726 F.2d 259 (5th Cir. 1984), 83-2378, Rosales v. Honda Motor Co., Ltd.

Docket Nº:83-2378
Citation:726 F.2d 259
Party Name:Raul ROSALES, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. HONDA MOTOR COMPANY, LTD., Defendant-Appellee.
Case Date:March 09, 1984
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
 
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Page 259

726 F.2d 259 (5th Cir. 1984)

Raul ROSALES, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

HONDA MOTOR COMPANY, LTD., Defendant-Appellee.

No. 83-2378

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

March 9, 1984

Page 260

Weir & Alvarado, Warren Weir, San Antonio, Tex., for plaintiff-appellant.

Jack D. Maroney, Wayne Prescott, Jan Soifer, Austin, Tex., for defendant-appellee.

Appeal from the United States Court for the Southern District of Texas.

Before CLARK, Chief Judge, TATE and HIGGINBOTHAM, Circuit Judges.

TATE, Circuit Judge:

The question to be decided is whether, in a diversity case, a federal district court is authorized within its discretion under Fed.R.Civ.P. 42(b) to order a bifurcated trial on the issues of liability and damages, despite an alleged state-law policy applicable in state courts that in personal-injury cases the issues are so intertwined that such bifurcated trials are impermissible. We hold that this mode of trying a dispute in federal court, specifically authorized by the federal rules of civil procedure, is primarily procedural in nature and that federal procedural law controls.

In this Texas diversity action, which had been removed by the defendant ("Honda") to the federal district court on the ground of diversity, the plaintiff Rosales sues for personal injuries allegedly caused by product defect. Rosales appeals from a take-nothing judgment that resulted from a jury verdict adverse to him. The single issue raised by the plaintiff Rosales on his appeal concerns the action of the district court, over his objection, in ordering separate trials, as authorized by Fed.R.Civ.P. 42(b), 1 on the issues of liability and damages. 2

The plaintiff's sole contention of error in this respect is that, as a matter of law, the plaintiff in this Texas diversity case was entitled under Texas substantive law to one indivisible trial, without bifurcation, because a federal court trying a diversity case is required to follow state law in matters of substantive rights. Erie Railroad Company v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 58 S.Ct. 817, 82 L.Ed. 1188 (1938). We affirm, rejecting the plaintiff's contention.

I.

Preliminarily, we note that the federal rule in question has consistently been interpreted as sufficiently broad to permit, under proper circumstances, separate trials of the issues of liability and of damages in personal injury suits. We do not, therefore, reach the issue of whether Erie commands the enforcement of an allegedly substantive state rule not within the scope of the federal procedural rule. Walker v. Armco Steel Corporation, 446 U.S. 740, 750, 100 S.Ct. 1978, 1985, 64 L.Ed.2d 659 (1980).

Consequently, the analysis in Hanna v. Plumer, 380 U.S. 460, 85 S.Ct. 1136, 14 L.Ed.2d 8 (1965) applies. Id. See also 19 Wright, Miller, and Cooper, Federal Practice and Procedure Sec. 4510 (1982). In Hanna v. Plumer, clarifying prior jurisprudence (described in Walker, supra, 446 U.S. at 744-49, 100 S.Ct. at 1982-84 and at Wright, Miller, and Cooper, supra, Sec. 4508), the Court explained that, when a Federal Rule is clearly applicable, Erie does not constitute "the appropriate test of the validity

Page 261

and therefore the...

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