United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Harrisonburg Division
Michael F. Urbanski Chief United States District Judge
matter comes before the court on defendants Brevard
Extraditions, LLC, Prisoner Transportation Services of
America, LLC, and Prisoner Transportation Services, LLC's
("defendants") second motion for bifurcation, ECF
No. 116, motion for partial summary judgment, ECF No. 118,
and motion to vacate United States Magistrate Judge Joel C.
Hoppe's discovery order, ECF No. 134. Plaintiff Edward
Kovari ("Kovari") has responded to all motions, and
the court heard argument on November 22, 2019. ECF No. 150.
For the reasons explained below, the court
DENIES defendants' motion to bifurcate,
ECF No. 116, and motion for partial summary judgment, ECF No.
118. The court GRANTS in part and DENIES in
part defendant's motion to vacate the discovery
order. ECF No. 134.
court will first address defendants' second motion to
bifurcate, filed on September 6, 2019. The court will then
address defendants' motion for partial summary judgment,
filed the same day. Finally, the court will address
defendant's motion to vacate the discovery order, filed
on October 2, 2019.
Rule of Civil Procedure 42(b) states that courts may order
separate trials on separate issues or claims for a variety of
reasons, including convenience, avoiding prejudice, or
expediting proceedings. The decision to bifurcate is within
the discretion of the district court. Bowie v.
Sorrell, 209 F.2d 29, 51 (4th Cir. 1953). "When
deciding whether issues should be separately tried, trial
courts must ensure that a litigant's constitutional right
to a jury is preserved." Shum v. Intel Corp.,
499 F.3d 1272, 1276 (Fed. Cir. 2007).
trial has already been bifurcated into a liability and
compensatory damages portion, followed by a punitive damages
portion, ECF No. 88, defendants have moved to bifurcate again
to separate evidence pertinent to Kovari's 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 claims from evidence pertinent to his tort
claims. Defendants request the court order trial be conducted
in three separate phases, during which a jury will, in order:
(1) decide liability for Kovari's claims in Count II,
Count III, and Count IV; (2) decide liability for
Kovari's claim in Count I; and (3) address punitive
damages, if any. Defendants argue that Kovari's §
1983 claim "is entirely separate, irrelevant, and
impermissible when compared to what is required to
prove" his state law tort claims. While the theory of
respondeat superior may be permissible to establish
a cause of action for negligence, gross negligence, and
intentional infliction of emotional distress, defendants
assert that it cannot be used to impose liability on an
inactive defendant (like an employer) pursuant to §
1983. See Jones v. Chapman, No. ELH-14-2627, 2016 WL
4944978, at *4 (D. Md. Sept. 15, 2016) ("[L]ocal
governmental bodies may be liable under § 1983 based on
the unconstitutional actions of individual defendants, but
only if those defendants were executing an official policy or
custom of the local government that resulted in a violation
of the plaintiffs rights."). To establish a claim under
§ 1983, on the other hand, Kovari must demonstrate that
the defendants had a policy, custom, or practice which caused
the violation of his civil rights, Shields v. Prince
George's C'nty, No. GJH-15-1736, 2016 WL
4581327, *21-22 (D. Md. Sep. 1, 2016)-something not
permissible to establish of breach of a duty of care in a
negligence action. See Pullen v. Nickens, 226 Va.
342, 350, 310 S.E.2d 452, 456 (1983) (citing Virginia R.
& P. Co. v. Godsey, 117 Va. 167, 168-69, 83 S.E.
1072, 1073 (1915)). For this reason, defendants contend that
permitting Kovari to present evidence of both his § 1983
claim and Virginia state law claims in a single trial poses a
threat of unfair prejudice and has the potential to confuse
responds that, while a jury could find in Kovari's favor
on his state law tort claims based upon an agency theory of
liability, he also plans to ask the jury to consider whether
defendants themselves, as corporations, are responsible for
Kovari's injuries due to their own corporate acts and
omissions and to assess punitive damages against defendants
accordingly. To do this, Kovari asserts that the jury must be
able to consider defendants' conduct as corporate
entities, including evidence of their policies and practices,
that they directed or authorized their employees'
treatment of Kovari, and that they knew at a corporate level
that harm would flow from the unlawful conduct alleged.
See, e.g., Kaltman v. All Am. Pest Control.
Inc., 281 Va. 483, 489, 706 S.E.2d 864, 868 (2011)
(recognizing claim for negligence against pesticide company
based upon the company's actions in "authorizing and
allowing" conduct at issue). The divide between what
evidence is admissible for which claim is thus not as clear
cut, Kovari asserts, as defendants contend, and bifurcation
is ultimately unnecessary and would cause an unjustifiable
level of expense and inconvenience.
court has already bifurcated this trial once and cannot see
the sense in doing so again. Such an action, which would in
practice act as a trifurcation, would inconvenience the
parties, the witnesses, the jurors, and the court. The court
can see no effective way of handling such a trial and sees
nothing requiring such a drastic step. Should certain
evidence be deemed inadmissible to prove certain of
Kovari's claims, a determination that has not and cannot
yet be made, the court trusts in the ability of the jurors to
follow instructions from the court regarding the purposes for
which they may consider certain evidence.
second motion to bifurcate, ECF No. 116, is DENIED.
court will next address defendants' motion for ...