U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona has denied Swift Air executives Jeffry Conry’s and Boris Van Lier’s motion to separately try the issues of liability and damages in Saipan Air’s lawsuit against them.
In an order on Tuesday, Manglona said she doesn’t see how a joint trial of liability and compensatory damages would prejudice either side.
Believing that bifurcation would be wasteful, Manglona said the witnesses and most of the evidence relevant to liability are also relevant to the amount of damages and would overlap.
Manglona said damages are intertwined with detrimental reliance, one of the elements of Saipan Air’s fraud claim.
“The lion’s share of alleged compensatory damages relate to two large wire transfers, evidence of which cannot be separated from the issue of liability,” she said.
Manglona said Saipan Air’s counsel, Steven Pixley, an experienced trial attorney, has assured the court that he doesn’t expect the trial of all issues to take much more than a week.
“The court takes him at his word that the presentation of evidence of damages, including a reasonable opportunity for cross-examination by defendants, will not drag on and create confusion,” she said.
Manglona said the remaining issue is whether to separate the determination of punitive damages from the rest of the trial.
Citing precedent, Manglona said punitive and compensatory damage claims are normally tried together if the evidence overlaps substantially.
The judge said defendants have not asserted any other reason for separate determination of punitive damages.
“The danger of unfair prejudice in the liability phase from presentation of evidence of a defendant’s wealth usually arises in toxic-tort or product-liability cases against corporations with a net worth in the billions of dollars,” she said.
That is not the situation in this case, she added.
Manglona said because defendants’ primary concern about a joint trial of compensatory and punitive damages will be alleviated by evidentiary rulings, the request for separate determination of punitive damages is denied.
Conry and Van Lier, through counsel Michael White, asked the court to issue an order separating the liability and damages phases of the trial scheduled for Feb. 2, 2015.
White argued, among other things, that the issue of liability for the alleged fraud is separate and distinct from the amount of damages Saipan Air claims it is entitled to.
In its lawsuit, Saipan Air is seeking $2.54 million in compensatory damages and $10 million in punitive damages.
In Saipan Air’s opposition to the motion, Pixley said this case is not complex and bifurcation is not required. He said introducing all evidence to the jury in one proceeding is the most efficient way to go about this trial.
“Bifurcation will not contribute to judicial economy because it will result in two separate trials,” he pointed out.
Last month, Manglona ruled that Saipan Air’s fraud claim against Conry and Van Lier shall proceed, but not against Swift Air’s Donald A. Stukes.
Conry and Van Lier are currently employed by Arizona-based Swift Air, which emerged from bankruptcy in 2013.
Saipan Air filed the racketeering lawsuit against Conry, Van Lier, and Stukes in July 2012.
Swift Air filed for bankruptcy protection in Arizona shortly after notifying Saipan Air that it would not deliver two 757 aircraft and one 737 aircraft for Saipan Air’s program.
Saipan Air was unable to sue Swift Air directly because of the bankruptcy filing.
The trial, which will commence on Feb. 2, 2015, will be against the Conry and Van Lier relating to the fraud claims.