United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
November 11, 2017, Defendant GEICO Choice Insurance Company
(“GEICO” or “Defendant”) filed an
Unopposed Motion to Bifurcate Trial and Stay Discovery on
Plaintiff's Extra-Contractual Claims (ECF No. 2). The
Court, having considered the pleadings, motion, and relevant
law, concludes that the motion should be granted to the
limited extent that trial of the extra-contractual claims may
be bifurcated from the contractual claims, but decided by the
same jury, should the jury find for Plaintiff on the
contractual claims. The motion will otherwise be denied.
FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS AND CLAIMS
case arises out of a dispute over an underinsured motorist
(“UIM”) insurance claim. On December 16, 2016,
Plaintiff Claudell Hodges (“Plaintiff”) was a
passenger in a vehicle driven by Delrae Kelly, and they were
involved in a motor vehicle collision. Compl. ¶ 2, ECF
No. 1-2. GEICO is the insurer of Delrae Kelly. Id.
¶ 3. GEICO believes that the car driven by Delrae Kelly
was owned by Claudell Hodges. Answer ¶ 2, ECF No. 6.
asserts she suffered rib fractures, deep bruising in her
clavicle and anterior chest, ongoing low and mid back pain,
pain standing or walking for more than a few minutes, and
that her chronic and permanent daily pain and suffering and
medical treatment will continue into the future. See
Compl. ¶¶ 7-10, ECF No. 1-2. The liability
insurance limit of $50, 000 by the tortfeasor was tendered.
Id. ¶ 11. GEICO was notified on May 17, 2017,
that State Farm Insurance tendered Ms. Hodges the UIM policy
limits of $25, 000, after the offset of the tender of
liability on behalf of the tortfeasor. Id. ¶
12. Ms. Hodges alleges she paid GEICO for UIM coverage in the
amount of $75, 000, plus $1, 000 in medical payments to cover
her and her passengers. Id. ¶ 13. GEICO admits
that Ms. Hodges purchased $75, 000 in stacked UIM coverage,
but asserts that after the $50, 000 statutory offset, only up
to $25, 000 was available to Ms. Hodges. Answer ¶ 13,
ECF No. 6.
Hodges made a timely demand upon GEICO for UIM policy limits,
less the tortfeasor offset, providing medical records and
bills in support. Compl. ¶¶ 14-15, ECF No. 1-2.
GEICO responded with an offer of $10, 000. Id.
¶ 16. Plaintiff asserts that the single offer by GEICO
was unreasonably low, and she sued GEICO for breach of
insurance contract and duties of fair dealing (Count I);
breach of the Insurance Practices Act and bad faith (Count
II), violation of the Unfair Practices Act (Count III).
Id. ¶¶ 17-40. GEICO asserts that its offer
of $10, 000 was reasonable. Answer ¶ 16, ECF No. 6.
moves to bifurcate and stay discovery on the
extra-contractual claims until Plaintiff's underlying UIM
claim is resolved. Def.'s Mot. 1, ECF No. 22. Plaintiff
does not oppose the motion. Id.
convenience, to avoid prejudice, or to expedite and
economize, the court may order a separate trial of one or
more separate issues, [or] claims…” Fed.R.Civ.P.
42(b). A district court has broad discretion in determining
whether to sever claims for trial. Easton v. City of
Boulder, 776 F.2d 1441, 1447 (10th Cir. 1985).
Bifurcation may be in the interest of efficiency and judicial
economy when the issues are clearly separable or resolution
of one claim obviates the need to adjudicate other claims.
See Mandeville v. Quinstar Corp., 109 Fed.Appx. 191,
194 (10th Cir. July 14, 2004).
a determination of the contractual claim in favor of
Defendant would dispose of the extra-contractual claims,
Defendant has not established that convenience, efficiency,
or prejudice to Defendant warrants a stay of discovery and
separate trials before separate juries. In this case, the
breach of contract claim involves whether Plaintiff is
legally entitled to recover UIM benefits for damages related
to the motor vehicle accident. Def.'s Mot. 2, ECF No. 22.
The extra-contractual claims involve the fairness and
reasonableness of GEICO's investigation and offer of
settlement. See NM UJI 13-1702 (“In deciding
whether to pay a claim, the insurance company must act
reasonably under the circumstances to conduct a timely and
fair [investigation or evaluation] of the claim.”). The
parties have not convinced the Court that there will be no
overlap in evidence and testimony between Count I and Counts
II and III that compels bifurcation. There are similar
factual underpinnings between the contractual and
extra-contractual claims - the amount of the damages
sustained by Plaintiff in the accident. If a jury determines
there was a breach of contract, evidence regarding the
damages would be presented twice. Bifurcation and stay would
require the parties to restart discovery, thus prolonging the
course of the case.
this District has an extensive criminal caseload that causes
difficulty finding time to try civil cases. To economize this
Court's resources, the Court will not stay discovery.
Instead, the Court will allow discovery on all claims to
proceed, so that, should the jury find for Plaintiff on the
contractual issues, the parties can proceed before the same
jury on the extra-contractual claims. The Court will
therefore permit bifurcation of the issues at trial, but will
try all counts before the same jury. Bifurcating and staying
discovery at this stage is not in the interest of efficiency
and is not necessary to avoid prejudice. The Court's
decision on this motion is without prejudice, because the
motion was unopposed. Should the parties have additional
reasons or grounds for which they believe a stay of discovery
is beneficial to all parties, they may file another motion on
these issues, and the Court will consider the arguments.
THEREFORE ORDERED that Defendant's Unopposed Motion to
Bifurcate Trial and Stay Discovery on Plaintiffs
Extra-Contractual Claims (ECF No. 22) is GRANTED to the
extent that the Court will bifurcate at trial the
determination of the contractual issues from
extra-contractual issues, but will try all ...