United States District Court, D. Maryland
case, Plaintiff Kenneth Bumgardner sues former Baltimore City
Police Officers Marcus Taylor, Evodio Hendrix, Wayne Jenkins,
and Maurice Ward (collectively “the Officer
Defendants”), the Baltimore City Police Department
(“BPD”), Major Ian Dombrowski
(“Dombrowski”), and former Deputy Commissioner
Dean Palmere (“Palmere”) (collectively,
“the BPD Defendants”), alleging civil rights
violations in connection with his arrest by the Officer
Defendants. ECF 79 (Second Amended Complaint). Specifically,
Bumgardner 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”), subjected him to excessive force during
a single interaction on February 9, 2016.
Id. I have reviewed the BPD Defendants'
Motion to Bifurcate and Stay Discovery, ECF 107, and the
accompanying Memorandum of Law, ECF 107-1 (collectively,
“the Motion”), Bumgardner's Opposition, ECF
108, and the BPD Defendants' Reply, ECF 109. 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 Bumgardner's
§ 1983 claims against the Officer Defendants from his
§ 1983 Monell claim against BPD, and his
supervisory claims against Dombrowski and
Palmere. ECF 107 at 1. First, the standard for
bifurcating trials is addressed in Federal Rule of Civil
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 107-1 at
4-5 (the BPD Defendants' Motion citing a string of cases
bifurcating such claims); ECF 108-1 at 4 (acknowledging that
“[a] number of § 1983 Monell claims have
come before this court and, as Plaintiff concedes, a number
of these cases have been bifurcated”). The decision
whether to bifurcate is ultimately a fact-specific inquiry,
and nothing about the facts of this case meaningfully
differentiate it from those similar cases.
order to establish Monell or supervisory liability,
Bumgardner will have to establish that the Officer Defendants
caused him constitutional injury at the time of his arrest on
February 9, 2016. 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 Bumgardner does not prove
that critical element of his claim, his claims against BPD,
Palmere, and Dombrowski cannot lie. See Id.
Bumgardner argues that judicial economy will not be served,
to the extent that a second phase of discovery and a second
trial are needed after a verdict for Bumgardner on the
underlying claims. See ECF 108-1 at 8-9. However,
the discovery relevant to the Monell and supervisory
liability claims will be far broader than the discovery about
the single incident on February 9, 2016, 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.
correctly notes that, in this case, the incident in question
occurred during the time frame of the charged criminal
conspiracy in federal court, which lasted from at least 2015
until March, 2017. ECF 108-1 at 5 (citing Criminal
Indictment, United States v. Gondo, No.
1:17-cr-00106-CCB (D. Md. Feb. 23, 2017), ECF No. 1).
However, there is no evidence that the February 9, 2016
incident was part of the proof at any of the Officer
Defendants' criminal trials or was adjudicated by way of
any guilty plea. See Gondo, No. 1:17-cr-00106-CCB,
ECF No. 137 (Superseding Indictment), ECF No. 158 (Hendrix
Plea Agreement), ECF No. 161 (Ward Plea Agreement), ECF No.
254 (Jenkins Plea Agreement). Bumgardner can establish that
the City of Baltimore's Civilian Review Board mailed a
letter of findings on April 5, 2018, indicating that it had
sustained allegations of excessive force against Defendants
Jenkins, Hendrix, Taylor, and Ward arising out of the
February 9, 2016 incident. ECF 108-2. That letter
specifically notes that the Board's findings “are
not intended to prove or disprove factual matters relating to
pending criminal cases, appeals, or civil lawsuits.”
Id. Thus, the Board's findings do not assist
Bumgardner in establishing constitutional violations by the
argument that the BPD Defendants' crossclaim reduces the
effectiveness of a bifurcated trial is unpersuasive. ECF
108-1 at 7-8. The crossclaim will only be pertinent to the
extent the BPD Defendants face legal exposure. Thus, if the
Officer Defendants prevail in the first phase of a bifurcated
trial, there will be no need for discovery regarding, or any
consideration of, the BPD Defendants' crossclaim.
although Bumgardner argues that the BPD Defendants'
argument about the prejudicial effect of evidence of prior
police misconduct is speculative, ECF 108-1 at 8-9, it is
less speculative in this particular case, where the Officer
Defendants have pled guilty to, or found guilty of, engaging
in criminal conduct during a number of incidents other than
the one in question. The evidence that would be relevant at a
Monell/supervisory liability trial, some of which is
cited in the Second Amended Complaint, would be highly
prejudicial if introduced at the trial of the Officer
Defendants with respect to the events of February 9, 2016.
Accordingly, bifurcated trials, in addition to a stay of
discovery, are appropriate, and the Motion, ECF 107, is
the informal nature of this letter, it should be flagged as
an Opinion and docketed as an Order.
Stephanie A. Gallagher United ...