Motion for Bifurcation (Judge Lon Hurwitz)


The motion is brought pursuant to CCP §§ 598 and 1048(b). Both sections are permissive. Section 598 reads, in pertinent part:

“The court may, when the convenience of witnesses, the ends of justice, or the economy and efficiency of handling the litigation would be promoted thereby, on motion of a party, after notice and hearing, make an order, no later than the close of pretrial conference in cases in which such pretrial conference is to be held, or, in other cases, no later than 30 days before the trial date, that the trial of any issue or any part thereof shall precede the trial of any other issue or any part thereof in the case, except for special defenses which may be tried first pursuant to Sections 597 and 597.5. The court, on its own motion, may make such an order at any time…” (Emphasis added.)

Section 1048(b) reads:

“The court, in furtherance of convenience or to avoid prejudice, or when separate trials will be conducive to expedition and economy, may order a separate trial of any cause of action, including a cause of action asserted in a cross-complaint, or of any separate issue or of any number of causes of action or issues, preserving the right of trial by jury required by the Constitution or a statute of this state or of the United States.” (Emphasis added.)

The moving party has the initial burden of proof to establish it is entitled to the relief requested. (Hopkins & Carley v. Gens (2011) 200 Cal.App.4th 1401, 1410 [citing Hearn v. Howard (2009) 177 Cal.App.4th 1193, 1205] [“The party seeking relief, however, bears the burden of proof in establishing a right to relief [for CCP reconsideration 473 motion.”]; Dill v. Berquist Construction Co. (1994) 24 Cal.App.4th 1426, 1440 [“[I]n motions for relief from default, the burden is on the moving party to show good cause for relief.”]; Huh v. Wang (2007) 158 Cal.App.4th 1406, 142 [“As the moving party, appellant had the burden of establishing entitlement to relief from the judgment.”].)

The moving and joining parties have not established they are entitled to bifurcation. Earth merely repeats that “the ends of justice and the economy and efficiency of handling this litigation would be promoted” by bifurcation, but does not demonstrate how bifurcation would achieve those ends. While Earth argues that standing would eliminate the need for the remainder of the trial, it has not shown how trying the issue of standing and liability1 prior to damages will prevent a “lengthy trial” or shorten the witness list. Further, the moving/joining parties are essentially asking the Court to make a pre-trial determination that Plaintiffs do not have standing by referring to portions of the lease—this is in essence an MSJ which is perhaps why the responding parties treated it as such.

Finally, Earth has not established that standing is an issue of law which the Court may dispose of independently. Additionally, even if it is, Earth has not established the proper vehicle for challenging standing prior to trial, as the time for a summary judgment has run and motions in limine are generally improper for issues determined in summary judgment. (Blanks v. Seyfarth Shaw LLP (2009) 171 Cal.App.4th 336, 375 [citing Amtower v. Photon Dynamics, Inc. (2008) 158 Cal.App.4th 1582, 1593 [“What in limine motions are not designed to do is to replace the dispositive motions prescribed by the Code of Civil Procedure.”]].)

RULING:

Before the Court is Defendant Earth Support Systems, Inc.’s Motion to Bifurcate Trial. Defendants Defendants/Cross-complainants/Cross-Defendants Wieland-Davco Corporation, NPBeach Marina LLC f/k/a NPB Marina LLC, and Blue Iron, Inc. filed a motion to join, which is Granted.

It is not enough for a party to state that bifurcation would “avoid prejudice, promote the convenience of witnesses, the ends of justice, or the economy and efficiency of handling the litigation.” The party must demonstrate to the Court that bifurcation will, in fact, do so by eliminating the need for certain witnesses, shortening trial time, eliminating the need for certain motions in limine, etc. The primary issue appears to be Plaintiffs’ standing. The moving and joining parties apparently argue that the lease precludes standing for Plaintiffs, which is an issue of law. (Golden Eagle Land Investment, L.P. v. Rancho Santa Fe Assn. (2018) 19 Cal.App.5th 399, 425 [“Standing is an issue of law that can be resolved at any appropriate point in the proceedings.”].) However, the Court declines to make a pre-trial determination as to standing without a proper vehicle to do so, e.g. a motion for summary judgment. The moving and joining parties cite no authority for the proposition that the Court may make a determination as to an issue of law in a motion to bifurcate under CCP § 598.

The Court denies the motion to bifurcate on the grounds that the moving party has not met its burden to establish that bifurcation would avoid prejudice, promote the convenience of witnesses, the ends of justice, or the economy and efficiency of handling the litigation.