Judge: Daniel S. Murphy, Case: 20STCV13060, Date: 2023-03-22 Tentative Ruling

Case Number: 20STCV13060    Hearing Date: March 22, 2023    Dept: 32









  Case No.:  20STCV13060

  Hearing Date:  March 22, 2023


     [TENTATIVE] order RE:

defendant’s motion to bifurcate




On March 18, 2020, Sarah McClain-Fowler (“Plaintiff”) commenced this action against Eastside Union School District (“Defendant”), alleging seven causes of action stemming from alleged disability discrimination, retaliation, and failure to accommodate.  

On May 26, 2021, Defendant moved for summary judgment or adjudication in the alternative. On August 11, 2021, the Court granted summary adjudication on the FEHA claims but denied it on the Labor Code retaliation claim, finding among other things that Plaintiff did not fail to satisfy the Government Claims Act as a matter of law. On January 27, 2023, Defendant filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings against the remaining claim, arguing again that Plaintiff failed to comply with the Government Claims Act. The Court again rejected the argument and denied the motion on February 22, 2023.

On February 28, 2023, Defendant filed the instant motion to bifurcate, requesting the Court to decide whether Plaintiff satisfied the Government Claims Act before the substance of the retaliation claim goes to a jury trial.


            “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 . . . 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 . . . .” (Code Civ. Proc., § 598.) “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 . . . .” (Id., § 1048, subd. (b).) “It is within the discretion of the court to bifurcate issues or order separate trials of actions . . . and to determine the order in which those issues are to be decided.” (Royal Surplus Lines Ins. Co. v. Ranger Ins. Co. (2002) 100 Cal.App.4th 193, 205.)


            As a matter of law, the Court has already held that the claim requirement may be satisfied by mailing a package of documents that contain allegations of retaliation, even if the documents are not specifically labeled as a government claim and do not specifically identify the Labor Code. (Feb. 22, 2023 Order re MJOP 3:19-4:22.) To the extent that Defendant requests bifurcation to have the Court determine this issue as a matter of law before the jury trial, the Court denies this request because it has already made that determination. Defendant insists that the court decides issues of law, whereas the jury decides issues of fact. However, Defendant does not identify any issues of law that the Court has not already ruled on.

            Defendant argues that in the prior rulings, the Court held that Plaintiff’s compliance with the claims requirement is a triable issue. The Court held that there was at the very least a triable issue because that is the standard for a complaint to survive demurrer or summary judgment. However, the Court was not reserving the abovementioned legal issue for determination at a later date. The Court necessarily ruled on that issue in ruling on the motions. To the extent there are factual disputes over Plaintiff’s presentation of the claim, those should be resolved at the jury trial, and Defendant has no authority holding otherwise.   


            Defendant’s motion to bifurcate is DENIED.