Lawman v. City and County of San Francisco et al

Northern District of California, cand-4:2015-cv-01202

ORDER by Magistrate Judge Donna M. Ryu denying {{102}} Motion to Bifurcate. (dmrlc1, COURT STAFF)

Interested in this case?

Current View

Full Text

1 2 3 4 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 5 NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 6 GARY RICHARD LAWMAN, 7 Case No. 15-cv-01202-DMR Plaintiff, 8 v. ORDER DENYING DEFENDANTS' 9 MOTION TO BIFURCATE MONELL CITY AND COUNTY OF SAN CLAIMS AT TRIAL 10 FRANCISCO, et al., Re: Dkt. No. 102 11 Defendants. 12 In this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 civil rights action, Defendant City and County of San Francisco Northern District of California United States District Court 13 ("CCSF") moves to bifurcate proceedings so that Plaintiff Gary Lawman's municipal liability 14 claim against CCSF is not tried, if at all, until after disposition of his claims against the two 15 individual officer defendants. [Docket No. 102.] Plaintiff opposes the motion. [Docket No. 107.] 16 The court finds this matter is appropriate for resolution without oral argument pursuant to Civil 17 Local Rule 7-1(b) and vacates the April 28, 2016 hearing. For the following reasons, Defendant's 18 motion is denied. 19 I. BACKGROUND 20 The court recited the relevant facts at length in its summary judgment order. [Docket No. 21 80.] In brief, on the night of December 31, 2011, Plaintiff was arrested in the lobby of the Four 22 Seasons Hotel in San Francisco for public intoxication in violation of California Penal Code 23 section 647(f). Plaintiff was arrested and taken into custody by Defendants Gordon and Minioza. 24 Plaintiff disputes that he was intoxicated on the night in question; according to his medical expert, 25 Plaintiff suffers from longstanding bipolar disorder and was experiencing a manic episode at the 26 time of his arrest. On February 5, 2016, the court granted in part and denied in part Defendants' 27 motion for summary judgment. The court concluded that Plaintiff had demonstrated the existence 28 of a dispute of material fact as to whether his arrest for public intoxication was supported by 1 probable cause, whether his arrest violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, ("ADA"), and 2 whether there is a citywide policy, practice, or custom regarding the improper arrest of individuals 3 for violations of section 647(f). The court subsequently denied Plaintiff's motion for leave to file 4 a motion for reconsideration of the court's order granting summary judgment. [Docket Nos. 80, 5 99.] 6 Plaintiff's remaining claims are as follows: 1) municipal liability pursuant to Monell v. 7 Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978)), against CCSF; 2) Fourth Amendment 8 unlawful arrest and false arrest/false imprisonment against Defendants Gordon and Minioza; and 9 3) wrongful arrest under the ADA, against Defendants Gordon and Minioza. CCSF now moves to 10 bifurcate the trial of Plaintiff's claims so that the court would try Plaintiff's claims against the two 11 individual officers first, and if appropriate, try Plaintiff's Monell claim against CCSF thereafter. 12 II. LEGAL STANDARD Northern District of California United States District Court 13 Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 42(b) provides that "[f]or convenience, to avoid prejudice, 14 or to expedite and economize, the court may order a separate trial of one or more separate issues, 15 claims, crossclaims, counterclaims, or third party claims." This rule "confers broad discretion 16 upon the district court to bifurcate a trial, thereby deferring costly and possibly unnecessary 17 proceedings pending resolution of potentially dispositive preliminary issues." Zivkovic v. S. Cal. 18 Edison Co., 302 F.3d 1080, 1088 (9th Cir. 2002). Courts consider several factors in determining 19 whether bifurcation is appropriate, including whether the issues are clearly separable and whether 20 bifurcation would increase convenience and judicial economy, reduce potential jury confusion, 21 and avoid prejudice to the parties. See Green v. Baca, 226 F.R.D. 624, 630 (C.D. Cal. 2005) 22 (citation omitted); GEM Acquisitionco, LLC v. Sorenson Grp. Holdings, LLC, No. C 09-01484 SI, 23 2010 WL 1729400, at *2 (N.D. Cal. April 27, 2010). "Where an overlap of factual issues exists 24 between the claims, courts are reluctant to bifurcate the proceedings," Hunter v. City & Cty. of San 25 Francisco, No. 11-4911 JSC, 2012 WL 4831634, at *10 (N.D. Cal. Oct. 10, 2012) (citations 26 omitted), and "[i]n the Ninth Circuit, [b]ifurcation. . . is the exception rather than the rule of 27 normal trial procedure." GEM Acquisitionco, 2010 WL 1729400, at *3 (citation omitted). 28 2 III. DISCUSSION 1 CCSF argues that bifurcation of trial is appropriate for two reasons. First, it argues that 2 bifurcation will avoid unnecessary consumption of judicial and litigant resources through litigating 3 potentially moot claims. This is because Plaintiff's recovery of damages turns on the question of 4 whether the individual officers violated Plaintiff's rights when they arrested him. If Plaintiff is 5 unable to prove a constitutional violation by the individual officers, he cannot establish derivative 6 liability on the part of CCSF. See City of Los Angeles v. Heller, 475 U.S. 796, 799 (1986) 7 ("[N]either Monell [ ] nor any other of our cases authorizes the award of damages against a 8 municipal corporation based on the actions of one of its officers when in fact the jury has 9 concluded that the officer inflicted no constitutional harm."); Scott v. Henrich, 39 F.3d 912, 916 10 (9th Cir. 1994) ("the liability of municipalities. . . is contingent on a violation of constitutional 11 rights."). According to CCSF, proving a Monell violation requires "substantially more time and 12 Northern District of California evidence—and resulting judicial and litigant resources—than trial of the underlying constitutional United States District Court 13 violation." Def.'s Mot. at 6. It argues that it expects Plaintiff to try his Monell claim by 14 introducing evidence of approximately one hundred complaints regarding section 647(f) arrests 15 filed with San Francisco's Office of Citizen Complaints ("OCC"), and that trial of the Monell 16 claim "will take days, re-hashing the complaints and the findings of the OCC investigations." Id. 17 at 2. CCSF thus argues that by trying the claims against the individual defendants first, the court 18 can potentially avoid expenditure of significant jury resources on the Monell claim if Plaintiff does 19 not prevail against the individuals. 20 Second, CCSF argues that bifurcation is necessary to avoid prejudice to the individual 21 officers from claims about other alleged police misconduct. It argues that the rules about what 22 evidence is relevant to a Monell claim would operate to prejudice the individual officers, because 23 Plaintiff will likely offer evidence of other officers' bad acts in support of his Monell claim, which 24 will unduly prejudice Gordon and Minioza. 25 CCSF's arguments are not persuasive. In his opposition, Plaintiff represents that he 26 expects to present his entire case within three court days, including his Monell case. He estimates 27 that without the Monell evidence, he estimates completing his case within two and one-half court 28 3 1 days. Therefore, the Monell evidence will only take hours of additional testimony, not days, as 2 CCSF argues. Accordingly, convening a second jury solely to try Plaintiff's Monell claim would 3 not conserve resources or serve judicial economy. Further, the Monell claim and the claims 4 against the individual officers involve overlapping factual issues that are not clearly or easily 5 separable, since Plaintiff alleges that Gordon and Minioza were acting pursuant to CCSF's 6 informal policy of abusing section 647(f). The parties devote lengthy portions of their briefs 7 arguing about what evidence will and will not be admissible at trial regarding each claim. 8 However, these arguments are premature, as these issues are not yet before the court and will be 9 addressed closer to trial. Moreover, the court can address any potential prejudice to Gordon and 10 Minioza resulting from trying the claims together through appropriate limiting instructions. In 11 sum, the court does not find that bifurcating trial will significantly improve the economy of this 12 case or avoid prejudice to the parties. Northern District of California United States District Court 13 IV. CONCLUSION 14 For the foregoing reasons, CCSF's motion to bifurcate Plaintiff's claims at trial is denied. 15 ES DISTRICT T C 16 IT IS SO ORDERED. TA O S U ED 17 Dated: April 25, 2016 RT D RDERE UNIT S S O O ______________________________________ 18 IT I M. Ryu Donna R NIA 19 United States Magistrate Judge M. Ryu NO onna Judge D 20 FO RT LI 21 ER H A N C 22 F D IS T IC T O R 23 24 25 26 27 28 4