United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MEMORANDUM ORDER DENYING MOTION TO BIFURCATE AND
Fashing, United States Magistrate Judge.
MATTER comes before the Court on defendant GEICO's Motion
to Bifurcate and Stay Discovery and Proceedings as to
Plaintiff's Extra-Contractual Claims, filed on June 9,
2017. Doc. 23. Plaintiff filed a response on June 22, 2017
(Doc. 33), and GEICO filed a reply on July 6, 2017 (Doc. 34).
The Court, having reviewed the parties' submissions and
the relevant law, and being otherwise fully advised, finds
the motion is not well taken, and it will be denied.
Rita Buccheri filed this action in the Second Judicial
District Court for the State of New Mexico on April 3, 2017.
Doc. 1-1 at 2-17. Defendant GEICO removed the case to this
Court on April 26, 2017. Doc. 1. In her complaint, plaintiff
alleges that, on November 10, 2014, another driver crashed
into the front passenger side of her vehicle, then fled the
scene. Id. at 3. At the time of the crash, plaintiff
was listed as an “additional driver, ” insured on
her son Craig Neri's uninsured/underinsured (UM/UIM)
policy with GEICO. Id. at 2. Plaintiff alleges that,
as a result of the crash, she suffered a ruptured right
kidney, and incurred more than $70, 000 in medical expenses.
Id. at 3-4. Plaintiff further alleges that the other
driver was solely at fault for the crash. Id.at 4.
Plaintiff filed a claim with GEICO-which paid $2, 358.71 on
her claim for property damage, but denied her claim for
personal injury damages. Doc. 1-1 at 5-17, Doc. 33 at 2 n.3,
Doc. 33-3 at 9.
complaint, plaintiff brings a claim for breach of contract
based on the non-payment of UM benefits. Count VIII.
Plaintiff also brings a separate claim for breach of
contract. Count V. In addition, plaintiff brings claims under
the New Mexico Unfair Practices Act, the Trade Practices and
Frauds Act and the insurance code, as well as claims for
insurance bad faith, and breach of the implied covenant of
good faith and fair dealing. Counts I, II, III, V. Plaintiff
also asks for injunctive relief and punitive damages. Counts
moves the Court to bifurcate plaintiff's
extra-contractual claims (Counts I, II, III, IV,
VI, VII) and to stay all discovery on these claims, pending
resolution of the contract claim (Count VIII). GEICO argues
that bifurcation is appropriate for two reasons. First, GEICO
argues that plaintiff must prove she is entitled to recover
damages for her UM claims under the insurance policy before
her extra-contractual claims are ripe for adjudication. Doc.
23 at 6-9. Second, GEICO argues that bifurcation will prevent
confusion and unfair prejudice to GEICO. Doc. 23 at 9-11.
district court's discretion in deciding whether to sever
issues for trial is “broad” and
“considerable.” United States ex rel. Bahrani
v. ConAgra, Inc., 624 F.3d 1275, 1283 (10th Cir. 2010)
(quoting Anaeme v. Diagnostek, Inc., 164 F.3d 1275,
1285 (10th Cir. 1999)); Angelo v. Armstrong World
Indus., 11 F.3d 957, 964 (10th Cir. 1993). Federal Rule
of Civil Procedure 42, which governs bifurcation in federal
civil actions, permits the Court to order a separate trial of
any claim or issue “[f]or convenience, to avoid
prejudice, or to expedite and economize.” Fed.R.Civ.P.
42(b). “Bifurcation is not an abuse of discretion if
such interests favor separation of issues and the issues are
clearly separable.” Angelo, 11 F.3d at 964.
of efficiency and separability, however, bifurcation is an
abuse of discretion if it is unfair or prejudicial to a
party.” Id. Moreover, bifurcation is to be
decided “on a case-by-case basis” and should not
be regarded as “routine.” Marshall v.
Overhead Door Corp., 131 F.R.D. 94, 97-98 (E.D. Pa.
1990). Bifurcation under Rule 42(b) is inappropriate when it
will “not appreciably shorten the trial or [a]ffect the
evidence offered by the parties” because claims are
inextricably linked. F.D.I.C. v. Refco Group, Ltd.,
184 F.R.D. 623, 629 (D. Colo. 1999). The party seeking
bifurcation bears the burden of proving that it is proper
“in light of the general principle that a single trial
tends to lessen the delay, expense, and inconvenience.”
Belisle v. BNSF Ry. Co., 697 F.Supp.2d 1233, 1250
(D. Kan. 2010).
Court also has broad discretion to stay proceedings incident
to its power to manage its docket. Clinton v. Jones,
520 U.S. 681, 706 (1997); Abdulhaseeb v. Calbone,
600 F.3d 1301, 1310 (10th Cir. 2010). In addition, the Court
may stay discovery pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 26(c), which for good cause shown allows the Court
to limit discovery to protect a party from “annoyance,
embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or expense.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(c); Nankivil v. Lockheed Martin
Corp., 216 F.R.D. 689, 692 (M.D. Fla. 2003); Johnson
v. N.Y. Univ. Sch. of Educ., 205 F.R.D. 433, 434
(S.D.N.Y. 2002). The party seeking a stay bears the burden of
establishing the need for it. Clinton, 520 U.S. at
Plaintiff is not required to establish breach of contract
before her extra-contractual claims are ripe for
argues that plaintiff must prove that she is legally entitled
to damages in order to recover under the UM portion of her
policy. Doc. 23 at 6. GEICO further argues that it has the
right to litigate plaintiff's UM claim before any
extra-contractual claims may be brought.
Id.Plaintiff counters that “the tort of
insurance bad faith is legally independent of the obligation
to pay contractual claims, ” that “New Mexico
allows bad faith claims to stand regardless of whether any
contractual benefits are owed, ” and that “a
determination of causation is not necessary before Plaintiff
can establish bad faith based [on] the way GEICO handled her
claims.” Doc. 33 at 1, 9.
Honorable Magistrate Judge William Lynch recently observed,
“[b]ifurcation of bad faith claims from breach of
contract claims can be confusing because of the variety of
contexts in which the issue can arise. . . . Further
complexity arises because an insurer can act in bad faith in
its handling of a first party claim for ...