Judge won’t bifurcate ‘Texas’ steakhouses’ trademark trial

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A federal judge refused to order separate trials on liability and damages for a Merrillville-based steakhouse chain accused of copying the trade dress and trademarks of a larger Texas-themed competitor.

Texas Roadhouse, which operates more than 500 restaurants, sued the Indiana-based Texas Corral chain, which operates 10 restaurants — six in Indiana and two each in Illinois and Michigan. Texas Corral moved to bifurcate, requesting the court first conduct a trial on the question of liability, and then a second trial on damages if necessary.

“Defendants argue that resolution of liability first will likely render resolution of damages unnecessary, or will at least streamline and focus the remaining damages issues,” Judge Joseph S. Van Bokkelen wrote Monday. “The Court is not convinced. It seems as likely that bifurcation would result in further protracted discovery disputes, duplicative written discovery, and depositions of the same witnesses twice. Also, of course, bifurcation might require two trials.”

Van Bokkelen wrote that bifurcation might avoid some prejudice to Texas Corral, but not enough to warrant a separate trial strictly on the question of liability. He said Texas Corral failed to show that Texas Roadhouse would not be unfairly prejudiced if the proceedings were bifurcated.

The judge previously denied Texas Corral’s motion to dismiss and granted Texas Roadhouse’s motions to compel discovery, and partially granted its motion for expenses including legal fees associated with discovery disputes.

The case in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana is Texas Roadhouse, Inc., et al. v. Texas Corral Restaurants, Inc., et al., 2:16-CV-28.

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