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David H. Pease, Iii and Lisa Pease v. Lycoming Engines

September 23, 2011

DAVID H. PEASE, III AND LISA PEASE, PLAINTIFFS
v.
LYCOMING ENGINES, DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: (Judge Conner)

MEMORANDUM

Plaintiffs David H. Pease III ("Mr. Pease") and Lisa Pease ("Mrs. Pease") (collectively, "the Peases") bring this diversity action against defendant Lycoming Engines Inc. ("Lycoming Engines"). Presently before the court are two motions pertaining to damages: the Peases' motion for partial summary judgment on the issue of economic damages (Doc. 56) and Lycoming Engines' motion to bifurcate liability and damages (Doc. 145).

I. Background

The instant lawsuit arose from an aviation accident, which occurred on June 5, 2005. Mr. Pease was injured when the Piper/PA-32R-301T aircraft he was piloting crashed near Tazewall, Tennessee. On April 20, 2007, the Peases filed suit against Lycoming Engines and fourteen other defendants in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama. (Doc. 1-2). Approximately three years later, on April 19, 2010, the Middle District of Alabama granted the Peases' motion to transfer venue (Doc. 8-4) and transferred the action to this court. (Doc. 11-3). This matter was reassigned to the undersigned on December 22, 2010. The Peases filed an amended complaint against Lycoming Engines on December 29, 2010. (Doc. 46). On January 3, 2011, the Peases filed their motion for partial summary judgment on economic damages.*fn1 (Doc. 56). On May 9, 2011, Lycoming Engines filed its motion to bifurcate trial on liability and damages. (Doc. 145). Both motions are now ripe for disposition. For the reasons that follow, the court will deny the Peases' motion for partial summary judgment, and will grant in part, and deny in part, Lycoming Engines' motion to bifurcate.

II. Standard of Review

A. Motion for Partial Summary Judgment

The standard of review which applies to a motion for partial summary judgment is the same as that which applies to a motion for summary judgment on all claims. See FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a). Through summary adjudication the court may dispose of those claims to which "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact," and for which a jury trial would be an empty and unnecessary formality. See id. A motion for summary judgment places the burden on the non-moving party to come forth with "affirmative evidence, beyond the allegations of the pleadings," in support of its right to relief. Pappas v. City of Lebanon, 331 F. Supp. 2d 311, 315 (M.D. Pa. 2004); FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986).*fn2 This evidence must be adequate, as a matter of law, to sustain a judgment in favor of the non-moving party on the claims. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250-57 (1986); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-89 (1986); see also FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a). Only if this threshold is met may the cause of action proceed. Pappas, 331 F. Supp. 2d at 315.

"Where the party moving for summary judgment is the plaintiff or the party who bears the burden of proof at trial, the standard [for summary judgment] is more stringent." Nat'l State Bank v. Fed. Reserve Bank of New York, 979 F.2d 1579, 1582 (3d Cir. 1992). For a moving plaintiff to satisfy the threshold burden on summary judgment, when the plaintiff bears the burden of persuasion at trial, the plaintiff must put forth enough evidence to justify a directed verdict in its favor. See Nat'l State Bank, 979 F.2d at 1580 n.2 (3d Cir. 1992) (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 331 (Brennan, J., dissenting)). With respect to the issue of economic damages, the Peases will bear the burden of proving the amount of damages by a preponderance of the evidence. See Walker v. Sidney Gilreath & Assocs., 40 S.W.3d 66, 71 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2000). When the party moving for summary judgment has the burden of proof, and the non-moving party fails to respond, the court must still find that the moving party is entitled to prevail as a matter of law in order to grant summary judgment. See Anchorage Assocs. v. V.I. Bd. of Tax Review, 922 F.2d 168, 175 (3d Cir. 1990).

B. Motion to Bifurcate

Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 42, a court may bifurcate separate claims or issues "[f]or convenience, to avoid prejudice, or to expedite and economize . . . ." FED. R. CIV. P. 42(b). A court decides whether to bifurcate on a case-by-case basis, subject to its "informed discretion." Lis v. Robert Packer Hospital, 549 F.2d 819, 824 (3d Cir. 1978) (citing Idzojtic v. Pa. R.R. Co., 456 F.2d 1228, 1230 (3d Cir. 1971)). In exercising such discretion, a court is required to "weigh the various considerations of convenience, prejudice to the parties, expedition, and economy of resources." Emerick v. U.S. Suzuki Motor Corp., 750 F.2d 19, 22 (3d Cir. 1984). However, bifurcation is not meant to be a routine practice. See FED. R. CIV. P. 42(b) advisory committee note (1966) (stating that "separation of issues for trial is not to be routinely ordered"). The moving party bears the burden of showing that bifurcation is appropriate. See Grosek v. Panther Transp., No. 3:07-CV-1592, 2009 WL 905035, at *2 (M.D. Pa. Apr. 1, 2009) (citing Innovative Office Prod., Inc. v. Spaceco, Inc., No. 05-04037, 2006 WL 1340865, at *1 (E.D. Pa. May 15, 2006), 9A CHARLES ALAN WRIGHT & ARTHUR R. MILLER, FEDERAL PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE § 2388 (2d ed. 1995)).

III. Discussion

A. Motion for Partial Summary Judgment

The Peases contend that they are entitled to partial summary judgment on the issue of economic damages. The Peases cite the following reasons in support:

(1) Lycoming Engines has not deposed the Peases' vocational experts,*fn3 who have provided deposition testimony concerning Mr. Pease's economic and non-economic damages incurred as a result of the accident; (2) Lycoming Engines has failed to offer expert opinion opposing the testimony of any of the Peases' experts in the area of economic loss; (3) Lycoming Engines has failed to dispute "the injuries, permanency of the injuries, future cost of caring for the injuries, lost income, loss of function or bodily systems affected by the injuries, disfigurement, emotional distress, pain and suffering," or any other potentially applicable form of damages; (4) Lycoming Engines has not requested any independent examination of Mr. Pease; and (5) ...


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