Shah v. Metropolitan Life Insurance Company
ORDER denying 32 Defendants' Motion to Bifurcate. Signed by Judge George C. Smith on 8/2/17. (sem)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF OHIO
MUKESH R. SHAH, M.D.,
Case No.: 2:16-cv-1124
JUDGE GEORGE C. SMITH
Magistrate Judge Deavers
METROPOLITAN LIFE INSURANCE
COMPANY, et al.,
OPINION AND ORDER
This matter is before the Court on Defendants’ Motion to Bifurcate the Bad Faith and
Punitive Damages Claims against them (Doc. 32). Plaintiff opposes bifurcation of the merits of
the trial, but does not oppose a separate trial phase for punitive damages should the jury find that
punitive damages are appropriate. (Doc. 31). The briefing on this issue followed a discovery
conference and Order issued by Magistrate Judge Deavers on June 20, 2017 (See Doc. 30). For
the reasons that follow, Defendants’ Motion to Bifurcate is DENIED.
This case was filed in this Court on November 28, 2016, following removal from the
Franklin County Court of Common Pleas. (Doc. 1). Plaintiff then filed an Amended Complaint
on March 10, 2017, including claims for breach of contract, declaratory judgment, and bad faith.
Plaintiff’s claims against Defendants are based on the alleged wrongful denial of disability
During the discovery conference before Magistrate Judge Deavers, the parties raised the
issue of bifurcation and further briefing on the issue was ordered. Defendants seek to bifurcate
Plaintiff’s bad faith claim based on judicial economy. Defendants argue that “litigation of the
contract issue will eliminate the need to litigate bad faith.” (Doc. 32 at 4). Further, Defendants
argue that bifurcation is mandatory under Ohio law (Ohio Revised Code § 2315.21) and the
Ohio Supreme Court’s decision in Havel v. Villa St. Joseph, 131 Ohio St. 3d 235 (2012).
However, this case is pending in the United States District Court for the Southern District of
Ohio, which is governed by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Specifically, Rule 42(b) of the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which provides for bifurcated trials “for convenience, to avoid
prejudice, or to expedite and economize.” Plaintiff asserts that neither the discovery nor trial on
the merits should be bifurcated. Plaintiff stated that Defendants have not offered a compelling
reason for bifurcation. (Doc. 31).
Rule 42(b) therefore authorizes a court to bifurcate a trial in furtherance of convenience
or to avoid prejudice, or when separate trials will be conducive to expedition and economy.
Bifurcation is the exception to the general rule that disputes should be resolved in a single
proceeding. See, e.g., Monaghan v. SZS 33 Assocs., L.P., 827 F. Supp. 233, 246 (S.D.N.Y.
1993); Lis v. Robert Packer Hosp., 579 F.2d 819, 824 (3d Cir. 1978). A decision on bifurcation
should be grounded in the facts and circumstances of each case. See Saxion v. Titan-C-Mfg.,
Inc., 86 F.3d 553, 556 (6th Cir. 1996). The ultimate decision to grant or deny bifurcation is left
to the sound discretion of the trial court. Id. In determining whether separate trials are
appropriate, the court should consider several facts, including “the potential prejudice to the
parties, the possible confusion of the jurors, and the resulting convenience and economy.”
Wilson v. Morgan, 477 F.3d 326, 329 (6th Cir. 2007) (quoting Martin v. Heideman, 106 F.3d
1308, 1311 (6th Cir. 1997)). Federal courts have long adhered to the rule that bifurcation should
be ordered only in exceptional cases because “[t]he piecemeal trial of separate issues in a single
lawsuit or the repetitive trial of the same issue in severed claims is not to be the usual course.”
Wright & Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 2388, at 474 (2nd Ed. 1999); see also Home
Elevators, Inc. v. Millar Elevator Serv. Co., 933 F. Supp. 1090, 1091 (N.D. Ga. 1996).
Merely because the Ohio Supreme Court has interpreted Ohio Revised Code
§ 2315.21(B) to provide a “substantive” right to bifurcate, does not require federal courts to
reach the same conclusion. This Court previously held that “[a] state’s characterization of its
own rule as ‘substantive’ instead of ‘procedural’ must ‘yield to the strong presumptive validity
of the properly promulgated federal procedural rule, which will be upheld as controlling the
procedure in the federal court.’” Patel Family Trust v. AMCO Ins. Co., Case No. 11-cv-1003,
2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 97412 at *4 (Frost, J.) (citing Rosales v. Honda Motor Co., 726 F.2d 259,
262 (5th Cir. 1984)). Accordingly, this Court and other federal courts have found that Rule
42(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure controls the issue of bifurcation in federal cases
despite the existence of a state law or rule purporting to substantively govern bifurcation.
Defendants have not provided a sufficient basis to establish the necessity of bifurcation in
this case. Therefore, the Court finds that it would be inconvenient and inefficient to bifurcate the
trial as the evidence presented will be relevant to all of Plaintiff’s claims, including the bad faith
claim. Although, Plaintiff does not oppose a separate trial phase for punitive damages should the
jury find that punitive damages are appropriate, to avoid any delay in the resolution of this case,
the parties should be prepared to proceed with the punitive damages phase, if necessary,
following the jury verdict.
For all of the foregoing reasons, the Court DENIES Defendants’ Motion to Bifurcate the
merits of Plaintiff’s claims, but by agreement of the parties, a separate trial phase for punitive
damages will be held should the jury find that punitive damages are appropriate.
Magistrate Judge Deavers will address any remaining matters related to discovery
consistent with this Opinion and Order.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
/s/ George C. Smith
GEORGE C. SMITH, JUDGE
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?