervise Bradford after he received notice of his charges was objectively unreasonable and posed a substantial risk of harm to Bradford's health and safety in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. Id. ¶¶ 40-51. And in her Monell claim (Count IV), Plaintiff alleges that the City's ongoing failure to repair camera equipment installed to ensure inmate safety and systematic understaffing of city lockups created constitutionally unreasonable conditions of confinement for inmates at risk of suicide. Id. ¶¶ 53-56.

         The Court extended the fact discovery cutoff on the Monell claim to October 18, 2019, but has not yet set an expert discovery schedule. R. 174. On July 26, 2019, Defendants jointly filed this motion to bifurcate Plaintiff's Monell claim and to stay Monell discovery. Included with their motion was a limited consent to the entry of judgment against the City if the Court grants Defendants' motion to bifurcate and stay (“Limited Consent”). R. 175, Ex A. In it, the City consents to entry of judgment against it for compensatory damages and reasonable attorneys fees “[w]ithout admitting the Monell allegations” if any Individual Defendant is found “liable for a violation of [Bradford's] constitutional rights, ” including on summary judgment. Id. at 2. The Limited Consent further provides that the City also consents to the entry of such a judgment if the Individual Defendants are absolved of liability because of qualified immunity. Id. at 2-3.

         At the hearing on Defendants' motion, the Court told the parties that the fact discovery cut-off date would stand. However, the Court also informed the parties that if it otherwise decided to grant Defendants' motion to bifurcate and stay the Monell claim, the Court would also stay expert discovery pending the resolution of the other claims.

         Standard

         “For convenience, to avoid prejudice, or to expedite and economize, the court may order a separate trial of one or more separate issues [or] claims.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 42(b). Whether to bifurcate the trial of any issues or claims is within the Court's “considerable” discretion. Krocka v. City of Chi., 203 F.3d 507, 516 (7th Cir. 2000). Indeed, the Court may “separate claims or issues for trial if the separation would prevent prejudice to a party or promote judicial economy.” Chlopek v. Fed. Ins. Co., 499 F.3d 692, 700 (7th Cir. 2007). “If one of these criteria is met, the district court may order bifurcation as long as doing so will not prejudice the non-moving party or violate the Seventh Amendment, ” which guarantees a jury trial for civil cases in federal court. Id. A district court also has wide discretion with respect to discovery matters, and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(d) allows a court to stay discovery on Monell claims. Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(d); Carr v. City of N. Chi., 908 F.Supp.2d 926, 927 (N.D. Ill. 2012).

         Motions to bifurcate Monell claims are frequently granted in this District because such claims typically require a significant amount of work-including expert discovery-that may ultimately be for naught because in “many if not most cases, disposition of the individual claims will either legally or practically end the litigation.” Medina v. City of Chi., 100 F.Supp.2d 893, 895 (N.D. Ill. 2000). Indeed, a plaintiff's failure to prove that he suffered a constitutional injury at the hands of an individual employee typically is fatal to his Monell claim against the municipality. Id. On the other hand, if the plaintiff prevails on his constitutional claim against the municipal employee, he is “likely not to want or need to proceed any further, ” id., because Illinois law requires a “local public entity to pay . . . any tort judgment or settlement for compensatory damages . . . for which it or an employee while acting within the scope of his employment is liable.” 745 ILCS 10/9-102. In all cases, the Court evaluates a motion to bifurcate on the facts before it, Saunders v. City of Chi., 146 F.Supp.3d 957, 968 (N.D. Ill. 2015), and its decision will be overturned “only upon a clear showing of abuse.” Houskins v. Sheahan, 549 F.3d 480, 495 (7th Cir. 2008).

         Analysis

         Defendants contend that: (1) a combined trial that includes the Monell claim would prejudice both the City and the Individual Defendants; and (2) judicial economy favors bifurcation and stay of Monell discovery because expert discovery would be burdensome and costly, and may not be necessary due to the Limited Consent. R. 175; R. 180. In response, Plaintiff argues that bifurcation is improper because her Monell claim is not contingent upon the success of her Section 1983 claims against the Individual ...


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