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Ryan v. City of Salem

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

June 5, 2017



          JOHN V. ACOSTA United States Magistrate Judge.


          Plaintiff Ian Micael Ryan (“Ryan”) brings this lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against defendants City of Salem (“the City”) and Officer Trevor Morrison (“Morrison”) (collectively, “Defendants”). Defendants move to bifurcate the trial of Ryan's individual § 1983 claim against Morrison from his claim for municipal liability under Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978) against the City. (ECF No. 56.) For the reasons that follow, the court denies Defendants' motion.


         Ryan initiated this lawsuit in April, 2016, alleging Morrison released a police dog into his apartment while Ryan slept. (Compl. (ECF No. 2) ¶ 1.) Ryan argues Morrison's use of the police dog constituted excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment. (Id. ¶ 28.) Ryan also asserts a claim against the City under Monell, based on the City's alleged deliberately indifferent policies regarding the use of police dogs. (Id. ¶¶ 32-34.) This lawsuit is scheduled for a 4-day jury trial, to begin on June 27, 2017. (Jury Trial Management Order, ECF No. 55.) The court held a scheduling conference on February 6, 2017, setting dates for trial and pretrial document filings. (ECF Nos. 54, 55.) Defendants did not raise the issue of bifurcation during the February 6 scheduling conference, or at any time prior to filing their motion to bifurcate on April 20, 2017. (ECF No. 56.) Ryan opposes the motion. (ECF No. 59.)

         Legal Standard

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (“Rule”) 42(b), “the court may order a separate trial of one or more separate issues, claims, crossclaims, or third-party” for “convenience, to avoid prejudice, or to expedite and economize” the proceedings. The drafters of the Federal Rules did not intend the routine bifurcation of trials. Fed.R.Civ.P. 42(b) advisory committee's note to 1966 amendment. The moving party has the burden to prove that bifurcation is appropriate. Benson Tower Condo. Owners Ass'n v. Victaulic Co., 150 F.Supp.3d 1184, 1208 (D. Or. 2015) (Simon, J.) (citing Clark v. I.R.S., 772 F.Supp.2d 1265, 1269 (D. Haw. 2009). The court has broad, discretionary authority to bifurcate claims or issues. Hirst v. Gertzen, 676 F.2d 1252, 1261 (9th Cir. 1982). Bifurcation may not violate the right to jury trial. Danjaq LLC v. Sony Corp., 263 F.3d 942, 961-62 (9th Cir. 2001).


         Defendants seek to separate for trial Ryan's individual § 1983 claim against Morrison and his Monell claim against the City. Bifurcation, Defendants argue, is appropriate because of judicial efficiency, possible prejudice, and jury confusion. Ryan contends Defendants have not met their burden of proof, and therefore bifurcation is not warranted.

         I. Judicial Efficiency.

         Defendants argue bifurcation would further judicial efficiency because the individual claim is potentially dispositive of the Monell claim. Some courts have bifurcated § 1983 claims for judicial-efficiency purposes under similar circumstances. See, e.g., Estate of Lucas v. Suhr, No. 15-CV-01846-HSG, 2016 WL 1639547, at *6 (N.D. Cal. Apr. 26, 2016) (bifurcating individual and Monell § 1983 claims); Boyd v. City & Cty. of San Francisco, No. C-04-5459 MMC, 2006 WL 680556, at *2 (N.D. Cal. Mar. 14, 2006) (same). The judicial-efficiency rationale for bifurcating an individual claim from a Monell claim is the potential for saving time in the event of a defense verdict on the individual claim. See Scott v. Henrich, 39 F.3d 912, 916 (9th Cir. 1994) (a Monell claim requires an underlying constitutional violation). Beyond establishing that courts have bifurcated claims for municipal and individual § 1983 liability, however, Defendants do not show a basis for doing so in this particular case. Instead, the posture of this case weighs against bifurcation.

         The parties agreed at the pre-trial conference that four days were sufficient for trial. In light of the relatively small amount of time needed to try the entire case, bifurcation is unlikely to meaningfully serve judicial efficiency. The amount of time saved in the event of a defense verdict in the first trial would be nominal. If a jury finds that there was a constitutional violation, the second phase of trial would likely result in a longer aggregate time for trial than would a single trial on both claims. See Martinez v. City of Oxnard, CV 98-9313 FMC, 2005 U.S. Dist. Lexis 32189, at * 17-18 (C.D. Cal. June 23, 2005) (noting that bifurcated trials on Monell claims consume more judicial resources if the jury finds a constitutional violation in the first trial).

         Moreover, Ryan's theory of the case is conducive to a single trial. Ryan argues that Morrison's use of a police dog was unreasonable because Ryan was, at most, hiding - not fleeing, physically resisting arrest, or otherwise posing a risk of injury to others. Ryan also asserts that the City's policies allowed using a police dog under such circumstances, giving rise to his Monell claim. The City appears to agree that its policy allows using a police dog to arrest a hiding suspect. (Decl. of Jesse Merrithew (ECF No. 60), Ex. 2 at 29:19-31:8.) The evidence of what Morrison did in this case and what the City's policy allowed are therefore closely intertwined. Cf. Wilkins v. City of Oakland, No. C 01-1402 MMC, 2006 WL 305972, at *1 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 8, 2006) (ordering bifurcation because “the evidence relevant to the claims against the individual officers does not overlap in any meaningful way with the evidence relevant to the municipal liability claim”). Accordingly, Defendants' judicial-efficiency argument does not support bifurcation here.

         II. ...

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