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United States District Court, S.D. New York

June 3, 2005.

ADAM INGLES et al., Plaintiffs,
THE CITY OF NEW YORK et al., Defendants.

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. ยง 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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