United States District Court, D. Maryland
Umar Hassan Burley, et al.
Baltimore Police Department, et al.;
case, Plaintiffs Umar Burley and Brent Matthews
(collectively, “Plaintiffs”) sue former Baltimore
Police Officers Wayne Jenkins, Richard Willard, and Keith
Gladstone, along with current Baltimore Police Officers
Sergeant William Knoerlein, Sergeant Ryan Guinn, and
Lieutenant Michael Fries (collectively “the Officer
Defendants”), the Baltimore Police Department
(“BPD”), and former Deputy Commissioner Dean
Palmere (“Palmere”) (collectively, “the BPD
Defendants”). Plaintiffs allege civil rights violations
in connection with an illegal stop and arrest by the Officer
Defendants on April 28, 2010, in addition to subsequent
actions taken to cover up the misconduct. ECF 23 (Second
Amended Complaint). I have reviewed Palmere's Motion to
Bifurcate and Stay Discovery, ECF 62, and the accompanying
Memorandum of Law, ECF 62-1 (collectively, “the
Motion”), Plaintiffs' Opposition, ECF 69, and
Palmere's Reply, ECF 77. 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 Plaintiffs' §
1983 claims against the Officer Defendants from the
supervisory claims lodged against Palmere, and to stay
discovery relating to supervisory liability until the
underlying § 1983 claims have been adjudicated. ECF 62
at 1. The Motion can be distinguished in two ways from
similar motions this Court has recently considered in other
civil cases, like this one, involving members of BPD's
Gun Trace Task Force (“GTTF”). First, one of the
Officer Defendants in this case, Wayne Jenkins, pled guilty
to planting heroin in Plaintiff Burley's car, which led
to the wrongful arrest and wrongful imprisonment of
Plaintiffs on April 28, 2010. See Plea Agreement
& Arraignment, United States v. Jenkins, Cr. No.
17-0638-CCB (D. Md. Jan. 5, 2018), ECF 5, ¶¶ 62-75;
ECF 8. Second, in other recent GTTF cases, this Court has
considered the bifurcation of supervisory liability claims
against Palmere and other supervisory officers in conjunction
with Monell claims against BPD. See
Order, Bumgardner v. Taylor, Civ. No. SAG-18-1438
(D. Md. Nov. 6, 2019), ECF 110; Order, Harrod v. Mayor
& City Council, Civ. No. SAG-18-2542 (D. Md. Oct.
10, 2019), ECF 65. In contrast, in this case, BPD has filed
an interlocutory appeal of an Order issued by United States
District Judge Ellen L. Hollander, denying its motion to
dismiss Plaintiffs' claims as barred by Eleventh
Amendment immunity. ECF 53. Accordingly, Plaintiffs'
Monell claims against BPD are effectively stayed
pending resolution of that appeal. See Griggs v.
Provident Consumer Discount Co., 459 U.S. 56, 58 (1982)
(an interlocutory appeal “confers jurisdiction on the
court of appeals and divests the district court of its
control over those aspects of the case involved in the
appeal” because “a federal district court and a
federal court of appeals should not attempt to assert
jurisdiction over a case simultaneously”). Thus,
Palmere stands alone seeking bifurcation and a stay of
discovery in this matter.
to the relevant legal standards, the bifurcation of 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).
Likewise, with respect to the requested stay, 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
Bumgardner and Harrod cases cited above,
and in the majority of similarly situated cases, this Court
has bifurcated Monell and supervisory liability
claims from underlying § 1983 claims against individual
officers. See, e.g., Order, Roberts v.
Taylor, Civ. No. CCB-18-1940 (D. Md. Jul. 18, 2019), ECF
60 (GTTF case); Peprah v. Williams, Civ. No.
GLR-18-990, 2019 WL 22425, at *10 (D. Md. Jan. 15, 2019)
(“This Court has repeatedly held that bifurcation is
appropriate in cases involving § 1983 claims against
individual defendants and municipalities.”); Brown
v. Bailey, Civ. No. RDB-11-1901, 2012 WL 2188338, at *4
(“This Court has consistently held that in the context
of Section 1983 claims, bifurcation of the Monell
supervisory claims from the individual claims is appropriate
and often desirable.”); Marryshow v. Town of
Bladensburg, 139 F.R.D. 318, 319-21 (D. Md. 1991).
But see Memorandum Order, Potts v. Hendrix,
Civ. No. CBD-16-3187 (D. Md. Dec. 7, 2018), ECF 84 (denying
motion to bifurcate and stay discovery in GTTF case). The
decision whether to bifurcate is ultimately a fact-specific
inquiry. Although, as noted above, there are some unusual
facts presented in this case, those facts do not warrant a
different outcome than Bumgardner or
order to establish supervisory liability by Palmere,
Plaintiffs first will have to establish that the Officer
Defendants caused them constitutional injury on April 28,
2010. Discovery as to the facts of that single interaction
should be relatively limited in scope. See, e.g.,
Marryshow, 139 F.R.D. at 319. Certainly, Defendant
Jenkins's guilty plea will be of assistance in
Plaintiffs' efforts to prove their case against him, but
there are five other Officer Defendants who have not been
found guilty of criminal conduct related to Plaintiffs. The
scope and nature of Palmere's supervisory liability, if
any, will depend in part upon the actions of each of the
Officer Defendants on the date in question. The fact that one
officer has pled guilty to actions that might amount to a
violation of Plaintiffs' constitutional rights does not
establish that six officers engaged in such
the other GTTF cases I have decided recently, I am persuaded
that the bifurcation of trials in this case will advance
judicial economy. In fact, the procedural posture of this
case weighs more heavily in favor of bifurcation and a stay.
The supervisory claims against Palmere are more aligned with
the Monell claims against BPD than with the
individual claims against the Officer Defendants. Because the
Monell claims are effectively stayed pending the
interlocutory appeal, it would be inefficient to allow
discovery (and possibly trial) as to supervisory liability to
proceed without the BPD's participation, only to engage
in largely duplicative discovery and trial if the case
against BPD proceeds after appeal.
reviewed Judge Chuang's recent decision in
Potts. However, I remain unpersuaded that the
investigation by the United States Department of Justice and
the conviction of unrelated members of the GTTF are relevant
to a jury's assessment of what each Officer Defendant did
on April 28, 2010. Plaintiffs' brief focuses its
prejudice argument on the limited prejudice that would accrue
to Palmere from a joint trial. ECF 69 at 7. The issue,
however, is the significant prejudice to the Officer
Defendants (excluding Jenkins) if the DOJ report and the
other incidents involving GTTF were to be admitted into
evidence at the trial against them. See Marryshow,
139 F.R.D. at 320. That prejudice, in addition to
considerations of judicial economy discussed above, warrants
bifurcation for trial. In light of the bifurcation, and the
interlocutory appeal, a stay of discovery relating to
supervisory liability is also appropriate. Palmere's
Motion, ECF 62, is therefore GRANTED.
the informal nature of this letter, it should be flagged as
an Opinion and docketed as an Order.
Stephanie A. Gallagher United ...