United States District Court, D. Utah
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND
DENYING IN PART DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO SEVER AND
N. Parrish, United States District Court Judge
the court is a Motion to Sever and Stay pursuant to
Fed.R.Civ.P. 42(b) filed by Defendant GEICO Indemnity
Company. (Docket No. 15). GEICO moves this court to sever and
stay both discovery and trial as to Plaintiff Angelique
Vine's claim of bad faith until her claim for breach of
contract is fully resolved. GEICO has requested a hearing on
this matter, but after review of the briefing, the court is
not convinced that oral argument would materially advance
resolution of the Motion. Instead, the court decides the
Motion on the submitted briefing alone. See DUCivR
7-1(f). As explained below, the court grants the Motion in
part and denies the Motion in part.
GEICO served as Plaintiff Angelique Vine's insurance
provider at the time of a rather serious car accident in
August 2014. Ms. Vine settled with the other motorist's
insurance provider for $25, 000-an amount reaching the full
extent of the other motorist's policy limit. Because this
amount failed to cover Ms. Vine's medical costs, damages,
and other expenses, she filed a claim with GEICO pursuant to
her “underinsured motorist” or “UIM”
insurance policy to make up the difference. GEICO refused to
pay out on Ms. Vine's claim, prompting her to file the
instant lawsuit in Utah state court. Ms. Vine's complaint
alleged both that GEICO failed to fulfill the terms of the
policy and that it acted in bad faith in evaluating her UIM
claim. GEICO removed the action to federal court on the basis
of diversity jurisdiction on January 12, 2017. (Docket No.
April 25, 2017, GEICO filed the instant Motion, seeking to
sever Ms. Vine's breach of contract claim from her bad
faith claim pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 42(b). (Docket No. 15).
GEICO's Motion advocates two entirely separate discovery
periods and two separate trials, and requests that discovery
and trial for the bad faith claim be stayed until the breach
of contract claim is fully resolved with a verdict on the
merits. Ms. Vine responded on May 10, 2017, opposing the
severance of discovery and the proposal to conduct two
separate trials. (Docket No. 19). Instead, Ms. Vine proposed
a single discovery period followed by a single trial
bifurcated into two consecutive phases, each heard by the
same jury. GEICO replied on May 18, 2017. (Docket No. 20).
The court now considers the arguments of the parties pursuant
to jurisdiction granted by 28 U.S.C. § 1332.
explained above, GEICO seeks to sever and stay discovery and
trial on Ms. Vine's bad faith claim until her contractual
claim is fully resolved pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 42(b). Rule
42(b) provides: “For convenience, to avoid prejudice,
or to expedite and economize, the court may order a separate
trial of one or more separate issues, claims, crossclaims,
counterclaims, or third-party claims.” Thus,
bifurcation of issues for trial is appropriate where the
court finds (1) that convenience of a particular party or
both parties together favors separate trials; (2) that
expedition or economization of time and resources favor
separate trials; or (3) that prejudice would result to one or
more parties if separate issues were tried in a single trial.
King v. McKillop, 112 F.Supp.2d 1214, 1221 (D. Colo.
2000); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 42(b); Tabor v.
Hilti, Inc., 577 F. App'x 870, 878-79 (10th Cir.
2014) (unpublished). Although bifurcation “is not to be
routinely ordered, ” see Angelo v. Armstrong World
Indus., Inc., 11 F.3d 957, 964 (10th Cir. 1993), this
court nonetheless has “broad discretion in deciding
whether to sever issues for trial and the exercise of that
discretion will be set aside only if clearly abused, ”
United States ex rel. Bahrani v. ConAgra,
Inc., 624 F.3d 1275, 1283 (10th Cir. 2010) (quotations
omitted); see also Angelo, 11 F.3d at 964
(“The district court has considerable discretion in
determining how a trial is to be conducted.”). Still,
this court may not order bifurcation that would be
“unfair or prejudicial to a party” even where
“efficiency or separability” may favor such an
order. See Angelo, 11 F.3d at 964.
the presumption is that the plaintiff, in a typical case,
should be allowed to present her case in the order she
chooses. The burden is on the defendant to convince the court
that a separate trial is proper in light of the general
principle that a single trial tends to lessen delay, expense,
and inconvenience to all parties.
Sensitron, Inc. v. Wallace, 504 F.Supp.2d 1180, 1186
(D. Utah 2007) (quoting Patten v. Lederle
Labs, 676 F.Supp. 233, 238 (D. Utah 1987)).
here argues that it will suffer undue prejudice if both Ms.
Vine's contractual claim and her bad faith claim are
tried in the same trial before the same jury. Specifically,
GEICO asserts that evidence regarding its internal claims
handling process is crucial to any defense to the bad faith
claim, but irreparably damning in the context of the
contractual claim. GEICO relies primarily on the reasoning of
McKeen v. USAA Cas. Insur. Co., a case dealing with
claims and circumstances identical to those at bar. The
McKeen court explained:
An insurer cannot be forced to choose between 1) insisting on
its right to exclude evidence of settlement negotiations and
coverage determinations (thereby losing the advantage of
showing that it was attempting to be reasonable in defense of
the bad faith claims) and 2) putting on such evidence and
risking a prejudicial inference that it has admitted
liability on the contract action.
No. 2:14-cv-00396-DN-PMW, 2016 WL 4256948, at *5 -*6 (D. Utah
Aug. 11, 2016) (unpublished) (quotations omitted). On this
point, the court must agree. GEICO should not be forced to
defend one claim by possibly conceding fault on another.
“Jury instructions telling the jury to separate the
evidence would not ‘unring the bell' that they had
heard regarding settlement, reserves, or other evidence that
would be presented to establish bad faith.”
Id. at *6. Owing to the potential for significant
prejudice to GEICO, and because it appears that both parties
agree on this basic premise, bifurcation of the contractual
and bad faith claims is manifestly appropriate.
they agree that bifurcation is necessary, the parties differ
markedly on what form that bifurcation should take. GEICO
insists that complete quarantine of issues is necessary- from
entirely separate discovery periods to entirely separate jury
panels. Ms. Vine counters that such an approach would be
unnecessarily duplicative and ultimately prejudicial to her
claims. Instead, she recommends a single discovery period
followed by a single trial divided into two discrete phases,
one for the contractual claim and one for the bad faith
claim. The court agrees with Ms. Vine that the complete
separation of issues in both discovery and trial would be
duplicative, counterproductive, and ultimately unnecessary.
the Rule 42(b) factors favors a single discovery period
followed by a two-phase trial heard by a single jury. First,
the court fails to see how two entirely discrete discovery
and trial periods would be convenient for either party or the
court. It certainly would not be convenient for Ms. Vine, who
would be forced to prepare for and litigate two entirely
separate trials over what would inevitably become a course of
years. GEICO would similarly be forced to expend significant
resources for the same length of time. Such a ...