United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
MELISSA M. YOUELLS, Plaintiff
JULIUS DZAKPASU AND WESTERN EXPRESS, INC., Defendants WILLIAM WAGNER, Plaintiff
JULIUS DZAKPASU AND WESTERN EXPRESS, INC., Defendants
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
C. Carlson, United States Magistrate Judge.
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 that the
defendants' motion be granted in part and denied in part.
Statement of Facts and of the Case
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
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).
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.
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.
Standard of Review
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).
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.
The Defendants' Motion Should Be Granted in Part ...