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Scott v. Buncich

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division

March 30, 2018

JOHN BUNCICH, et al., Defendants.


          RUDY LOZANO, Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on “Defendants' Joint Motion to Bifurcate § 1983 Monell Claims and Stay Discovery and Trial on Those Claims, ” filed by the defendants on August 29, 2017 (DE #82). For the reasons set forth below, the motion is DENIED.


         The plaintiff, Tamara Rachel Scott (“Plaintiff”), filed a complaint in this case on April 6, 2016. (DE #1.) Plaintiff was granted leave to file an amended complaint on August 9, 2017, [1] and the first amended complaint was docketed on August 11, 2017.[2] (DE #56 & DE #60.) In her amended complaint, Plaintiff names the following defendants: (1) John Buncich in his official capacity as Sheriff of Lake County, Indiana (“Buncich”);[3] (2) County of Lake, Indiana (“Lake County”); (3) Willie Stewart in his individual and official capacity as Jail Administrator of Lake County, Indiana (“Stewart”); (4) Dr. William Forgey in his individual and official capacity as Medical Director of Lake County Jail (“Dr. Forgey”); (5) Dr. Robert M. Ehresman, a medical professional at Lake County Jail (“Dr. Ehresman”); (6) Dr. Kumpol Dennison, a medical professional at Lake County Jail (“Dr. Dennison”); (7) D. May, a correctional officer at Lake County Jail (“May”); (8) Lt. Hailey (a/k/a Haley), a correctional officer at Lake County Jail (“Hailey”); (9) Patricia Kerr, an employee of Lake County Jail (“Kerr”); (10) Unknown Employees of Lake County Jail (the “Unknown Jail Employees”); (11) Correctional Health of Indiana, Inc., a for profit Indiana corporation that contracted with Lake County and the Lake County Sheriff's Department to provide medical care to the detainees incarcerated at the Lake County Jail (“Correctional Health”); and (12) Unknown Employees of Correctional Health (the “Unknown Correctional Health Employees”) (collectively, Defendants). (DE #60.) Plaintiff brings federal claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. section 1983 and state claims pursuant to Indiana law as follows: Count I - 42 U.S.C. § 1983 - denial of medical care against all Defendants; Count II - 42 U.S.C. § 1983 - conspiracy against all Defendants except for Buncich;[4] Count III - 42 U.S.C. § 1983 - failure to intervene against all Defendants except for Buncich; Count IV - state law medical malpractice against all Defendants except for Buncich; Count V - state law respondeat superior against Correctional Health. (Id. at 11-19.)

         Plaintiff's claims stem from her arrest on April 1, 2014, and subsequent incarceration at Lake County Jail, where she alleges she received inadequate medical care that led to severe and debilitating lifelong medical problems. (Id.) Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that on or about April 4, 2014, while incarcerated, she began experiencing rectal pain that worsened over the following days and weeks to eventually include rectal bleeding, severe pain, vomiting of blood, diarrhea, loss of appetite, weight loss, fever, and constipation. (Id. at 7-10.) Despite receiving ample notice regarding her precarious state, the Individual Defendants, including various doctors and correctional employees, repeatedly failed to diagnose and/or treat Plaintiff's medical condition(s). (Id.) When she was released from the Lake County Jail on June 3, 2014, she went to St. Anthony Hospital in Crown Point, Indiana, where she was admitted and remained hospitalized until June 9, 2014. (Id. at 10-11.) At St. Anthony's, she was treated for a severe rectal infection, dehydration, and a low hemoglobin count. (Id. at 11.) Doctors there attempted to perform a colonoscopy but were unable to fully complete the procedure due to the infection, swelling, and damage. (Id.) Plaintiff was ultimately diagnosed with severe ulcerative colitis and other debilitating medical problems that she continues to suffer from. (Id.)

         Plaintiff alleges that her injuries were proximately caused by the policies and practices of Buncich, Stewart, Dr. Fogey, and Correctional Health. (Id. at 12.) Plaintiff alleges that Buncich and Stewart had notice of widespread policies and practices by health care and corrections employees at Lake County Jail, wherein inmates with serious medical conditions were routinely denied access to proper medical diagnoses and treatment. (Id.) Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that pervasive known procedural deficiencies existed including inadequate/untimely responses to and examination of inmates' medical needs, inadequate training and supervision of unqualified health care personnel, insufficient staffing levels, routine denials of timely and necessary specialty care from outside providers, a lack of suitable continuity of care and discharge planning, and a failure to adequately punish or discipline prior instances of employee misconduct regarding the foregoing.[5] (Id. at 13-17.)

         To the extent Plaintiff seeks damages against Buncich and Stewart in their official capacities, these claims are, in effect, actions against the Lake County Sheriff's Department, a municipality. Monell v. Department of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690 (1978); Smith v. County of Kosciusko, No. S91-5(RDP), 1991 WL 261766, at *2 (N.D. Ind. Nov. 15, 1991). Similarly, to the extent Plaintiff seeks damages against Dr. Forgey in his official capacity, these claims are, in effect, actions against Correctional Health, a municipality. Id. Thus, Plaintiff has effectively asserted Monell claims against the Lake County Sheriff's Department, Lake County, and Correctional Health (collectively, the “Entity Defendants”). She has also asserted individual claims against the known and unknown medical and correctional personal named above (collectively, the “Individual Defendants”).

         Defendants filed the instant motion to bifurcate on August 29, 2017. (DE #82.) In it, Defendants request that the Court bifurcate all of Plaintiff's claims against the Individual Defendants from Plaintiff's section 1983 Monell claims against the Entity Defendants and to stay discovery and trial on the Monell claims until and unless Plaintiff first proves an underlying constitutional violation by the Individual Defendants. (Id.) That same day, Defendants also filed a joint motion to stay the Monell related discovery until the Court rules on the motion to bifurcate. (DE #83.) On September 11, 2017, Plaintiff filed a response to the motion to bifurcate. (DE #89.) Defendants filed their reply in support of the motion to bifurcate on September 21, 2017. (DE 95.) On October 11, 2017, Magistrate Judge John E. Martin (“Judge Martin”) denied the motion to stay. (DE #104.)

         At the time the motion to bifurcate was filed, discovery had been pending for almost ten months. (See DE #44 & DE #50.) According to Plaintiff, during that time the parties exchanged multiple rounds of written discovery, engaged in extensive communications regarding electronic discovery, and identified numerous deponents. (DE #89, pp. 5-6.) Additionally, the parties litigated Plaintiff's motion to compel documents and information from Correctional Health and Dr. Fogey, which was ultimately granted by Judge Martin. (DE #54 & DE #86.) Plaintiff further filed a motion to modify the scheduling order to allow additional depositions to be taken, and that motion was granted by Judge Martin, permitting Plaintiff to take the requested ten additional depositions plus the depositions of any fact witnesses and experts disclosed by Defendants. (DE #63 & DE #88.) On January 25, 2018, Plaintiff filed a motion to depose Buncich based on his status as the Sheriff of Lake County and final policymaker during the relevant time period. (DE #109.) The motion, which was unopposed by Defendants, was granted by Judge Martin on January 31, 2018. (DE #111.)

         DISCUSSION Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 42(b) states, in relevant part, that “[f]or 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 may be appropriate if one or more of the Rule 42(b) criteria is met. See Treece v. Hochstetler, 213 F.3d 360, 365 (7th Cir. 2000). Courts have broad discretion in deciding whether to bifurcate issues presented in a case or to try them separately. Krocka v. City of Chicago, 203 F.3d 507, 516 (7th Cir. 2000). Indeed, the district court's exercise of its discretion to bifurcate will be set aside on appeal “only upon a clear showing of abuse.” Treece, 213 F.3d at 364-65. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(d) also permits a court to stay discovery on Monell claims. Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(d); see also Carr v. City of N. Chicago, 908 F.Supp.2d 926, 927 (N.D. Ill. 2012). The decision of whether to bifurcate is a case-specific analysis. Cadiz v. Kruger, No. 06 C 5463, 2007 WL 4293976, at *3 (N.D. Ill. Nov. 29, 2007).

         In the instant motion, Defendants argue that bifurcating the claims will be more convenient for all parties, will avoid prejudice, will expedite the matter, and will economize resources for the Court and parties during the discovery process and trial. (DE #82, p. 3.) However, in response, Plaintiff argues that judicial economy, convenience, and expediency favor a unitary discovery process and trial. (DE #89, p. 3.)

         Individual Defendant Liability Effect on Monell Claims

         Defendants begin by arguing that section 1983 actions are particularly well-suited for bifurcation because “unless a plaintiff proves that an officer or other individual municipal official or employee violated his or her constitutional rights, the Monell claim 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 claim.” (DE #82, p. 3.) In other words, according to Defendants, an adverse finding as to Plaintiff's individual claims would necessarily dispose of her Monell claims. It is true that the Supreme Court has stated, “[i]f a person has suffered no constitutional injury at the hands of the individual police officer, the fact that the departmental regulations might have authorized the use of constitutionally excessive force is quite beside the point.” City of Los Angeles v. Heller, 475 U.S. 796, 799 (1986); see also Treece, 213 F.3d at 364 (“municipality's liability for a constitutional injury requires a finding that the individual officer is liable on the underlying substantive claim”) (internal quotation marks, brackets, and citation omitted). However, as pointed out by Plaintiff, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has cautioned that interpreting the holding of Heller to “require[] individual officer liability before a municipality can ever be held liable for damages under Monell” is an ...

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