United States District Court, D. Utah, Central Division
A. KIMBALL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter is before the court on GEICO Casualty Company, Daniel
Perez, and Claire Johnson's (collectively
“Defendants”) Motion to Bifurcate Causes of
Action and Stay Discovery. Based on the briefing filed by the
parties and the law and facts relevant to the pending motion,
the court issues the following Order DENYING the
Defendants' Motion in its entirety. (Dkt. No. 19).
Defendants seek to: (1) bifurcate the Plaintiff's breach
of contract and bad faith claims; and (2) stay discovery on
the Plaintiff's bad faith and tort claims pending a
decision on the motions for summary judgment. Prior to this
motion, the Defendants filed two motions for summary
judgment. The motions for summary judgment are not yet fully
briefed. At issue in the motions for summary judgment are the
breach of contract, bad faith, and tort claims. The
Defendants argue that the bad faith claim will only remain if
the court determines that the parties entered into a
contract. Therefore, the Defendants seek an order to stay
discovery on the contract and also the tort claims until the
motions for summary judgment have been decided.
The Court Denies to Bifurcate this Case.
move to bifurcate Plaintiff's breach of contract and
breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing claims
for both discovery and trial. “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.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 42(b). A trial court has broad
discretion in determining whether to bifurcate a trial or
discovery. Easton v. City of Boulder, 776 F.2d 1441,
1447 (10th Cir. 1985). The moving party bears the burden of
persuading the court to exercise its discretion. F &
G Scrolling Mouse L.L.C. v. IBM Corp., 190 F.R.D. 385,
387 (M.D. N.C. 1999).
are no set guidelines delineating when ordering a separate
trial is proper.” Hadi v. State Farm Mut. Auto.
Ins. Co., 2007 WL 2259298, at *1 (S.D. Ohio Aug. 3,
2007). “Generally, courts have adopted a case-by case
method depending on the facts of the individual case.”
Id. Courts have recognized that “[i]n deciding
whether to bifurcate a trial, a court should consider the
following factors: (1) judicial economy; (2) convenience to
the parties; (3) expedition; and (4) avoidance of prejudice
and confusion.” Ecrix Corp. v. Exabyte Corp.,
191 F.R.D. 611, 613 (D. Colo. 2000).
court has previously recognized that “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 the delay, expense and
inconvenience to all parties.'” Patten v.
Lederle Laboratories, 676 F.Supp. 233 (D. Utah 1987)
(citation omitted); see also Trujillo v. American Family
Mut. Ins. Co., 2009 WL 440638, at *2 (D. Utah Feb. 20,
2009). “In deciding whether one trial or separate
trials will best serve the convenience of the parties and the
court, avoid prejudice, and minimize expense and delay, the
major consideration is directed toward the choice most likely
to result in a just final disposition of the
litigation.” Hoffman v. Merrell Dow
Pharmaceuticals, 857 F.2d 290, 307 (6th Cir. 1988).
Defendants argue that bifurcating and having separate trials
for the breach of contract and the bad faith claim prevent
confusion, increase efficiency, and avoid prejudice.
the breach of contract and the bad faith claim require
different elements, such as a finding of bad faith is
irrelevant to the contract claim, the Defendants have not met
their burden of showing that bifurcation is warranted. The
fact that a case involves multiple causes of action is not
enough to show confusion. The fact finder will be instructed
on the elements of each cause of action. Juries are
frequently tasked with making determinations on multiple
claims in one trial. The court finds that the risk of
confusion is low.
Defendant asserts that even if it is found that the parties
entered into a contract, the bad faith claim can still fail.
If there was a contract then the Defendant will likely raise
the fairly debatable defense at trial allowing no liability
on the bad faith claim if there is a debatable reason for not
complying with the contract. The Defendant argues that
evidence of the fairly debatable defense could taint the
jury's view of the contract claim and would therefore be
unfairly prejudicial. Based on the party's briefings, the
court finds that any prejudice caused by the fairly debatable
defense is minor in comparison to the lack of efficiency in
conducting separate trials.