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Rodriguez v. City of Chicago

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

December 17, 2019

Ricardo RODRIGUEZ, Plaintiff,
The CITY OF CHICAGO, et al., Defendants.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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          Russell R. Ainsworth, Arthur R. Loevy, Jonathan I. Loevy, Ruth Z. Brown, Tara Elizabeth Thompson, Loevy & Loevy, Chicago, IL, for Plaintiff.

          James Vincent Daffada, Thomas More Leinenweber, Kevin Edward Zibolski, Michael John Schalka, Leinenweber Baroni & Daffada LLC, James Gus Sotos, Caroline P. Golden, David Andrew Brueggen, Jeffrey Robert Kivetz, Josh Michael Engquist, The Sotos Law Firm, P.C., Eileen Ellen Rosen, Austin Gordon Rahe, Catherine MacNeil Barber, Stacy Ann Benjamin, Theresa Berousek Carney, Rock Fusco & Connelly, LLC, Chicago, IL, for Defendants.


         MARY M. ROWLAND, United States District Judge.

         For the reasons stated below, Judge Cox's Order denying the Defendant City of Chicago (the "City")'s motion to bifurcate Monell claims without prejudice [51] is AFFIRMED, and the City's Rule 72(a) objection [54] is OVERRULED.


         This 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.

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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.


         Federal 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).

         Rule 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 ...

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