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D'Arrigo v. Gloucester City

December 17, 2007

ARTHUR G. D'ARRIGO, JR., PLAINTIFF,
v.
GLOUCESTER CITY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joel Schneider United States Magistrate Judge

[Doc. No. 36]

OPINION AND ORDER

This matter is before the Court on the Motion for Separate Trials Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 42(b) [Doc. No. 36] filed by individual defendants Officers Iepson and Morrell. (Hereinafter collectively referred to as "defendants"). The Court has received plaintiff's opposition to defendants' motion [Doc. 40] and defendants' reply [Doc. No. 41]. Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 78 and L. Civ. R. 7.1(b)(4) the Court exercises its discretion to decide defendants' motion without oral argument. For the reasons to be discussed defendants' motion is DENIED.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff's complaint was removed to this Court on December 3, 2004. Plaintiff alleges that on January 6, 2004, while traveling on Route 42 in Camden County at about 1:30 a.m., his car was stopped by a Delaware River Port Authority patrolman. See Complaint at ¶1. Plaintiff was then transported to the Gloucester City Municipal Police Department. Id. at ¶2. Plaintiff alleges that while in custody at the police station he was beat up by police officers and suffered serious injuries. Id. at ¶¶6-7.

Plaintiff further alleges that he was later detained at a holding cell at the Delaware River Port Authority facility at the base of the Walt Whitman Bridge. Id. at ¶8. Plaintiff contends that defendants failed to provide him with medical attention after he informed them he had suffered injuries. Id. at ¶9. The remaining defendants in the case are Gloucester City, the Gloucester City Police Department, the Delaware River Port Authority and individual defendants Patrolman Larry Goodwin, Officer Kenneth Iepson, Officer Brian Morrell and Officer R. Kraft. Plaintiff claims defendants violated his civil rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983.

DISCUSSION

Defendants request bifurcation pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 42(b) which reads:

The court, in furtherance of convenience or to avoid prejudice, or when separate trials will be conducive to expedition and economy, may order a separate trial of any claim....*fn1 Defendants seek to bifurcate the trials of Officers Iepson and Morrell from the trial against Gloucester City. Defendants argue that in order to prove liability against Gloucester City, plaintiff must meet the applicable legal standard set forth in Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Serv., 436 U.S. 658 (1978). Pursuant to Monell, plaintiff can establish municipal liability under §1983 by proving that the municipality had an unconstitutional policy or custom. Id. at 694. A policy exists "when a 'decisionmaker possess[ing] final authority to establish municipal policy with respect to the action' issues an official proclamation, policy or edict." Bielevicz v. Dubinon, 915 F.2d 845, 850 (3d Cir. 1990)(citations omitted). A plaintiff may establish a custom "by showing that a given course of conduct, although not specifically endorsed or authorized by law, is so well-settled and permanent as virtually to constitute law." Id. (citing Andrews v. City of Philadelphia, 895 F.2d 1469, 1480 (3d Cir. 1990)). Custom is established by proving knowledge of, and acquiescence to, a practice. Fletcher v. O'Donnell, 867 F.2d 791, 793-94 (3d Cir. 1989). In order for plaintiff to recover against Gloucester City on his failure to train theory of liability he must prove that Gloucester City exhibited deliberate indifference to the rights of people with whom the police came into contact. Carswell v. Borough of Homestead, 381 F.3d 235, 244 (3d Cir. 2004). This typically requires proof that the municipality has a pattern of underlying constitutional violations. Id.

Defendants argue that separate evidence is required to prove liability against the individual defendants and Gloucester City. Defendants further argue that the jury should first determine whether they are liable to plaintiff and only if a verdict is returned against them should the case against Gloucester City be presented to the jury. Defendants posit that this will avoid undue prejudice to them and serve to further the convenience of the court and parties, and that this arrangement will promote efficiency and judicial economy. Unfortunately, defendants do not identify the specific evidence that is allegedly unduly prejudicial to their interests. In the Brief they filed in support of their motion, defendants argue the evidence "will include alleged prior bad acts by Gloucester City officers who are not defendants in this case and could encompass periods both before and after the alleged incident." Brief at 4, Doc. No. 36. However, in their Reply Brief defendants argue the prejudicial evidence is their prior bad acts:

More importantly, the potential for prejudice against the individual officers is so substantial, that no limiting instructions, regardless of their content, could cure the damage a single trial would cause. It is likely that evidence of the individual officers' prior bad acts (e.g. citizen complaints by persons other than Plaintiff against Iepson and/or Morrell of excessive force that pre-date this incident by several years, Internal Affairs investigations of Iepson and/or Morrell into allegations by persons other than Plaintiff that pre-date this incident), evidence that would in no way be relevant or admissible to prove Iepson's or Morrell's individual liability, would nonetheless be admissible to prove municipal liability.

Reply Brief at 8-9, Doc. No. 41.

DISCUSSION

The decision to bifurcate is a matter committed to the discretion of the court to be decided on a case-by-case basis. Bair Laboratories, Inc., v. Abbott Laboratories, 978 F.2d 98, 115 (3d Cir. 1992)(citing Idzojtic v. Pennsylvania R.R. Co., 456 F.2d 1228, 1230 (3d Cir. 1972)). Before a decision to bifurcate may be made the court, "in the exercise of its discretion, must weigh the various considerations of convenience, prejudice to the parties, expedition, and economy of resources." Emerick v. U.S. Suzuki Motor Corp., 750 F.2d 19, 22 (3d Cir. 1984). The party seeking bifurcation has the burden of demonstrating that judicial economy would be promoted and that no party would be prejudiced by separate trials. Princeton Biochemicals Inc. v. Beckman Instruments Inc., 180 F.R.D. 254, 256 (D.N.J. 1997). See also Miller v. New Jersey Transit Authority Rail Operations, 160 F.R.D. 37, 40 (D.N.J. 1995)(the party seeking bifurcation has the burden of demonstrating that he will suffer prejudice if separate trials are not granted and that bifurcation is proper in light of the general principle that a single trial tends to lessen delay, expense and inconvenience to all parties). This is necessarily a fact ...


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