United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
MEMORANDUM OPINION DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO
BIFURCATE TRIAL (DOC. 503)
William I. Arbuckle U.S. Magistrate Judge.
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).
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.”).
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).
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.
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.
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)).
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).
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).
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.
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).
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.
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.
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”).
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
the police separated the parties Vanessa Long was advised she
would receive a citation for disorderly conduct and left.
(Doc. 196-19, p. 3). 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).
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.
to Pennsylvania Court records, 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. ...