United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
M. ROWLAND, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
reasons stated below, Judge Cox's Order denying the
Defendant City of Chicago (the “City”)'s
motion to bifurcate Monell claims without prejudice
 is AFFIRMED, and the City's Rule 72(a) objection
 is OVERRULED.
case arises from Plaintiff Ricardo Rodriguez' arrest and
conviction for the murder of Rodney Kemppainen and attempted
murder of Rudolfo Zaragoza on December 16, 1995. After
spending over 22 years in prison, Plaintiff's conviction
was vacated in March 27, 2018. (Dkt. 11 at ¶50).
Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
1983, claiming that several Chicago Police Officers (the
“Individual Defendants”) framed him for murder
and attempted murder in 1995. Plaintiff alleges that the
Individual Defendants fabricated purported eyewitness
testimony and suppressed exculpatory evidence in order to
secure Plaintiff's arrest and conviction. (Id.
at ¶¶24-25, 34-40, 47). Plaintiff also alleges that
the City failed to train, supervise, and discipline its
officers, and had a practice of suppressing important
investigatory materials in clandestine files (“street
files”) which were maintained solely at the police
department but never disclosed to state prosecutors or
criminal defendants. (Id. at ¶¶55-72). On
September 11, 2019, Judge Cox denied the City's motion to
bifurcate Plaintiff's Monell claims for the
purpose of discovery and trial. (Dkt. 51). Before the Court
is the City's Rule 72(a) objection to the magistrate
judge's order denying bifurcation.
Rules of Civil Procedure 72(a) governs the district
court's review of nondispositive magistrate judge
decisions. Rule 72(a) provides: “The district judge . .
. must consider timely objections and modify or set aside any
part of the order that is clearly erroneous or is contrary to
law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a). “The clear error
standard means that the district court can overturn the
magistrate judge's ruling only if the district court is
left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has
been made.” Weeks v. Samsung Heavy Indus. Co.,
126 F.3d 926, 943-44 (7th Cir. 1997); see also McGuire v.
Carrier Corp., No. 1:09-CV-315-WTL-JMS, 2010 WL 231099,
at *1 (S.D. Ind. Jan. 13, 2010) (“This is an extremely
deferential standard and the district court may not reverse
the magistrate judge's decision simply because the
district court judge would have come to a different
conclusion.”); S Indus., Inc. v. Centra 2000,
Inc., 249 F.3d 625, 627 (7th Cir. 2001) (“We will
not reverse a determination for clear error unless it strikes
us as wrong with the force of a 5 week old, unrefrigerated,
dead fish.”). “An order is contrary to law when
it fails to apply or misapplies relevant statutes, case law,
or rules of procedure.” Baker v.
McCorkle, No. 116CV03026JMSMPB, 2018 WL 3439078, at *3
(S.D. Ind. July 17, 2018) (citations omitted). To prevail in
its objections, the City must demonstrate that Judge
Cox's order was clearly erroneous or contrary to law.
See Dyson, Inc. v. SharkNinja Operating LLC, No.
14-CV-779, 2017 WL 446043, at *2 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 2, 2017).
42(b) provides “[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). The Seventh Circuit has emphasized that only one of
the above criteria, prejudice or judicial economy, needs to
be satisfied for a court to grant bifurcation “as long
as doing so will not prejudice the non-moving party or
violate the Seventh Amendment.” Chlopek v. Fed.
Ins. Co., 499 F.3d 692, 700 (7th Cir. 2007). The
district court has considerable discretion in deciding
whether to bifurcate claims. Volkman v. Ryker, 736
F.3d 1084, 1089 (7th Cir. 2013); Krocka v. City of
Chicago, 203 F.3d 507, 516 (7th Cir. 2000). In this
district, there is a growing body of precedent for both
granting and denying bifurcation of Monell claims in
§1983 cases. Giles v. Ludwig, No. 12-CV-6746,
2013 WL 6512683, at *1 (N.D. Ill.Dec. 6, 2013). “[T]he
decision to grant or deny bifurcation is a heavily
fact-intensive analysis, dependent upon costs and benefits of
bifurcation under the unique circumstances of each
case.” Awalt v. Marketti, 2012 WL 11615000, at
*10 (N.D. Ill. April 9, 2012).
Prejudice to Plaintiff
City asserts that the magistrate judge committed clear error
by finding that Plaintiff would suffer prejudice from
bifurcation. The City argues that the Judge Cox failed to
consider its arguments that Plaintiff is not entitled to any
additional compensatory damages if there is a finding of
liability against Defendant and is only entitled to monetary
damages by law. (Dkt. 54 at 4). But the magistrate judge did
consider these arguments and noted that she was not persuaded
by them because Plaintiff has more than monetary interests in
this case. The magistrate judge explained that Plaintiff
“‘has a profound interest in pursuing his claims
with an eye towards institutional reform,' and ‘a
judgment naming the City itself and holding it responsible
for its policies may have a greater deterrent effect than a
judgment against a police officer that is paid by the
City.'” (Dkt. 51 at 4) (quoting Gomez v.
Guevara, 18-cv-3335, Dkt. 65 at 10 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 8,
courts have recognized the importance of weighing such
non-monetary considerations in the bifurcation analysis.
See e.g., Estate of Loury by Hudson v. City of
Chicago, No. 16-CV-04452, 2017 WL 1425594, at *5 (N.D.
Ill. Apr. 20, 2017) (“In sum, Plaintiff has other
important objectives-most notably, deterrence and reform-
that would be furthered by a judgment holding the City liable
for the Defendant Officers' alleged misconduct.”);
Estate of McIntosh v. City of Chicago, No. 15 C
1920, 2015 WL 5164080, at *10 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 2, 2015)
(“A judgment against a municipality can be a catalyst
for change, because it not only holds that entity responsible
for its actions and inactions, but also can encourage the
municipality to reform the patterns and practices that led to
constitutional violations, as well as alert the municipality
and its citizenry to the issue.”); Giles, 2013
WL 6512683, at *3 (“mere monetary compensation for
constitutional injuries may not have the same deterrent
effect as a judgment naming the municipality as responsible
based on its policies and customs”).
the City argues that Plaintiff will suffer no prejudice from
bifurcation because “the City has already agreed to a
judgment against it if Plaintiff proves any one of the
individual officers violated his constitutional rights
(whether there is a successful qualified immunity defense or
not).” (Dkt. 54 at 4). Although some courts in this
district have found that the City's willingness to
consent to a judgment against it for compensatory damages
serves as an adequate deterrent, see Ezell v. City of
Chicago, No. 18 C 1049, 2019 WL 3776616, at *6 (N.D.
Ill. Aug. 12, 2019); Williams v. City of Chicago,
315 F.Supp.3d 1060, 1083-84 (N.D. Ill. 2018), others have
found “such stipulations insufficient to justify
bifurcation, noting that the plaintiff is entitled to be the
master of her own complaint and pursue claims even if they
have a minimal pecuniary reward.” Rodriguez v. City
of Chicago, No. 17 CV 7248, 2018 WL 3474538, at *3 (N.D.
Ill. July 19, 2018) (citing McIntosh, 2015 WL
5164080, at *9; Warren v. Dart, No. 09 CV 3512, 2012
WL 1866372, at *2 (N.D. Ill. May 22, 2012)).
have reasoned that there are valid non-economic reasons for
pursuing a Monell action “even if she has
already won a judgment against individual officers and the
municipality has consented to judgment.”
Loury, 2017 WL 1425594, at *5; King v.
Evans, No. 13-CV-1937, 2015 WL 4397761, at *2 (N.D. Ill.
July 17, 2015) (noting that even if the City “is
willing to stipulate to judgment in the event Plaintiff
succeeds on her claims against the individual officer[s],
” there are legitimate non-monetary benefits to
pursuing a Monell claim, such as deterring future
official misconduct). Further, courts in this district have
taken issue with similar consents as offering little, if any,
deterrent effect where, as here, the proposed consent
expressly denies any wrongdoing on the part of the City.
See (Dkt. 54-3, ¶¶3-4);
Rodriguez, 2018 WL 3474538, at *3 (“A proposed
consent judgment is particularly ill-designed to have any
deterrent effect where, as here, it expressly denies any
wrongdoing on the City's part.”); Loury,
2017 WL 1425594, at *5 (noting same); Giles, 2013 WL
6512683, at *3.
unavailing are the City's arguments that the magistrate
judge erred because “the policies at issue are 25 years
old, so any effect a judgment on those policies may have on
institutional reform are moot, ” and “Plaintiff
is not requesting a consent decree or equitable relief where
the City would be forced into reform” so his argument
is pretextual.” (Dkt. 54 at 4-5). As noted earlier,
Plaintiff is the master of his own complaint, and failure to
pursue a consent decree or injunctive relief in this case
does not foreclose the possibility that he still has
significant non-monetary incentives for pursuing a
Monell claim. Also, even though the policies at
issue are 25 years old, the City has not demonstrated that
all of the policies at issue have been meaningfully reformed
such that a finding of Monell liability in this case
would have no impact on institutional ...