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Youells v. Dzakpasu

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

September 24, 2019

MELISSA M. YOUELLS, Plaintiff
v.
JULIUS DZAKPASU AND WESTERN EXPRESS, INC., Defendants WILLIAM WAGNER, Plaintiff
v.
JULIUS DZAKPASU AND WESTERN EXPRESS, INC., Defendants

          Mariani, Judge.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          Martin C. Carlson, United States Magistrate Judge.

         I. Introduction

         Two separate cases come before the Court on a motion to consolidate. These two lawsuits arose out of a single traffic accident wherein the plaintiffs were injured after a tractor trailer, driven by Julius Dzakpasu while he was employed by Western Express, Inc., hit the vehicle that the plaintiffs occupied together. The defendants have moved to consolidate the separate actions brought against them by the plaintiffs pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 42. For their part, the plaintiffs have opposed wholesale consolidation of these two cases, citing in particular differences in the claims and elements of proof and damages sought at trial. For the following reasons, we will recommend[1] that the defendants' motion be granted in part and denied in part.

         II. Statement of Facts and of the Case

         On March 15, 2017, at approximately 2:45 p.m., William Wagner and Melissa Youells were in a Trans Med Ambulance headed southbound on Interstate 81 near mile marker 162.5, Hanover Township, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. (Wagner Doc. 1-4, at 6). Youells was driving the ambulance while Wagner was sitting in the rear of the vehicle. (Youells Doc. 2-1, at 9; Wagner Doc. 1-4, at 6). Snowy conditions on the road had caused an accident further ahead on I-81 S, making it necessary for Youells to stop the ambulance on the interstate. (Youells Doc. 2-1, at 10).

         On the day in question, Julius Dzakpasu, was operating a tractor trailer owned by his employer, Western Express, Inc.. (Youells Doc 2-1, at 9). As Dzakpasu approached where the plaintiffs sat on the highway, he was unable to bring his vehicle to a stop before colliding with the rear of the ambulance. (Youells Doc. 2-1, at 10). Both plaintiffs are alleging various injuries as a result of this incident. (Youells Doc. 2-1, at 17-18; Wagner Doc. 1-4, at 9).

         In their complaints, the plaintiffs assert claims of negligence against the defendants as well as a claim for vicarious liability against Western Express. (Youells Doc. 2-1, at 16-21; Wagner Doc. 1-4, at 7-10). Youells additionally brings a claim for punitive damages against both defendants. (Youells Doc. 2-1, at 22). The defendants now move for these cases to be consolidated.

         Recognizing that these two lawsuits arise out of the same nucleus of operative facts, we have set case management schedules for these two cases which are identical in terms of discovery and dispositive motion deadlines. We have taken this action without any objection by the parties but the plaintiffs have opposed the defense motion for further consolidation of these two actions at trial, noting in part that the elements of the damages claimed by the plaintiffs may be significantly different in these two cases. While we regard this as a close case, after a review of the plaintiffs' claims in each of their individual cases, we conclude that these cases should be consolidated for discovery, dispositive motions, and at trial on the issue of liability. However, given the numerous injuries alleged by each plaintiff, the distinctions between these damages claims, and the possible complexity of calculating each plaintiff's damages, the district court may, in the exercise of its discretion, consider a bifurcated examination of the issue of damages.

         III. Discussion

         A. Standard of Review

         The threshold requirement for determining whether consolidation is permissible under Rule 42 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is that the “actions before the court involve a common question of law or fact” in order to justify consolidation. Fed.R.Civ.P. 42(a); Farahmand v. Rumsfeld, 2002 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 22473, *3 (E.D. Pa. Nov. 20, 2002). If the court finds that such a commonality exists, the court may “(1) join for hearing or trial any or all matters at issue in the actions; (2) consolidate the actions; or (3) issue any other orders to avoid unnecessary cost or delay.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 42(a). The moving party bears the burden of proof to show a common question of law or fact and that consolidation will reap more benefit than harm. McClenaghan v. Turi, Civil Action Nos. 09-5497, 11-3761, 2011 WL 4346316 (E.D. Pa. Sept. 16, 2011). The court has broad discretion to determine if consolidation is appropriate. Easterday v. Federated Mut. Ins. Co., 2015 WL 1312684, at *2 (E.D. Pa. 2015). In its determination, the court must balance the advantages of judicial economy against the potential harm in delays, additional expenses, jury confusion, or prejudice. Farahmand, 2002 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 22473, at *4. However, federal courts have found that, “[e]ven where cases involve some common issues of law or fact, consolidation may be inappropriate where individual issues predominate.” In re Consolidated Parlodel Litig., 182 F.R.D. 441, 444 (D.N.J. 1998).

         This discretion extends to any decision to bifurcate the liability and damages phases of a trial. It is well-settled that: “Ordinarily, the decision of whether or not to bifurcate a case is firmly within the discretion of the trial court. See In Re Master Key Antitrust Litigation, 528 F.2d 5, 14 (2d Cir. 1975).” Kushner v. Hendon Const., Inc., 81 F.R.D. 93, 98 (M.D. Pa.), aff'd sub nom. Hendon Constr. Inc. v. Naholnik, 609 F.2d 501 (3d Cir. 1979), and aff'd sub nom. Kushner v. Hendon Constr. Inc., 609 F.2d 502 (3d Cir. 1979). In other words, “the rule in this circuit since 1972 has been that the decision to bifurcate Vel non is a matter to be decided on a case-by-case basis and must be subject to an informed discretion by the trial judge in each instance. Idzojtic v. Pennsylvania Railroad Co., 456 F.2d 1228, 1230 (3d Cir. 1971) (‘The district court is given broad discretion in reaching its decision whether to separate the issues of liability and damages. 9 Wright & Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure s 2392.')” Lis v. Robert Packer Hosp., 579 F.2d 819, 824 (3d Cir. 1978).

         B. The Defendants' Motion Should Be Granted in Part ...


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