The opinion of the court was delivered by: DENNY CHIN, District Judge
In this civil rights case alleging a pattern and practice of
the use of excessive force against inmates in the custody of the
New York City Department of Correction, defendant City of New
York (the "City") makes a "letter application," by letter dated
May 31, 2005, for an order pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 42(b)
granting separate trials of (1) plaintiffs' claims against the
individual defendants and their claims against the City based on
Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978), and (2)
each of the twenty-two plaintiffs' individual damages claims as
well. Plaintiffs oppose the application. Significantly, ten of
the individual corrections officer defendants also oppose. The
application is denied, in both respects.
A trial court has discretion, pursuant to Rule 42(b), to order
separate trials of different claims in a single case "in
furtherance of convenience or to avoid prejudice, or when
separate trials will be conducive to expedition and economy." Fed.R.Civ.P. 42(b). Courts often order bifurcation in cases
brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging both claims against
individual municipal officials and Monell claims against
municipal entities. They do so because the evidence needed to
show a policy or custom on the part of the municipality is often
unnecessary to prove the claims against the individuals. Amato
v. City of Saratoga Springs, 170 F.3d 311, 320-21 (2d Cir.
1999). Moreover, if the plaintiff fails to prove a constitutional
violation by the individual defendant, the Monell claims
necessarily fail, obviating the need for a trial of the claims
against the municipality. Id.
Here, separate trials would not further convenience or avoid
prejudice or be conducive to "expedition and economy." This is a
certified class action that alleges a pattern and practice in the
use of excessive force in New York City prisons. It is not just a
set of twenty-two individual claims for damages against
individual corrections officers. Indeed, plaintiffs are seeking
significant injunctive relief, including institutional and
systemic reform, and an important part of their proof is evidence
of the purported widespread and repeated excessive use of force.
Moreover, the individual damages claims implicate common issues,
such as jail operations, use of force policies, and the standards
for evaluating the reasonableness of force. Bifurcation of the
claims against the individual defendants from the Monell claims
would not be more efficient but would instead frustrate Rule
42(b)'s goals of efficiency, convenience, and the avoidance of prejudice. Indeed, although the City argues that the
individual defendants would be prejudiced by having a single
trial, the individual defendants contend otherwise and oppose
bifurcation. Moreover, limiting instructions can be given when
necessary to avoid any prejudice.
Likewise, it makes no sense to hold twenty-two separate trials.
This would certainly increase the amount of time necessary for
trial, and there would be a tremendous duplication of effort. In
addition, Rule 42(b) cautions that the right to a jury trial must
"always" be preserved. If twenty-two different juries are asked
to decide the facts of each of the twenty-two different incidents
in question, and twenty-two different juries are asked to decide
the existence of a policy or practice of unconstitutional
conduct, there is a risk of inconsistent verdicts and the
likelihood that a second jury would re-visit facts decided by a
prior jury, in violation of the Seventh Amendment. See Blyden
v. Mancusi, 186 F.3d 252, 268 (2d Cir. 1999) ("a given [factual]
issue may not be tried by different, successive juries").
The case will not be bifurcated.
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