Estate of Jeffrey Melvin v. City of Colorado Springs, Colorado et al
ORDER that Defendants' Motion for Separate Trials of Individual and Municipal Liability Claims and for Protective Order from Discovery on Plaintiff's Municipal Liability Claims (Doc. # 33 ) is DENIED, by Judge Christine M. Arguello on 1/5/2021.(evana, )
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IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLORADO
Judge Christine M. Arguello
Civil Action No. 20-cv-00991-CMA-KMT
ESTATE OF JEFFREY MELVIN, by and through its personal representative Jeffrey
CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS, COLORADO,
DANIEL PATTERSON, in his individual capacity, and
JOSHUA ARCHER, in his individual capacity,
ORDER DENYING DEFENDANTS’ MOTION TO BIFURCATE
This matter is before the Court on Defendants the City of Colorado Springs and
Daniel Patterson’s (together, “Defendants”) Motion for Separate Trials of Individual and
Municipal Liability Claims and for Protective Order from Discovery on Plaintiff’s
Municipal Liability Claims (“Motion”). (Doc. # 33.) For the following reasons, the Motion
In this action, Plaintiff alleges that Jeffrey Melvin was killed by two police officers
employed by Defendant Colorado Springs—Daniel Patterson and Joshua Archer
(together, the “Individual Defendants”)—on April 26, 2018. Plaintiff alleges that the
forcibly detained [Mr. Melvin], threw [him] to the ground, held him down,
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choked him, pepper sprayed him[,] and deployed a Taser on Mr. Melvin no
less than five times in two minutes. The Taser use and other force the
officers used was so excessive that Mr. Melvin went into Lactic Acidosis,
releasing so much lactic acid into Mr. Melvin’s body that it killed him. The
coroner ruled Mr. Melvin’s death a homicide.
(Doc. # 30 at 2.) Mr. Melvin’s estate brought this civil rights lawsuit against Defendant
Colorado Springs and the Individual Defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In the
Amended Complaint and Jury Demand, Plaintiff asserts individual liability claims against
Defendants Patterson and Archer for excessive force and unlawful arrest and municipal
liability claims against Defendant Colorado Springs for alleged customs and failures to
train, supervise, and discipline. See generally (id.).
Defendants filed the instant Motion on July 2, 2020, prior to filing their Motion to
Dismiss Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint. (Doc. # 33.) Therein, Defendants move this
Court to order separate trials on the individual liability and municipal liability claims
pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 42(b) and to temporarily stay discovery on the municipal
liability claims pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(c)(1). Defendants argue that granting the
Motion would promote convenience and economy and would extend fairness to the
parties. Plaintiff timely filed a Response in opposition to the Motion (Doc. # 44), and
Defendants filed a Reply (Doc. # 49).
APPLICABLE LEGAL PRINCIPLES
Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 42(b), “[f]or convenience, to avoid prejudice, or to
expedite and economize, the court may order a separate trial of one or more issues,
claims, crossclaims, and counterclaims, or third-party claims.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 42(b).
Although the trial court has discretion to order separate trials, that does not mean that
severance is the norm or even a common occurrence. See, e.g., Fed. R. Civ. P. 42(b)
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advisory comm. notes (noting that bifurcation should not be “routinely ordered,” but “it is
important that it be encouraged where experience has demonstrated its worth”); 8
MOORE’S FEDERAL PRACTICE, § 42.40[a] at 42-46 (Matthew Bender 3d ed. 2010) (“[I]t
should be noted that bifurcation and separate trials are not the normal course of events,
and a single trial will usually be more expedient and efficient.”). Indeed, “[b]ifurcation is
the exception; not the rule.” L-3 Comms. Corp. v. OSI Sys., Inc., 418 F. Supp. 2d 380,
382 (S.D.N.Y. 2005).
“[T]he presumption is that the [non-movant] . . . should be allowed to present [its]
case in the order [it] chooses. The burden is on the [movant] to convince the court that a
separate trial is proper in light of the general principle that a single trial tends to lessen
the delay, expense and inconvenience to all parties.” Engen v. Colorado Mills Mall Ltd.
P'ship, No. 09-CV-01281-REB-KLM, 2010 WL 2232422, at *1 (D. Colo. May 28, 2010)
(quoting Patten v. Lederle Laboratories, 676 F. Supp. 233, 238 (D. Utah 1987)).
Separation must further the goals of Rule 42(b); the parties’ desire to proceed in a
certain order is not paramount. See York v. AT&T, 95 F.3d 948, 957–58 (10th Cir. 1996)
(“Such decisions [on bifurcation] must be made with regard to judicial efficiency, judicial
resources, and the likelihood that a single proceeding will unduly prejudice either party
or confuse the jury.”). Further, severance under Rule 42(b) should not prejudice one
party. Angelo v. Armstrong World Indus., Inc., 11 F.3d 957, 964 (10th Cir. 1993).
In determining whether to grant a stay of discovery, courts consider the following
factors: (1) the interests of the plaintiff in proceeding expeditiously with the civil action
and the potential prejudice to plaintiff of a delay; (2) the burden on the defendants; (3)
the convenience to the court; (4) the interests of persons not parties to the civil litigation;
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and (5) the public interest. String Cheese Incident, LLC v. Stylus Shows, Inc., No. 1:02–
CV–01934–LTB–PA, 2006 WL 894955, at *3 (D. Colo. March 30, 2006).
In the instant case, Defendants assert that bifurcation of Plaintiff’s Monell claims
is warranted because (1) Plaintiff’s Monell claims are derivative claims that require a
finding that the Individual Defendants committed a constitutional violation; (2) bifurcation
and a corresponding delay in discovery concerning Plaintiff’s Monell claims would
reduce or potentially eliminate the need for discovery on said claims; and (3) fairness to
the parties counsels in favor of bifurcation because bifurcation would protect the
Individual Defendants from the risk of unfair prejudice at trial.
At the outset, the Court notes that Defendants point to a single case out of this
district that bifurcated and stayed discovery on Monell claims. See Boyd v. Montezuma
Cty. Sheriff's Office, No. 15-CV-00101-MEH, 2015 WL 2329119, at *1 (D. Colo. May 12,
2015). Defendants’ appendix of cases that granted motions to bifurcate trial on
individual and municipal liability claims and stayed discovery bears no mention of the
District of Colorado. See generally (Doc. # 49-1). It is evident from the briefing on the
instant Motion, as well as this Court’s experience and independent legal research, that
the relief Defendants urge this Court to grant herein is uncommon in this jurisdiction.
Defendants have not persuaded the Court that bifurcation will result in
measurable gains in convenience or efficiency. Bifurcation of Plaintiff’s individual and
municipal liability claims would allow this case to languish on the Court’s docket,
potentially for years, and would be inconsistent with the Court’s obligation to oversee
“the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action and proceeding.” See
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Fed. R. Civ. P. 1. Moreover, the Court agrees with Plaintiff that staying discovery on the
Monell claims would merely substitute some discovery disputes for others; disputes
concerning which discovery requests relate to the individual versus municipal liability
claims would follow an order granting Defendants’ Motion. See Terry v. Cook County
Dep’t of Corr., 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 68623, at *8-9 (N.D. Ill. July 8, 2010) (“If the Court
were to grant the bifurcation motion, the need for the parties to separate Monell
evidence from individual liability evidence may further complicate rather than simplify
these proceedings.”). Further, Defendants’ generic arguments concerning the cost of
discovery on Plaintiff’s Monell claims would apply in any Section 1983 case involving
individual and municipal liability claims. This Court shares the concern articulated in
Daniels v. City of Sioux City, 294 F.R.D. 509 (N.D. Iowa September 13, 2013), that
“[o]rdering bifurcation at this incredibly-early stage of the case would be tantamount to
establishing a bright-line rule that bifurcation is automatically appropriate in every
Section 1983 case that includes both a claim against a governmental employee and a
Monell claim against his or her employer.” Id. at 511.
Nor is the Court persuaded that bifurcation would result in a reduction in
prejudice to the parties. To the contrary, the Court finds that bifurcation would prejudice
Plaintiff. “[A] private citizen is entitled to claim the timely protection of the law.” Sanchez
v. Hartley, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 185020, at *17-18 (D. Colo. Apr. 26, 2016) (citing
Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137 (1803)). This general principle is particularly pertinent in
the context of a plaintiff that alleges constitutional violations as grave as those alleged in
this case. Plaintiff has an interest in expeditiously proceeding with discovery on the
municipal liability claims and would be prejudiced by an indefinite stay of that discovery.
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Further, to the extent that Defendants may be prejudiced by jurors confusing or
conflating issues, such prejudice can be mitigated through the jury instructions and
verdict form. “[T]he mere possibility of some prejudice does not justify separate trials
where such prejudice is not substantial and there are strong countervailing
considerations of economy . . . . [W]here the degree of potential prejudice is not
compelling, the trial judge can often mitigate the suggested prejudice through
appropriate jury instructions and other devices.” Tri-R Systems, Ltd. v. Friedman & Son,
Inc., 94 F.R.D. 726, 728–29 (D. Colo. 1982) (denying motion for separate trials) (internal
citations omitted); see also Saviour v. Kansas City, Kansas, No. 90-2430, 1992 WL
135019, at *9 (D. Kan. May 15, 1992) (unpublished) (denying motion to bifurcate, in
part, because the court has “sufficient preventative measures at its disposal to eliminate
the risk of prejudice”).
For the foregoing reasons, it is ORDERED that Defendants’ Motion for Separate
Trials of Individual and Municipal Liability Claims and for Protective Order from
Discovery on Plaintiff’s Municipal Liability Claims (Doc. # 33) is DENIED.
DATED: January 5, 2021
BY THE COURT:
CHRISTINE M. ARGUELLO
United States District Judge
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