United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Huntington Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
C. CHAMBERS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
before the Court is Defendant Allstate Property and Casualty
Insurance Company's (“Allstate”) Motion to
Bifurcate and Stay trial and discovery of Plaintiff's
claims arising under the West Virginia Unfair Trade Practices
Act, W.Va. Code § 33-11-4(9). See Mot. to Bifurcate
and Stay, ECF. No. 9. Plaintiff timely filed a Response
in opposition to Defendant Allstate's Motion to Bifurcate
and Stay discovery, though stipulating to separate trials.
See Pl.'s Resp. to Mot. to Bifurcate and Stay,
ECF No. 12. In consideration of this stipulation, the portion
of Defendant Allstate's Motion addressing separate trials
is GRANTED. However, Defendant
Allstate's Motion to Bifurcate and Stay discovery is
DENIED for the reasons explained below.
April 12, 2018, Plaintiff Ginny Blankenship and Defendant
Andrew Jordan (“Jordan”) were involved in an
automobile collision while traveling west on Route 34 in
Putnam County, West Virginia. Compl., ECF No. 1-1,
at 2. Plaintiff sustained significant injuries in the
collision, and subsequently recovered the $25, 000 policy
limit of Defendant Jordan's liability insurance on
January 29, 2019. See Ex. 2, ECF No. 12-2. Two days
later, Plaintiff advised her own insurance carrier-Defendant
Allstate-of her settlement with Defendant Jordan's
insurer. Ex. 3, ECF No. 12-3, at 1-2. Plaintiff
demanded her policy limit of $25, 000 in underinsured
motorist coverage. Ex. 4, ECF No. 12-4, at 1-3.
Defendant Allstate denied Plaintiff's demand for payment,
concluding that “she was made whole by the tort
carrier's settlement.” Ex. 5, ECF No.
subsequently filed suit against Defendants Jordan and
Allstate in the Circuit Court of Putnam County. See
Compl., at 1. In Count I of her Complaint, Plaintiff
asserted negligence claims against Defendant Jordan.
Id. at 2-3. In Count II, Plaintiff raised claims of
unfair settlement practices and bad faith arising under the
West Virginia Unfair Trade Practices Act against Defendant
Allstate. Id. at 3-5. On May 1, 2019, the Circuit
Court dismissed Plaintiff's claims against Defendant
Jordan pursuant to an earlier settlement agreement with
Jordan and his insurance carrier. Partial Dismissal
Order, ECF No. 1-1, at 1. The court nevertheless
permitted the case against Defendant Jordan to “proceed
. . . in name only so that Plaintiff [could] pursue
underinsured motorist claim(s) for the accident . . .
.” Id. Defendant Allstate subsequently elected
to defend Count I of Plaintiff's Complaint. Mot. to
Bifurcate and Stay, at 1. On May 10, 2019, Defendant
Allstate timely removed the case to this Court. See
Def.'s Notice of Removal, ECF No. 1.
11, 2019, Defendant Allstate filed a Motion to Bifurcate and
Stay Count II of Plaintiff's Complaint “for
discovery and trial.” Mot. to Bifurcate and
Stay, at 1. In her Response filed on July 19, 2019,
Plaintiff stipulated to separate trials on Counts I and II of
her Complaint. See Pl.'s Resp. to Mot. to Bifurcate
and Stay, at 1. As there is no remaining dispute with
respect to bifurcating trial proceedings, this portion of
Defendant Allstate's Motion is granted. The Court will
address the parties' remaining arguments over discovery
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). Courts
have wide discretion in determining whether to bifurcate and
stay discovery with respect to certain claims or causes of
action. See Syl. Pt. 3, Light v. Allstate Ins.
Co., 506 S.E.2d 64, 65 ( W.Va. 1998) (“Trial
courts have discretion in determining whether to stay
discovery in a first-party bad faith claim against an insurer
. . . .”).
where a court has bifurcated and stayed a particular claim
for trial-as this Court has ordered with respect to Count II
of Plaintiff's Complaint-it may still decline to order
bifurcation of discovery. Id. at 75. Indeed, while
“bifurcation is not unusual, it is the exception rather
than the rule.” Sheppard v. Direct Gen. Ins.
Co., No. 3:16-11418, 2017 WL 11249431, at *1 (S.D. W.Va.
June 19, 2017) (quoting Dallas v. Goldberg, 143
F.Supp.2d 312, 315 (S.D.N.Y. 2001)). The party seeking to
bifurcate and stay discovery assumes the burden of proof on
the issue. Light, 506 S.E.2d at 72.
Allstate advances two arguments in favor of bifurcating and
staying discovery: first, that West Virginia Code §
33-6-1(d) would be rendered meaningless if unitary discovery
is permitted, and in the alternative, that the factors
enunciated by the West Virginia Supreme Court in Light v.
Allstate Insurance Company, 506 S.E.2d at 72, weigh in
its favor. The Court disagrees with both arguments.
W.Va. Code § 33-6-31(d)
Defendant Allstate argues that “[t]he factors discussed
in Light that favored combined discovery there
simply do not apply in this case.” Mem. in Support
of Mot. to Bifurcate and Stay, ECF No. 10, at 12.
Defendant Allstate bases its argument on West Virginia Code
§ 33-6-1(d), which it contends precludes a court from
forcing an insurer to “submit to discovery regarding
its defense while . . . underlying claims are still being
litigated.” Id. at 14. Defendant Allstate
suggests that “[a]llowing discovery of the
insurer's claim file under such circumstances will allow
a claimant to obtain information regarding the insurer's
evaluation of the claim, and anticipated defenses and
strategies which would never be subject to discovery if a