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Maley v. Corizon Health, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Savannah Division

March 25, 2019

BELINDA LEE MALEY, individually and on behalf of the Estate of Matthew Clinton Loflin, deceased; and GENE LOFLIN, individually; Plaintiffs,
v.
CORIZON HEALTH, INC., a Delaware corporation; and SCOTT H. KENNEDY, M.D.; Defendants.

          ORDER

          WILLIAM T. MOORE, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         Before the Court is Defendants' Motion in Limine. (Doc. 119.) In their motion, Defendants request that this Court trifurcate the upcoming trial in this case, exclude some of Plaintiffs' potential evidence and implement a variety of other miscellaneous rules at trial. Plaintiffs have provided a detailed response to Defendants' motion. (Doc. 120.) Without the context of trial and the exact testimony or evidence at issue, the Court is unable to fully consider many of Defendants' requests. To the extent that the Court is able to rule on Defendants' requests or offer guidance to the parties, the Court has provided a detailed discussion below. For the following reasons, Defendants' motion is GRANTED IN PART, DENIED IN PART and DEFERRED IN PART.

         1. Trifurcation

         In their motion, Defendants first request that this Court trifurcate the trial in this case to allow for the jury to separately consider (1) whether Defendant Kennedy was deliberately indifferent to Matthew Loflin's serious medical condition; (2) whether Defendant Corizon maintained a policy or custom that constituted deliberate indifference to Loflin's medical condition and if that policy or custom caused Defendant Kennedy's deliberate indifference; and (3) what amount of punitive damages and attorneys' fees are warranted in this case. (Doc. 119 at 2-4.) Defendants contend that trifurcating the trial will help to avoid confusion of the issues in this case. Defendants assert that Defendant Corizon can only be held liable if the jury first finds that Defendant Kennedy was deliberately indifferent to Loflin's medical needs. (Id.) Accordingly, Defendants allege that it would be most practical to consider whether Defendant Kennedy was deliberately indifferent to Loflin's medical needs before allowing the jury to consider whether that violation was a result of a policy or custom maintained by Defendant Corizon. (Id.)

         After careful consideration, the Court disagrees with the fundamental premise of Defendants' argument and, accordingly, denies Defendants' request to trifurcate the trial. Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 42 <b), the court may, "for convenience, to avoid prejudice, or to expedite and economize, [] order a separate trial of one or more separate issues, claims, crossclaims, counterclaims, or third-party claims." When determining whether to try issues separately courts consider various factors including:

(1) convenience; (2) prejudice; (3) expedition; and (4) economy; a court reviewing a motion for separate trials may properly consider (5) whether the issues sought to be tried separately are significantly different; (6) whether they are triable by jury or the court; (7) whether discovery has been directed to a single trial of all issues; (8) whether the evidence required for each issue is substantially different; (9) whether one party would gain some unfair advantage from separate trials; (10) whether a single trial of all issues would create the potential for jury bias or confusion; and (11) whether bifurcation would enhance or reduce the possibility of a pretrial settlement.

Kimberly-Clark Corp. v. James River Corp. of Va., 131 F.R.D. 607, 608-09 (N.D.Ga. 1989).

         In this case, the Court finds that there is a substantial overlap between the facts that could potentially prove that Defendant Kennedy was deliberately indifferent to Loflin's medical condition and the facts supporting Plaintiffs' theory that Defendant Corizon is liable for maintaining a policy or custom to deny access to medical care in order to save money.

         Plaintiffs' case is premised on the theory that Defendant Kennedy made decisions to delay Loflin's access to medical care because of Defendant Corizon's cost-saving policy. Accordingly, the Court does not see the benefit of separately trying these closely-related issues.

         Moreover, the Court disagrees with Defendants' assertion that liability against Defendant Corizon can only be found if a jury first concludes that Defendant Kennedy was deliberately indifferent to Loflin's medical condition. In order to prove their claim against Defendant Corizon, Plaintiffs must be able "to show Ml) that [Loflin's] constitutional rights were violated; (2) that [Defendant Corizon] had a custom or policy that constituted deliberate indifference to that constitutional right; and (3) that the policy or custom caused the violation.'" Bankshot Billiards, Inc. v. City of Ocala, 634 F.3d 1340, 1349 (11th Cir. 2011) (quoting McDowell v. Brown, 392 F.3d 1283, 1289 (11th Cir. 2004)). Under the first prong, Plaintiffs are only required to prove that Loflin's constitutional rights were violated, not that Defendant Kennedy specifically violated Loflin's constitutional rights. As a result, trying the issue of Defendant Kennedy's liability separately from Defendant Corizon's liability would not provide any apparent benefit. In fact, the Court is concerned that trying the issues separately would actually cause more confusion of the issues.

         While the Court will not trifurcate the trial, the Court will bifurcate this trial in order to allow the jury to separately consider Defendants' liability from the issue of punitive damages. At the pre-trial conference in this case, the parties expressly provided their consent to bifurcating the trial. Accordingly, the jury will only be permitted to hear evidence related to punitive damages after the jury considers the issue of Defendants' liability.

         2. Opinion Testimony Regarding Whether Defendants were "Deliberately Indifferent"

         Next, Defendants "anticipate that Plaintiffs may try to solicit opinions from witnesses regarding whether the defendants were deliberately indifferent to Matthew Loflin's medical needs." (Doc. 119 at 4.) Defendants assert that witnesses should not be permitted to offer their opinions as to whether Defendants were deliberately indifferent to Loflin's medical needs because that determination depends on a subjective inquiry into what the Defendants knew at the time they were providing care to Loflin. (Id. at 4-6.) Because the inquiry is subjective, Defendants contend that other witnesses cannot testify as to what Defendants knew at the time of the events of this case. (Id.) For example, Defendants cite that "witnesses who were not present for the conversations between Dr. Kennedy and Dr. Pugh at issue in this case should not be permitted to opine what Dr. Kennedy was thinking based on other interactions." (Id. at 5-6.)

         Although the Court generally agrees with Defendants' argument, the Court is unable to conclude at this time that any specific testimony should be excluded. Under the Federal Rules of Evidence, lay witnesses are not permitted to speculate and must base their testimony on their own interactions and perceptions. See Fed.R.Evid. 701. Moreover, the Court agrees that expert witnesses should not offer legal conclusions about whether Defendants Corizon or Kennedy were deliberately indifferent to Loflin's medical needs. See Fed.R.Evid. 702; see also Omar v. Babcock, 177 Fed.Appx. 59, 59 n.5 (11th Cir. 2006)(upholding a district court's decision not to permit an expert to testify as to the state of mind of the defendants) .

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 704, however, an expert's "opinion is not objectionable just because it embraces an ultimate issue." Without the context of trial and the specific testimony, this Court is unable to say whether any given testimony will violate these general principles. Accordingly, the Court defers ruling on this issue.

         3. Opinion Testimony Regarding an Alleged Pattern of Substandard Care

         Next, Defendants raise concerns that "Plaintiffs will attempt to argue and introduce conclusory evidence in the form or (sic.) an opinion that Corizon Health maintained a 'pattern' of substandard care." (Doc. 119 at 6.) Defendants contend that no witness should be permitted to offer conclusory opinions as to the legal issues in this case. (Id.) Instead, Defendants contend that Plaintiffs must offer "admissible evidence showing a significant number of substantially similar events to prove their case." (Id.) In response, Plaintiffs assert that they do not intend to introduce any impermissible evidence. (Doc. 120 at 5.) Plaintiffs, however, assert that Defendants have incorrectly stated that Plaintiffs must prove a pattern of substandard care in order to succeed at trial. (Id.) Instead, Plaintiffs argue that they are only required to show that Defendant Corizon maintained a policy or custom of deliberate indifference. (Id.)

         As an initial matter, the Court pauses to address Plaintiffs' assertion that Defendants have mischaracterized what Plaintiffs are required to show at trial. In their response, Plaintiffs contend that if they "demonstrate to the jury's satisfaction that Ma]n act performed pursuant to a custom has not been formally approved by an appropriate decision maker' or that the custom or policy itself is unconstitutional, Corizon Health may fairly be subjected to liability." (Id.) Within this statement, Plaintiffs seem to suggest that they could prove that Defendant Corizon maintained a custom of denying access to medical care based on one isolated incident. To the extent that Plaintiffs make this assertion, this interpretation of the law is incorrect. It is well established that "[a] single incident would not be so pervasive as to be a custom." Grech v. Clayton Cty., Ga., 335 F.3d 1326, 1330 n.6 (11th Cir. 2003). Rather, a plaintiff can establish the existence of a custom by showing such "a longstanding and widespread practice [that it] is deemed authorized by the policymaking officials because they must have known about it but failed to stop it." Brown v. City of Fort Lauderdale, 923 F.2d 1474, 1481 (11th Cir. 1991). If a plaintiff is unable to show a series of constitutional violations to establish a custom, the plaintiff may still be able to succeed by showing that Defendant Corizon implemented a policy that was itself unconstitutional. Craig v. Floyd Cty., Ga., 643 F.3d 1306, 1310 (11th Cir. 2011) (citing Estate of Novack ex rel. Turbin v. Cty. of Wood, 226 F.3d 525, 531 (7th Cir. 2000)).

         With respect to Defendants' request to limit witness testimony about an alleged pattern of substandard care, the Court is unable to fully rule on Defendants' request. At this point, Defendants have not provided any specific testimony for this Court's consideration. Without the context of trial or the specific testimony at issue, this Court defers ruling on Defendants' request. The parties are reminded, however, that the evidence at trial will be guided by the Federal Rules of Evidence.

         4. Arguments Amounting to Respondent Superior Liability Against Corizon

         Here, Defendants request that the Court should prohibit Plaintiffs from making any argument or allegation that Defendant Corizon can be liable under a theory of respondent superior. (Doc. 119 at 7-8.) Defendants assert that Defendant Corizon can only be held liable if Defendant Corizon maintains a pattern or custom of deliberate indifference. (Id.) While Defendants are correct that Defendant Corizon cannot be held liable under a theory of respondent superior, Green, 335 F.3d at 1329, the Court cannot exclude any evidence at this time. Defendants have not pointed to any potential evidence for this Court's consideration. Moreover, as Plaintiffs correctly point out, evidence which shows that a Corizon employee was deliberately indifferent to an inmate's medical condition may be relevant to whether Defendant Corizon maintained a policy or custom of deliberate indifference. (Doc. 120 at 5-6.) Because the issues are closely related, the Court cannot exclude any evidence based on Defendants' request at this time and defers ruling on this issue until trial.

&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;5. Betty ...


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