United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division
OPINION AND ORDER
R. CHERRY MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
matter is before the Court on Defendant Lake County
Sheriff's Department Motion to Bifurcate § 1983
Monell Claims and Stay Discovery and Trial on Those
Claims [DE 35], filed by Defendant Lake County Sheriff's
Department (“Sheriff's Department”) on
December 14, 2016. Plaintiffs David and Renee Otten filed a
response on December 20, 2016, and the Sheriff's
Department filed a reply on December 27, 2016.
their Amended Complaint, Plaintiffs seek to hold the
individually-named Defendants liable for illegal search and
seizure, excessive force, false imprisonment, and false
arrest under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, in addition to various
state law claims, in relation to events taking place on or
about February 14, 2015. Plaintiffs also seek to hold the
Sheriff's Department liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983
pursuant to Monell v. New York Department of Social
Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978), for the alleged illegal
search and seizure. Plaintiffs allege that the Sheriff's
Department had an unconstitutional policy of obtaining
identification from all persons who come into contact with
Lake County police officers and that this policy caused the
violation of Plaintiffs' constitutional rights. There are
also pending state law respondeat superior claims
against the Sheriff's Department.
instant motion, the Sheriff's Department seeks to
bifurcate Plaintiffs' Monell claims against it
and to stay discovery and trial on the Monell claims
pending resolution of Plaintiffs' federal § 1983
claims and state law claims against the individually-named
Defendants. The Sheriff's Department does not ask that
the state law respondeat superior claims against it
be bifurcated. Rule 42(b) provides: “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.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 42(b).
Bifurcation of claims may be appropriate if “the
separation would prevent prejudice to a party or promote
judicial economy.” Chlopek v. Fed. Ins. Co.,
499 F.3d 692, 700 (7th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted).
“If one of these criteria is met, the district court
may order bifurcation as long as doing so will not prejudice
the non-moving party or violate the Seventh Amendment.”
Id. Defendants argue that bifurcation will
convenience all the parties, avoid prejudice, expedite the
matter, and economize resources for the Court and parties
during the discovery process and trial.
Monell claims brought by Plaintiffs against the
Sheriff's Department are based on allegations of illegal
search and seizure. These claims are well suited for
bifurcation because, unless one of the Plaintiffs proves that
an officer violated his or her constitutional rights, the
Monell claims against the municipality will fail as
a matter of law, and the litigation will be over without the
need for discovery or trial on the Monell
claims. See City of Los Angeles v.
Heller, 475 U.S. 796, 799 (1986); see also Swanigan
v. City of Chicago, 775 F.3d 953, 962 (7th Cir. 2015).
Thus, it is more efficient and convenient to first determine
whether the individually-named Defendants violated
Plaintiffs' constitutional rights before requiring the
Court (and the parties) to expend resources litigating the
Monell claims against the Sheriff's Department
that may never be reached or otherwise
adjudicated. Bifurcating the Monell claims
against the Sheriff's Department will avoid prejudice to
the Sheriff's Department and avoid spending taxpayer
money to unnecessarily defend against the Monell
claims if Plaintiffs are unable to prove that an underlying
constitutional violation occurred.
object to the Sheriff's Department's motion solely on
the basis that offensive collateral estoppel should be used
to find that the alleged constitutional violation by the
individually-named Defendants has occurred. With the
individually-named Defendants collaterally estopped from
arguing that there was no constitutional violation,
Plaintiffs argue, bifurcation would not convenience the
parties, avoid prejudice, expedite the matter, or economize
criminal case against Plaintiffs in Lake County, Indiana,
Superior Court, that court directed the verdict in favor of
the defendants in that case-who are Plaintiffs David Otten
and Renee Otten in the instant matter. In directing the
verdict, that court stated that Officer Zabrecky and Sergeant
Bosse-who are Defendants in the instant matter-did not obtain
consent to enter the Otten residence. Though the court did
not explicitly state that this was a violation of the Fourth
Amendment to the United States Constitution, it excluded
evidence as “fruit of the poisonous tree, ” and
Plaintiffs infer that the court found Zabrecky and
Bosse's actions to be an illegal search in violation of
the Fourth Amendment. This is the finding Plaintiffs wish to
use against Defendants under the doctrine of offensive
courts must “give preclusive effect to state-court
judgments whenever the courts of the State from which the
judgments emerged would do so.” Allen v.
McCurry, 449 U.S. 90, 96 (1980). Indiana courts will, in
certain circumstances, permit a party to use collateral
estoppel offensively. First, the party must establish the
traditional requirements of collateral estoppel. Tofany
v.NBS Imaging Sys., Inc., 616 N.E.2d 1034, 1038 (Ind.
1993). If the traditional requirements are met, then, in
order to decide whether collateral estoppel may be used
offensively, Indiana courts determine “whether the
party in the prior action had a full and fair opportunity to
litigate the issue” and “whether it is otherwise
unfair to apply collateral estoppel given the facts of the
particular case.” Id.
the traditional requirements, for a party to be able to
invoke collateral estoppel,
(1) the issue sought to be precluded must be the same as that
involved in the prior litigation, (2) the issue must have
been actually litigated, (3) the determination of the issue
must have been essential to the final judgment, and (4) the
party against whom estoppel is invoked must be fully
represented in the prior action.
Matrix IV, Inc. v. Am. Nat. Bank and Trust Co. of
Chicago, 649, F.3d 539, 547 (7th Cir. 2011) (internal
quotation marks and citation omitted). The Sheriff's
Department argues that the fourth element of collateral
estoppel is not met.
state that, in the Lake County proceeding, the named parties
were the State of Indiana, Renee Otten, and David Otten.
Though none of Defendants are named in the Lake County
proceeding, Plaintiffs assert that Defendants are the same as
the State of Indiana because Indiana courts “look[ ]
beyond the nominal parties and treat[ ] those whose interests
are involved as the real parties.” Becker v.
State, 992 N.E.2d 697, 700 (Ind. 2013).
Becker, the State of Indiana and the defendant
entered into an Agreed Order regarding the defendant's
requirements under Indiana's sex offender registry laws.
Shortly thereafter, the Indiana Supreme Court decided a case
pertinent to the issue. In light of that Indiana Supreme
Court decision, Indiana's Attorney General intervened on
behalf of Indiana's Department of Corrections and sought
to change defendant's registration requirements from
those in the Agreed Order. The defendant argued that res
judicata should bar the Department of Corrections's
effort. The Indiana Supreme Court found that the
Department of Corrections' interests in keeping the
defendant on the sex offender registry under heightened
requirements were represented by the local prosecutor and
that, under res judicata, the Department of
Corrections was bound by the Agreed Order.
not identified by the Sheriff's Department, several
courts have found collateral estoppel to be unavailable in
circumstances similar to the instant matter. See,
Kraushaar v. Flanigan, 45 F.3d 1040, 1051 (7th Cir.
1995) (finding no privity of defendant officers, jailer, and
county in civil rights litigation with the parties in the
prior criminal proceeding); see also, e.g.,
McFarland v. Childers, 212 F.3d 1178, 1185-86 (10th
Cir.2000) (finding no privity between a state agent sued in
her individual capacity and the parties in a prior criminal
case); Smith v. Holtz, 210 F.3d 186, 199-200 n.18