United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division
THE NATIONAL MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY, a member of a pool of companies known as Celina Insurance Group, Plaintiff,
JUSTIN HOHENBERGER, CRYSTAL HOHENBERGER, BRAD CASE and FAYE CASE, individually and as guardian and next of friend of S.G.C., a minor, Defendants. BRAD CASE, FAYE CASE, individually and as guardian and next friend of S.G.C., a minor, Cross Claim Plaintiffs,
JUSTIN HOHENBERGER and CRYSTAL HOHENBERGER, Cross-Claim Defendants.
OPINION AND ORDER
A. BRADY UNITED STATES JUDGE DISTRICT COURT
National Mutual Insurance Company, a member of a pool of
companies known as Celina Insurance Group
(“Celina”), initiated this litigation by filing a
Complaint for Declaratory Judgment seeking a determination
that a homeowner's insurance policy (the
“Policy”) it issued to Justin Hohenberger and
Crystal Hohenberger is void due to material
misrepresentations they made during the insurance application
process as to whether they owned a dog (the
“Dog”) that was in-full or in-part a Pitbull
Terrier (Staffordshire Terrier). After the Dog bit the minor
daughter of Brad Case and Faye Case while they were at the
Hohenbergers' home, the Cases' requested that Celina
pay the medical expenses incurred as a result.
Cases, on behalf of their minor daughter, filed their Answer
to Celina's Complaint for Declaratory Judgment. They also
filed a Crossclaim against Justin and Crystal Hohenberger for
breach of a duty of care owed to their daughter. Celina
sought and was granted leave to amend its Complaint to
incorporate allegations in the Crossclaim and to request a
declaration that Celina owes no duty to defend or indemnify
the Hohenbergers against the claims asserted in the
matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Celina's Motion
for Separate Trial [ECF No. 51]. Celina requests that the
Court exercise its discretion under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 42(b) to bifurcate the trial on the Declaratory
Complaint from the trial on the Crossclaim. No. response has
been filed in opposition.
42(b) provides that a court may order a separate trial of one
or more separate “issues, claims, crossclaims,
counterclaims, or thirty-party claims.” Fed.R.Civ.P.
42(b). The Rule lists as relevant considerations convenience,
the avoidance of prejudice, and expedition and economy.
Id.; see also Krocka v. City of Chi., 203 F.3d 507,
516 (7th Cir. 2000) (stating that a court may bifurcate a
trial provided that doing so serves the interests of judicial
economy or is done to prevent prejudice to a party, and
separate trials does not unfairly prejudice the non-moving
party or violate the Seventh Amendment) (citing Houseman
v. United States Aviation Underwriters, 171 F.3d 1117,
1121 (7th Cir. 1999)). The moving party has the burden to
demonstrate that bifurcation would support judicial economy
and not prejudice any parties. Stachon v. Woodward,
No. 2:12-CV-440, 2015 WL 7963144, at *1 (N.D. Ind. Dec. 2,
asserts that bifurcation will avoid unnecessary expenditure
of resources, delay, and trial complications that would occur
if the claims were tried simultaneously. Trying both coverage
and liability together would, it asserts, “inundate the
jury with distinct legal questions and would require the jury
to attempt to parse through which facts relate to which
matter.” (Mot. 4.) Whether the Hohenbergers are liable
in tort to the Cases' minor daughter for personal
injuries has no relation to whether the Hohenbergers made
misrepresentations during the insurance application process
that void the Policy. Further, Celina argues that it would
not be appropriate to try the claims together because
evidence of liability insurance is not admissible on the
Crossclaim to prove negligence. See Fed. R. Evid.
arguments are well taken. To avoid the risk of prejudice, and
the attendant risk of jury confusion that may result from
trying issues of liability and coverage together, the Court
agrees that bifurcation under Rule 42(b) is appropriate. All
parties will benefit from a resolution of the coverage claim.
In addition, the Court cannot conceive of any prejudice to
the Cases that would be created by separate trials.
reasons stated above, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff Celina's
Motion for Separate Trial [ECF No. 51]. The ruling does ...