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DALLAS v. GOLDBERG

May 7, 2001

CALVIN DALLAS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JANIS GOLDBERG, INVESTIGATOR, N.Y.S. POLICE, AND GREGORY HARLIN, SENIOR INVESTIGATOR, N.Y.S. POLICE, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Swain, District Judge.

  OPINION & ORDER

Plaintiff Calvin Dallas ("Plaintiff" or "Dallas") brings this action against defendants Janis Goldberg ("Goldberg") and Gregory Harlin ("Harlin") (collectively, "Defendants") pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983"). Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated his federal civil rights when, on September 18, 1994, they arrested him for possession of drugs. Plaintiff also alleges that he was thereafter prosecuted maliciously for illegal possession of drugs with intent to sell and that Defendants abused judicial process in connection with the criminal charges. The Court has jurisdiction of this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

Before the Court is the motion of Defendants, brought pursuant to Rule 42(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure ("Rule 42(b)"), seeking bifurcation of the trial of the issues of liability and damages. Also before the Court are Plaintiff's motions seeking to: (1) preclude Defendants' introduction at trial of evidence relating to alleged drug paraphernalia found in Plaintiff's residence after Plaintiff's arrest; and (2) preclude Defendants from introducing at trial evidence of Plaintiff's convictions. The parties have also raised the issue of whether Plaintiff is entitled to seek to recover damages in respect of his incarceration, following the arrest and interposition of drug charges at issue here, for violation of parole.

For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion to bifurcate is denied, Plaintiff's preclusion motions are granted, in part, in respect of the alleged drug paraphernalia, decision is reserved as to the admissibility of Plaintiff's prior convictions, and Plaintiff will not be permitted to seek damages in respect of the parole violation incarceration.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Two motions for summary judgment have previously been adjudicated in this action. Familiarity with the Court's opinions on those motions, which detail most of the relevant background facts, is presumed. By opinion dated November 20, 1997, the Court granted summary judgment in favor of all defendants other than Goldberg and the New York State Police ("NYSP") with respect to all of the claims asserted in Plaintiff's original complaint. Plaintiff's claims against defendant Goldberg for false arrest and malicious prosecution, and Plaintiff's claims against the NYSP, survived the motion.*fn1 Dallas v. Goldberg, 95 Civ. 9076, 1997 WL 728153 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 20, 1997) (Cote, J.) ("Dallas I").

By opinion dated August 4, 2000, the Court granted in part a summary judgment motion directed to Plaintiff's amended complaint. Plaintiff's claim of unlawful search and seizure was dismissed, as was his cause of action against defendant Goldberg for false arrest. The motion was denied with respect to all other claims and all other defendants. Dallas v. Goldberg, No. 95 Civ. 9076, 2000 WL 1092986 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 4, 2000) (Pauley, J.) ("Dallas II"). Dallas's surviving causes of action are claims of malicious prosecution and abuse of the legal process against both Defendants, and a claim of false arrest against defendant Harlin. See Dallas II, 2000 WL 1092986.

DISCUSSION

BIFURCATION

Under Rule 42(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure the Court, in its discretion, can bifurcate the trial of an action for "convenience or to avoid prejudice, or when separate trials will be conducive to expedition and economy." Fed. R.Civ.P. 42(b). The decision to bifurcate a trial rests within the sound discretion of the trial court. See Simpson v. Pittsburgh Corning Corp., 901 F.2d 277, 283 (2d Cir. 1990); Agron v. Trustees of Columbia Univ., No. 88 Civ. 6294, 1997 WL 399667 at *1 (S.D.N Y July 15, 1997). Although bifurcation of trials is not unusual and may under appropriate circumstances be the preferred method, bifurcation remains the exception rather than the rule. See Lewis v. Triborough Bridge, No. 97 CIV. 0607, 2000 WL 423517 at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 19, 2000); Agron, 1997 WL 399667 at *1; Kerman v. City of New York, No. 96 Civ. 7865, 1997 WL 666261 at *5 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 24, 1997).

The application of Rule 42(b) does not lend itself to a bright-line test but, rather, requires case-by-case analysis. See Monaghan v. SZS 33 Associates, 827 F. Supp. 233, 245 (S.D.N.Y. 1993). Factors that courts consider in determining whether bifurcation is appropriate include: (1) whether the issues are significantly different from one another; (2) whether the issues are to be tried before a jury or to the court; (3) whether the posture of discovery on the issues favors a single trial or bifurcation; (4) whether the documentary and testimonial evidence on the issues overlap; and (5) whether the party opposing bifurcation will be prejudiced if it is granted. See Lewis, 2000 WL 423517 at *2; Reading Indus., Inc. v. Kennecott Copper Corp., 61 F.R.D. 662, 664 (S.D.N.Y. 1974). The party seeking bifurcation bears the burden of establishing that bifurcation is warranted. See Lewis, 2000 WL 423517 at *2.

Here Defendants offer nothing to justify bifurcation other than generalized assertions that the punitive damages phase of a trial should be separated from the liability and compensation phases thereof, and that bifurcation would obviate any prejudice that could accrue to Defendants from the exposure of financial evidence during the liability phase of a trial. Defendants fail to identify any pressing or unusual circumstances that warrant bifurcation in the instant case and do not address how bifurcation would promote judicial economy. Nor do Defendants identify the financial information they intend to proffer or explain how that evidence would be prejudicial with respect to liability. Cf. Simpson 901 F.2d at 280, 283 (finding that the district judge "acted well within his discretion in denying bifurcation" where, inter alia, movant "made no detailed offer of proof to indicate the need for bifurcation."); see also Kerman, 1997 WL 666261 at *5 (denying motion to bifurcate liability and damages phases of the trial where moving party failed to present particular factors to distinguish potential prejudice from that which is normally dealt with through an appropriate charge and curative instructions).

Plaintiff, on the other hand, urges that judicial economy would not be served by bifurcation, and that Plaintiff would be prejudiced "[b]ecause the standard of conduct necessary to establish punitive damages overlaps with Defendants' state of mind in each of the [Section] 1983 claims, and because the same facts and witness testimony will be required to prove each of these issues." (Plaintiff's Memorandum of Law in Opposition to Defendants' Motion ("Pl.Memo") at 3.) Defendants do not dispute the overlapping nature of the relevant evidence.

Defendants have failed to sustain their burden with respect to the propriety of bifurcation. Their motion for a bifurcated trial is, accordingly, denied. The Court will, however, give an appropriate limiting instruction with respect to the jury's consideration of evidence concerning Defendants' finances if they so request. By May 14, 2001, the parties shall make a written joint submission to the Court including any proposed or agreed upon Request to Charge on this subject; to the extent separate proposed charges are submitted, the parties' joint submission shall explain precisely the nature of the outstanding dispute.

ALLEGED DRUG PARAPHERNALIA

After plaintiff Dallas was arrested on September 18, 1994, police officers searched his residence and found numerous items alleged to be drug paraphernalia, including a CD case, a prescription bottle, aluminum foil, plastic caps, a Proventil inhalation aerosol canister, paper, string, two metal rods and 25 small plastic bags containing residue that, according to Defendants, tested positive for cocaine. Plaintiff moves to exclude testimony concerning this evidence from trial, asserting that: (1) it is inadmissible to establish probable cause because it was found after Dallas's arrest; and (2) it is inadmissible to impeach Dallas because it has no probative value and is unduly prejudicial. At oral argument on the instant motions Plaintiff's counsel asserted, and Defendants did not dispute, that the physical evidence seized from Plaintiff's residence is no longer available. Plaintiff's current counsel assert that they never had access to that physical evidence.

Defendants contend that the alleged drug paraphernalia is relevant within the meaning of Rule 401 of the Federal Rules of Evidence with respect to Plaintiff's false arrest claim. They further assert that the evidence is admissible under Rule 404(b), which permits the admission of evidence of other crimes, wrongs and acts under certain circumstances. In addition, Defendants argue that the evidence is ...


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