Pouncil v. Branch Law Firm et al
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER denying 117 defendants' Motion to Bifurcate. Signed by District Judge J. Thomas Marten on 3/12/2012. (mss)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF KANSAS
ALTINA POUNCIL, ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE
OF WILLIE SUE CLAY,
Case No. 10-1314-JTM
BRANCH LAW FIRM, ET AL.,
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
This matter is before the court on the Motion to Bifurcate of the defendants, which seeks to
have the liability and amount of punitive damages be determined by the jury in separate proceedings.
(Dkt. 117). The defendants sought this relief after the plaintiff filed, with leave of the court, her First
Amended Complaint on November 22, 2011, which raised a claim for punitive damages.
The defendants’ motion notes that Kansas law contemplates that, if the jury determines a
defendant is liable for punitive damages, “a separate proceeding shall be conducted by the court to
determine the amount of such damages.” K.S.A. § 60-3702(a). However, this court has determined
that requiring the court determine the amount of punitive damages violates the plaintiff’s Seventh
Amendment rights. Capital Solutions v. Konica Minolta Business Solutions USA, 695 F.Supp.2d
1149, 1155-56 (D. Kan. 2010). Even if the court cannot determine the amount of damages in light
of Capital Solutions, the defendants argue, the court should still give deference to the preference
reflected in Kansas law for the amount of damages being determined by a successive proceeding,
albeit by a jury. The defendants note that legislation has been introduced to achieve precisely this
end. See Kansas Senate Bill 158.
The plaintiff opposes the request for a separate proceeding, noting both an absence of
authority for the procedure and that the court should not attempt to define the rights of the parties
on the basis of potential legislation. (Dkt. 120, at 3-4). However, the focus of the plaintiff’s response
centers on the defendants’ apparent attempt to defer any additional discovery on amount of punitive
damages until the jury first determines the defendants are liable for such damages.1
The court hereby denies without prejudice the defendants’ Motion to Bifurcate. Should the
Kansas legislature indeed adopt some version of Senate Bill 158 prior to the trial of this matter, the
defendants may then renew their motion.
Further, whether the action is ultimately bifurcated or not, the court notes that defendants
have failed to offer any substantial justification for delaying discovery relevant to the amount of
punitive damages. In contrast, delaying discovery would work a clear and substantial inconvenience
to the parties, counsel, the court, and the jury in interposing the delay of several months between the
first trial and the final resolution of the action.
The defendants make precisely this argument in their Motion to Stay Discovery (Dkt.
130), now before the United States Magistrate Judge. The defendants seek to stay discovery as to
their financial information given that “it is more likely than not that the district judge could find
that punitive damages discovery should not be conducted until after Defendants are first found
liable for punitive damages” (Id. at 3).
IT IS ACCORDINGLY ORDERED this 12th day of March, 2012, that the defendants’
Motion to Bifurcate (Dkt. 117) is hereby denied.
s/ J. Thomas Marten
J. THOMAS MARTEN, JUDGE
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