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Gray v. Kern

United States District Court, D. Maryland

April 3, 2014



WILLIAM M. NICKERSON, Senior District Judge.

This action relates to the well-publicized shooting of Plaintiff Raymond Gray by Baltimore Police Officer William Scott Kern during a training exercise on February 12, 2013. On January 7, 2014, this Court issued a Memorandum and Order dismissing various claims and parties, leaving as defendants Officer Kern, Officer Efren Edwards, the Baltimore Police Department, Baltimore City Police Commissioner Anthony Batts, and Baltimore County.[1] Left pending against Defendants the Baltimore Police Department and Commissioner Anthony Batts (collectively referred to as "the Police Defendants") are claims for Monell and supervisory liability for failure to train under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See generally Monell v. Department of Social Services of the City of New York , 436 U.S. 658 (1978). The Police Defendants now seek, under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 42(b) and 26(d), to bifurcate the § 1983 claims against them, as well as to stay discovery and trial until the resolution of Plaintiffs' claims against Officers Kern and Edwards. ECF No. 46. For the reasons stated herein, the Court determines that no hearing is necessary, Local Rule 105.6, and the motion will be granted.

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 42(b) provides, in relevant part, that, "[f]or convenience, to avoid prejudice, or to expedite and economize, the court may order a separate trial of one or more separate issues, claims, cross-claims, counterclaims, or third-party claims." District courts have broad discretion in determining whether to bifurcate claims for trial. See Dixon v. CSX Transp., Inc. , 990 F.2d 1440, 1443 (4th Cir. 1993).

"Bifurcation is fairly common in Section 1983 cases where a plaintiff has asserted claims against individual government employees as well as the municipal entity that employs and supervises these individuals." Beasley v. Kelly, Civ No. DKC 10-0049, 2010 WL 3221848, at *3 (D. Md. Aug. 13, 2010). Courts routinely bifurcate such actions because "[a] claim of inadequate training under section 1983 cannot be made out against a supervisory authority absent a finding of a constitutional violation on the part of the person being supervised." Temkin v. Frederick Cnty. Comm'rs , 945 F.2d 716, 724 (4th Cir. 1991); see also Marryshow v. Town of Bladensburg , 139 F.R.D. 318, 319 (D. Md. 1991) (noting that, "to hold the inactive Defendants (or any of them) liable, Plaintiff must establish that the actions of the active Defendants subjecting him to Section 1983 liability were proximately caused by a custom, practice or policy of an inactive Defendant"). Because a constitutional violation on the part of Officer Kern and/or Officer Edwards serves as the predicate for a finding of liability on the part of the Police Defendants, bifurcation of such an action is generally appropriate. See, e.g., Humbert v. O'Malley, Civ. No. WDQ-11-0440, 2012 WL 1066478 (D. Md. Mar. 27, 2012); Beasley v. Kelly, Civ. No. DKC-10-0049, 2010 WL 3221848 (D. Md. Aug. 13, 2010); Dawson v. Prince George's County , 896 F.Supp. 537 (D. Md. 1995).

Plaintiffs oppose bifurcation, principally on the basis of the litigation strategy of the Baltimore Police Department with regard to a similar request in a different case, Brown v. Tshamba, Civ. No. RDB-11-0609. Tshamba involved the fatal shooting of Tyrone Brown by off duty Baltimore Police Department officer Gahiji Tshamba. In that case, the court bifurcated the trials of the individual defendant and the Baltimore Police Department on similar grounds as those proffered by the Baltimore Police Department here - namely, that claims against municipalities or employers under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 are predicated on violation of constitutional rights in the first instance by the individual defendant. The Police Department later moved, and was permitted by the Court, to intervene in Tshamba's trial regarding the issue of whether Tshamba acted "under color of law, " as no other defendant in that case had incentive to litigate the issue. Plaintiffs' concern in the present case appears to be based on the potential for prejudice if the same procedural steps are taken by the Police Defendants.

This case is, however, fundamentally different from the Tshamba litigation. Here, as the Police Defendants concede, there is no question that the individual defendants were acting under color of law. The Police Defendants note that the shooting incident undisputedly occurred during a training exercise conducted pursuant to both Gray's and the individual defendants' employment as police officers, and that "the training was conducted pursuant to BPD's legal authority under state regulations to conduct entry level training for law enforcement officers." ECF No. 54 at 8. Moreover, the Police Defendants argue that, to the extent that there may be a question of whether the individual defendants were acting within the scope of their employment, that question is irrelevant as to the Police Defendants' § 1983 liability. See generally Brown v. Mayor & City Council of Balt. , 892 A.2d 1173, 1182 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 2006) (noting that "scope of employment is not coextensive with the color of law' element of a constitutional claim"). Thus, the Police Defendants contend that they do not anticipate intervening or adopting a strategy similar to that in Tshamba.

Given the potential for prejudice to the Police Defendants should this action proceed intact, see generally Dawson , 896 F.Supp. at 540 (noting the potential prejudice and conflicts inherent in trying § 1983 claims against individuals and municipalities/supervisors jointly), and this Court's practice of bifurcating § 1983 Monell and supervisory liability claims, the Court will grant the Police Defendants' Motion. The Court will also grant a stay of discovery only with respect to the issues relevant to Plaintiffs' case against the Police Defendants. A separate period of discovery as to Plaintiffs' claims against the Police Defendants will be permitted pending the results of the first trial.

Accordingly, IT IS this 3rd day of April, 2014, by the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, hereby ORDERED that:

1. The Motion to Bifurcate filed by Defendants Baltimore City Police Department and Baltimore City Police Commissioner Anthony Batts, ECF No. 46, is GRANTED;
2. Discovery as it relates to Plaintiffs' claims against Defendants Baltimore City Police Department and Baltimore City Police ...

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