United States District Court, D. Maryland
Devon B. Harrod
Mayor & City Council, et al.;
case, Plaintiff Devon B. Harrod sues former Baltimore City
Police Officers Evodio Hendrix and Wayne Jenkins
(collectively “the Officer Defendants”), the
Baltimore Police Department (“BPD”), and former
Deputy Commissioner Dean Palmere (“Palmere”),
alleging civil rights violations in connection with his
arrest by the Officer Defendants. ECF 1. Specifically, Harrod
alleges that the Officer Defendants, who have been convicted
in federal court for criminal conduct during their tenure
with BPD's Gun Trace Task Force (“GTTF”),
planted evidence and coerced a false confession from him
during a single interaction on August 20, 2015.
Id. I have reviewed BPD and Palmere's
Motion to Bifurcate and Stay Discovery (“the
Motion”), ECF 55, the Opposition filed by Harrod, ECF
62, and BPD and Palmere's Reply, ECF 64. No. hearing is
necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2018). For the
reasons set forth below, the Motion will be granted.
Motion seeks to bifurcate the trial of Harrod's §
1983 claims against the Officer Defendants from his §
1983 Monell claim against BPD, and his supervisory
claims against Palmere. First, the standard for bifurcating
trials is addressed in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 42(b):
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. When ordering a separate trial, the court
must preserve any federal right to a jury trial.
decision whether to bifurcate claims for trial is committed
to the broad discretion of the trial judge. See Dixon v.
CSX Transp., Inc., 990 F.2d 1440, 1443 (4th Cir. 1993).
Motion also seeks to stay discovery related to the
Monell and supervisory claims until the case against
the Officer Defendants is concluded. Decisions about the
appropriate timing and sequence of discovery lie within the
discretion of the trial court. See Fed. R. Civ. P.
26(d)(1) (allowing discovery rules, including those
pertaining to scheduling, to be modified “by court
parties agree that, in the overwhelming majority of similarly
situated cases, this Court has bifurcated Monell and
supervisory liability claims from the underlying § 1983
claims against individual officers. See ECF 55-1 at
4 (BPD and Palmere's Motion citing a string of cases
bifurcating such claims); ECF 62 at 8 (acknowledging that
“Monell claims are often presently bifurcated
for trial”). The decision whether to bifurcate is
ultimately a fact-specific inquiry, and nothing about the
facts of this case differentiate it from those similar cases.
order to establish Monell or supervisory liability,
Harrod will have to establish that the Officer Defendants
caused him constitutional injury at the time of his arrest on
August 20, 2015. Discovery as to the facts of that single
interaction should be relatively limited in scope. See,
e.g., Marryshow v. Town of Bladensburg, 139
F.R.D. 318, 319 (D. Md. 1991). If Harrod does not prove that
critical element of his claim, his claims against BPD and
Palmere cannot lie. See Id. Harrod correctly notes
that it is conceivable that he will prove the requisite
constitutional injury, but that the Officer Defendants'
defense of qualified immunity will exempt them from
liability. ECF 62 at 4-5 (citing Int'l Ground Transp.
v. Mayor & City Council of Ocean City, 475 F.3d 214,
219 (4th Cir. 2007)). In that circumstance, the case can
proceed to discovery and trial against the BPD and Palmere.
The discovery relevant to the Monell and supervisory
liability claims will be far broader than the discovery about
the single incident on August 20, 2015, because it will look
at whether there has been a pattern or practice of violating
constitutional rights. Judicial economy is therefore best
served by staying discovery into those broader claims until
there is a resolution of whether constitutional injury
occurred during a single incident. Moreover, the evidence
that would be relevant at a Monell/supervisory
liability trial would be highly prejudicial if introduced at
the trial of the Officer Defendants. Accordingly, bifurcated
trials, in addition to a stay of discovery, are appropriate,
and the Motion, ECF 55, is GRANTED.
the informal nature of this letter, it should be flagged as
an Opinion and docketed as an Order.
Stephanie A. Gallagher United States District Judge.