United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Huntington Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
C. CHAMBERS CHIEF JUDGE
before the Court is Defendant Direct General Insurance
Company's Motion to Bifurcate. ECF No. 11. Direct General
seeks to cleave away Plaintiff's declaratory judgment
action, which address whether there is coverage for
Plaintiff's loss, from Plaintiff's bad faith, excess
judgment, and Unfair Trade Practices Act (“UTPA”)
claims. Direct General also seeks a stay of discovery for all
claims except the declaratory judgment action. For the
following reasons the Court DENIES Direct
General's Motion without prejudice.
Direct General believes that time and resources could be
saved were the Court to only consider Plaintiff's first
cause of action requesting a declaratory judgment on whether
the policy issued by Direct General includes bodily injury
coverage. Direct General contends that this claim can be
decided with minimal discovery because its resolution is
primarily based on legal, not factual, grounds. For this
reason, Direct General appears to believe that a trial on
Plaintiff's declaratory judgment action is extremely
unlikely and therefore does not argue that it will be
prejudiced in any way were Plaintiff's claims tried in a
single trial. Direct General believes that a determination in
its favor that coverage did not exist renders Plaintiff's
other claims either moot or subject to substantial
reconfiguration in order to continue to be viable.
argues that he will be prejudiced by bifurcation and a stay
of discovery. Bifurcated trials would reduce Direct
General's incentive to settle, increase its time to
prepare, and unduly delay Plaintiff's pursuit of his bad
faith and UTPA claims. Plaintiff further argues that
discovery should not be stayed based on factors enunciated in
the West Virginia Supreme Court case of Light v, Allstate
Ins. Co., 506 S.E.2d 64 (1998).
Court is not convinced that either time or resources would be
conserved in any meaningful way were Plaintiff's claims
bifurcated and discovery stayed. Nor is the Court convinced
that Plaintiff would not be prejudiced in time or resources
were the claims separated.
to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 42(b) a court may order
separate trials “[f]or convenience, to avoid prejudice,
or to expedite and economize.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 42(b).
Courts have broad authority to structure the way in which
cases will be tried before them. Moore's Federal
Practice § 42.20 (3d ed. 2009). The decision to
bifurcate a case is left to the discretion of the trial court
and on the basis of the specific circumstances of the
litigation. Id. (collecting cases); see also
Alaniz v. Zamora-Quezada, 591 F.3d 761, 773-74 (5th Cir.
2009); Hangarter v. Provident Life & Accident Ins.
Co., 373 F.3d 998, 1021 (9th Cir. 2004). Moreover,
although bifurcation is not unusual, it is the exception
rather than the rule. Dallas v. Goldberg, 143
F.Supp.2d 312, 315 (S.D.N.Y. 2001).
three recent decisions, by federal district courts in West
Virginia that are remarkably similar to this case, trial
judges, including this Court, found it premature request
bifurcation early in the discovery process. See Chaffin
v. Watford, No. 3:08-cv-0791, 2009 WL 772916, at *1
(S.D. W.Va. Mar. 18, 2009) (Chambers, J.); Holley v.
Allstate Ins. Co, No. 3:08-cv-01413, (S.D. W.Va. Feb.
12, 2009) (Chambers, J.) Tustin v. Motorists Mutual Ins.
Co, 2008 WL 5377835 (N.D. W.Va. Dec. 22, 2008).
Court is guided by the principles and reasoning stated in
these cases. The facts present here provide no reason for
this Court to depart from the sound reasoning of past
decisions. The issues raised by Plaintiff's claims are
neither complex nor do they require onerous discovery for
either party. Plaintiff has brought a commonplace first-party
insurance claim. The constellation of deponents is almost
certainly in the single digits, and the documents related to
cases like these should not be difficult to locate, nor prove
voluminous. There is, however, a very real chance that
bifurcating the case and limiting discovery will result in
duplicative discovery. Plaintiff will likely seek discovery
on his declaratory judgment action that would include the
same people and documents as his other state law claims. On
balance, it appears to the Court that bifurcation, rather
than a single action, presents the higher risk of increased
costs and time for all involved and the possibility of
prejudice befalling Plaintiff in further delaying his attempt
interpreting the policy presents a threshold issue is
irrelevant to the Court's decision. Nearly every case
that comes before the Court has a threshold issue that upon
resolution in one or the other parties' favor might
obviate other claims. The proponent of bifurcation must show
more than the ordinary to convince the Court to disrupt the
customary course of litigation. See Athey v. Farmers Ins.
Exch., 234 F.3d 357, 362 (8th Cir. 2000) (trial court
did not abuse its discretion by denying a motion to bifurcate
where defendant made no showing of prejudice). The issue of
the meaning of the policy can be addressed in a summary
same reasons, the Court denies Direct General's request
to stay discovery. Plaintiff should not be required to
conduct discovery twice when it can all be done at once,
especially in the case of a straightforward first-party
foregoing reasons Direct General's Motion to Bifurcate
and Stay Discovery is DENIED without prejudice. ECF No. 11.
Should some aspect of the litigation change over the course
of discovery, the Court would entertain another motion to
Court DIRECTS the Clerk to send a copy of this Order to
counsel of ...