BROWN et al v. HADDOCK et al
ORDER denied 23 Motion for Separate Trial. Signed by JUDGE RICHARD SMOAK on 4/11/2011. (sea)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF FLORIDA
PANAMA CITY DIVISION
RALPH WALTER BROWN,
CASE NO. 5:10-cv-130/RS-GRJ
HON. BOBBY HADDOCK, et al.,
Before me is defendants’ Motion for Separate Trial (Doc. 23) and plaintiffs’
Response (Doc. 24).
In this case, plaintiffs allege that the individual defendants used excessive force
against plaintiffs in this civil rights case. Plaintiffs also allege that the official capacity
defendant is liable for the acts of the individual defendants. The official capacity
defendant’s liability is predicated on a finding on liability of the individual defendants
(See Doc. 1).
Defendants propose to try the claims against the individual defendants first, and
then proceed to discovery and trial against the official capacity defendant only in the
event of a finding of individual liability. They suggest that this two trial strategy would
avoid prejudice to the parties and be most efficient (Doc. 23, p.3).
Courts may order separate trials “for convenience, to avoid prejudice, or to
expedite and economize.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 42(b). This decision is left to the discretion of
trial courts. Beckford v. Dep't of Corr., 605 F.3d 951, 961 (11th Cir. 2010) (reviewing
district court denial of claim severance for abuse of discretion). Weighing these factors,
I find that it is most reasonable to proceed with all of the defendants in one trial.
First, the relationship between the defendants, along with their common legal
representation, implies that their interests are aligned. Trying the defendants together is
not prejudicial to the parties because all defendants have an identical motive to discredit
the allegations. Further, having a common attorney, it makes sense that all of the
defendants be present at trial so that they can develop and participate in a common
strategy for defense.
Second, judicial economy is best served by keeping all of the claims together. It is
possible that unnecessary discovery and trial preparation may be conducted regarding the
official capacity claim. However, the impact of this is lessened because the claims arise
out of the same events and likely have significant overlap in testimony and evidence.
recognize that the official capacity claims may be obviated by a finding that the
individual defendants are not liable. However, the effort required to present those
official capacity claims and defenses is far outweighed by the potential burdens and
duplicative court resources required for a second trial.
IT IS ORDERED:
1. The Motion for Separate Trial (Doc. 23) is DENIED.
2. The trial shall proceed in the following manner:
a. All defendants shall be party to the trial, which will proceed in two phases.
b. Liability against the individual defendants will be tried in the first phase.
c. In the event of finding individual liability, a second phase will try damages
against the individual defendants and liability and damages against the official
ORDERED on April 11, 2011.
/S/ Richard Smoak
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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