United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Huntington Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
C. CHAMBERS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion to Bifurcate and
Stay all proceedings, including discovery, with respect to
Defendants' counterclaims. See Pl.'s Mot. to
Bifurcate and Stay, ECF No. 14. Defendants timely filed
a Response in opposition to Plaintiff's Motion. See
Def.'s Resp. to Mot. to Bifurcate and Stay, ECF No.
17. For the following reasons, Plaintiff's Motion is
DENIED with respect to discovery and
DENIED WITHOUT PREJUDICE with respect to
litigation arises out of a motor vehicle accident that
occurred in Pocahontas County, West Virginia on August 20,
2017, wherein Defendants Joe and Elizabeth Neeley sustained
significant injuries after a driver collided with their
motorcycle. Compl., ECF No. 1, at 3; Def.'s
Resp. to Mot. to Bifurcate and Stay, at 2. Defendants
subsequently collected the entirety of the responsible
driver's liability coverage. Def.'s Resp. to Mot.
to Bifurcate and Stay, at 2. As the driver's policy
limit was not sufficient to cover Defendants' medical
expenses stemming from the collision, they filed underinsured
motorist claims with their insurer, Plaintiff Progressive Max
Insurance Company. Def.'s Resp. to Mot. to Bifurcate
and Stay, at 2. Defendants maintain two insurance
policies with Plaintiff: an automobile policy and a
motorcycle policy. Compl., at 3. Plaintiff paid
Defendants the limits of their motorcycle policy, but denied
Defendants' underinsurance claim against the automobile
policy. Compl., at 4.
filed its Complaint on April 1, 2019, seeking a declaratory
judgment that the automobile policy does not provide coverage
for Defendant's motorcycle accident. See Compl.,
at 7. In their Answer filed on April 26, 2019, Defendants
asserted three counterclaims: (1) common law and statutory
bad faith and unfair settlement practices, (2) breach of
contract, and (3) breach of the covenant of good faith and
fair dealing. See Answer, ECF No. 9, at 8-12. On
June 21, 2019, Plaintiff's filed a Motion to Bifurcate
and Stay “all proceedings, including discovery,
relative to Defendant's Counterclaims.”
Pl.'s Mot. to Bifurcate and Stay, at 1. The
Court considers Plaintiff's Motion below.
the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a court may bifurcate
an action “[f]or convenience, to avoid prejudice, or to
expedite and economize.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 42(b). This
standard affords wide discretion to courts in determining
whether bifurcation is appropriate. See Light v. Allstate
Ins. Co., 182 F.R.D. 210, 213 (S.D. W.Va. 1998).
“[A]lthough 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). It
follows that a party moving for bifurcation “has the
burden of showing that separate trials are proper in light of
the general principle that a single trial tends to lessen . .
. delay, expense, and inconvenience.” Welch v.
Logan General Hosp., LLC, No. 2:15-cv-01022, 2015 WL
3797148, at *1 (S.D. W.Va. June 18, 2015) (quoting
Belisle v. BNSF Ry. Co., 697 F.Supp.2d 1233, 1250
(D. Kan. 2010). As Plaintiff has moved to bifurcate both
trial and discovery, the Court will address both halves of
its Motion separately.
Court first turns to Plaintiff's Motion to Bifurcate and
Stay Defendants' counterclaims for trial purposes,
arguing that “the claims should be litigated
sequentially rather than concurrently” because
“resolution of Plaintiff's coverage claim will most
likely be dispositive of Defendant's
[counter]claims.” Pl.'s Mem. of Law, ECF No.
15, at 7. The Court finds this argument unconvincing, as
“[n]early 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.”
Sheppard v. Direct Gen. Ins. Co., No. 3:16-11418,
2017 WL 11249431, at *2 (S.D. W.Va. June 19, 2017). It
follows that the need to determine a coverage issue as a
threshold matter “is irrelevant to the Court's
decision” to bifurcate and stay certain claims.
Id. As such, the Court is not persuaded that the
mere possibility of doing away with Defendants'
counterclaims is enough to justify bifurcating and staying
portions of this case.
it is already well established in this District that
bifurcating and staying Defendants' claims for trial
purposes before the conclusion of discovery would be
premature. See, e.g., Id. at *2 (noting that
“[i]n 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
[to] request bifurcation early in the discovery
process”); Wilkinson v. Mut. of Omaha Ins.
Co., No. 2:13-cv-09356, 2014 WL 880876, at *1 (S.D.
W.Va. Mar. 6, 2014) (concluding that bifurcating trial
proceedings before the end of discovery would be premature);
Scarberry v. Huffman, No. 3:10-0831, 2010 WL
4068923, at *1 (S.D. W.Va. Oct. 15, 2010) (citing Tustin
v. Motorists Mut. Ins. Co., No. 5:08CV111, 2008 WL
5377835, at *2 (N.D. W.Va. Dec. 22, 2008)) (reasoning that
motion to bifurcate and stay claims for trial was raised
prematurely, as discovery had not yet concluded).
Court sees no satisfactory rationale to depart from this line
of reasoning in the instant case. Therefore, as it is
premature, the Court will deny without prejudice the portion
of Plaintiff's Motion that seeks to bifurcate and stay
Defendant's counterclaims for trial purposes. Plaintiff
is free to refile its motion at the close of discovery.
addition to its Motion to Bifurcate and Stay Defendants'
counterclaims for trial, Plaintiff also moves to bifurcate
discovery proceedings. Plaintiff argues that
“bifurcation and stay of Defendants' claims,
including discovery . . . is appropriate” because
“litigation of the first issue might eliminate the need
to litigate the second issue.” Pl.'s Mem. of
Law, at 7. In essence, Plaintiff contends that
bifurcating discovery will foster judicial economy-an
interest it characterizes as lying at the “heart of
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 42(b).” The Court
courts may “determine on a case-by-case basis whether
to stay discovery on a bifurcated bad faith claim.”
Light v. Allstate Ins. Co., 506 S.E.2d 64, 72 (
W.Va. 1998). While this Court has yet to determine whether to
bifurcate Defendants' counterclaims, this discretionary
standard is appropriate for deciding whether to stay
discovery. See Wilkinson, 2014 WL 880876, at *2. In
making a determination, courts ...