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Deitrick v. Costa

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

July 3, 2019

DONNA DEITRICK, Plaintiff
v.
MARK A. COSTA, et al., Defendants

          MEMORANDUM OPINION DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO BIFURCATE TRIAL (DOC. 503)

          William I. Arbuckle U.S. Magistrate Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         On May 24, 2019, the remaining police Defendants -Mark Costa and William Miner (“Moving Defendants”)-filed a Motion to Bifurcate in which they ask that all remaining claims against them be tried separately. (Doc. 503). Along with their Motion, Moving Defendants filed a Brief in Support. (Doc. 504).

         Defendants' Jeff and Marianne Adams concurred in the Motion. (Doc. 503-1). Defendants Robert Yoncuski, Vanessa Long, and Linda Long filed no response, and are therefore deemed not to oppose this Motion. See L.R. 7.6 (explaining that any party who fails to file a brief in opposition “shall be deemed not to oppose such motion.”).

         On June 5, 2019, Defendant Thomas Yoncuski filed a brief in opposition. (Doc. 506). On June 6, 2019, Plaintiff Donna Deitrick filed a brief in opposition. (Doc. 507).

         For the reasons explained herein, Defendants' Motion for a bifurcated trial will be Granted. Counts I (Excessive Force only by Costa and Miner) and Count V (Assault & Battery by Costa, Miner, R. Yoncuski and V. Long) will be severed for a separate trial in October.

         II. DISCUSSION

         The question of severance is fact intensive and left to the sound discretion of the trial court. Severance of claims for separate trials is governed by Rule 42(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which states:

For convenience, to avoid prejudice, or to expedite and economize, the court may order a separate trial of one or more separate issues, claims, crossclaims, counterclaims, or third-party claims. When ordering a separate trial, the court must preserve any federal right to a jury trial.

         Every civil trial contains questions of liability and damages, and the decision whether to bifurcate the trial must be based on the particular facts of the case. Lis v. Robert Packer Hosp., 579 F.2d 819, 824 (3d Cir. 1978). The decision to bifurcate is left in the trial court's discretion and must be decided on a case-by-case basis. Idzojtic v. Pa. R.R. Co., 456 F.2d 1228, 1230 (3d Cir. 1972). In exercising such discretion, the court “must 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). The moving party bears the burden of establishing that bifurcation is appropriate. Innovative Office Prods., Inc. v. Spaceco, Inc., No. 50-04037, 2006 WL 1340865 at *1 (E.D. Pa. May 15, 2006) (citing Spectra-Physics Lasers, Inc. v. Uniphase Corp., 144 F.R.D. 99, 101 (N.D. Cal. 1992)).

         The moving party bears the burden of showing that bifurcation is appropriate given the specific facts and issues present in a case. Cooper v. MetLife, 2013 WL 4010998, *2. “Specifically, the court is to consider: (1) whether the issues are significantly different from each other; (2) whether they require separate witnesses and documents; (3) whether the nonmoving party would be prejudiced by bifurcation; and (4) whether the [moving] party would be prejudiced if bifurcation is not granted.” Id. (citing Reading Tube Corp. v. Emp'rs Ins. of Wausau, 944 F.Supp. 398, 404 (E.D. Pa. 1996)). See, Griffith v. Allstate Ins. Co., 90 F.Supp.3d 344, 346 (M.D. Pa. 2014).

         “As many decisions make clear, the court may . . . [order a separate trial of any claim] in furtherance of convenience or to avoid prejudice, or when separate trials will be conducive to expedition and economy.” Wright & Miller, 9A Fed. Prac. & Proc. Civ. § 2387 (3d ed.). A separate trial order under Rule 42(b) is interlocutory and non-appealable. See In re Lieb, 915 F.2d 180, 185 (5th Cir.1990); Gaffney v. Riverboat Servs. of Indiana, 451 F.3d 424 (7th Cir. 2006), cert denied 594 U.S. 1111 (2007).

         This case arises from a series of incidents that occurred in August of 2004. Four distinct events over the weekend of August 13-16 and the aftermath spawned over a decade of litigation in the criminal, PFA and divorce Courts of Northumberland County, the Pennsylvania Superior Court, the Federal Bankruptcy Court, this Court, and two unsuccessful appeals to the Third Circuit. From the various records in this court I discern the following facts.

         Plaintiff Donna Deitrick and Defendant Richard Yoncuski were married in 1974. Thirty years later, in 2004, Plaintiff Donna Deitrick filed for Divorce (Docket of Northumberland County Common Pleas, No: CV-04-1012). Donna Deitrick also sought and received a Protection From Abuse Order against Defendant Richard Yoncuski, giving her exclusive possession of the marital residence (Docket of Northumberland County Court of Common Pleas No. CV-04-984).

         On Friday, August 13, 2004, Police Officers Costa and Zelinski were dispatched to a warehouse on North Carbon Street in Shamokin (the Warehouse incident) to investigate a burglary in progress (Doc. 196-12). They found a box truck backed up to the building. Plaintiff Donna Deitrick told them that the building and the truck belonged to her and her husband. Defendant Robert Yoncuski showed up shortly after the police arrived and told Defendant Costa “in an irate manner” that the truck and the building belonged to him. He also told them that the truck had no insurance. Donna Deitrick got into the box truck and drove away.[1]

         Defendants Costa and Zelinski pursued her and conducted a traffic stop in the 300 block of West Spruce Street (the “traffic stop” incident). Defendant Robert Yoncuski arrived at the traffic stop. After some discussion Defendant Costa told them that because of the divorce, the question of ownership was a “civil issue” (Doc. 196-12, p. 3). According to Defendant Costa both parties agreed that the box truck would be driven by him to the police station where it would be “secured.” Apparently, no citations were issued that evening.

         Donna Deitrick called a friend for a ride to her home after the truck was driven away by Defendant Costa. She arrived home late that evening to find her front door broken open and a large safe missing. She reported the burglary and theft to the State Police (the “Burglary Incident”).

         The following Monday, August 16, 2004, Donna Deitrick and her brother, Ken Deitrick, along with a friend, went to the Shamokin Police Department to recover the truck. Waiting in the lobby was Defendant Vanessa Long. Descriptions of what occurred differ, but all agree that a fight broke out between Vanessa Long and Donna Deitrick (the “Shamokin Police Lobby Incident”) (Doc. 196-19). Robert Yoncuski was in a police station interview room with Chief Nichols and Officer Costa when the disturbance broke out. They all rushed into the lobby and Robert Yoncuski and Ken Deitrick began fighting.

         Once the police separated the parties Vanessa Long was advised she would receive a citation for disorderly conduct and left. (Doc. 196-19, p. 3).[2] According to the officers, Donna Deitrick refused to go into the interview room to be issued her citation and had to be physically removed from the lobby. Donna Deitrick claimed that she was injured, and EMS was called. She was taken to the hospital for a “precautionary exam” and then returned to police custody. She was taken before a Magisterial District Judge and charged with Disorderly Conduct, Harassment, and Resisting Arrest. (Doc. 196-19).

         From the depositions in this case it appears that Robert Yoncuski called his sister, Defendant Marianne Adams the night of August 13, 2004 and asked for her help. They and some others went to the marital residence that had been shared by Donna Deitrick and Robert Yoncuski, broke in, and removed the safe. The safe was later buried on a farm belonging to Defendants Marianne and Jeff Adams. At some point Defendant Robert Yoncuski gave two large black garbage bags filled with jewelry to his niece, Keri Balascik. She promptly left the two bags with her Uncle, Defendant Thomas Yoncuski, Defendant Robert Yoncuski's brother.

         According to Pennsylvania Court records[3], on October 5, 2004, Plaintiff Donna Deitrick pleaded guilty to Disorderly Conduct and Harassment. See Commonwealth v. Deitrick, MJ-08303-CR-0000287-2004 (M.D.J.Ct. ...


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