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GRIGSBY v. KANE

March 19, 2003

KAREN GRIGSBY AND JEFFREY BROWN PLAINTIFFS
v.
YVETTE KANE, ET AL., DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gregory M. Sleet, United States District Judge.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

On December 2, 1999, the plaintiffs, Karen Grigsby ("Grigsby") and Jeffrey Brown ("Brown"), filed the above-captioned action alleging civil rights violations. Brown and Grigsby filed separate amended complaints on March 16, 2000 and March 30, 2000, respectively. Grigsby filed a second amended complaint on June 18, 2001. In her complaint, Grigsby alleges violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1981, 1983, 1985, and 1986. Brown alleges violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

Presently before the court are the defendants' omnibus motions to dismiss, Brown's motion to sever, and Grigsby's motion to disqualify the law firm of Hamburg & Golden, P.C.

II. BACKGROUND

Grigsby and Brown once worked as attorneys for the State of Pennsylvania's Bureau of Professional Licensing and Occupational Affairs ("the Bureau"). The Bureau oversees the conduct of doctors, dentists, nurses, and other professionals in order to determine whether they are complying with the relevant state laws governing their occupations.

According to the complaints, once a new political administration took office, the Bureau established a quota system to use when determining which healthcare professionals should be prosecuted for violating the law. Grisgby and Brown spoke out against this new policy. As a result, they claim they were fired. Grigsby also claims that, prior to her termination, she was otherwise discriminated against based on her race.

Grigsby and Brown now seek to recover for these purported wrongs against numerous state employees associated with the Bureau, as well as from the former Secretary of the Commonwealth ("the Commonwealth defendants"), and several private entities.*fn1 In his amended complaint, Brown also seeks certification of two classes.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

The purpose of a motion to dismiss is to test the sufficiency of a complaint, not to resolve disputed facts or decide the merits of the case. See Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 183 (3d Cir. 1993). Thus, in deciding a motion to dismiss, the factual allegations of the complaint must be accepted as true. See Graves v. Lowery, 117 F.3d 723, 726 (3d Cir. 1997); Nami v. Fauver, 82 F.3d 63, 65 (3d Cir. 1996). In particular, the court looks to "whether sufficient facts are pleaded to determine that the complaint is not frivolous, and to provide defendants with adequate notice to frame an answer." Colburn v. Upper Darby Tp., 838 F.2d 663, 666 (3d Cir. 1988). However, the court need not "credit a complaint's `bald assertions' or `legal conclusions' when deciding a motion to dismiss." Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3rd Cir. 1997). A court should dismiss a complaint "only if it is clear that no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations." See Graves, 117 F.3d at 726; Nami, 82 F.3d at 65 (both citing Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)). Thus, in order to prevail, a moving party must show "beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim [that] would entitle him to relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957).

IV. DISCUSSION

A. Brown's Motion to Sever

Under Rule 21, "[a]ny claim against a party may be severed and proceeded with separately." FED. R. Civ. P. 21 (1999). Applying this standard, the court has virtually unfettered discretion in determining whether or not severance is appropriate. See Rodin Properties-Shore Mall, N.V. v. Cushman & Wakefield of Pennsylvania, Inc., 49 F. Supp.2d 709, 721 (D. N.J. 1999).

In the present case, the court concludes that Grigsby and Brown have alleged two sets of claims that are factually dissimilar. Indeed, the only group of defendants common to both plaintiffs is the Commonwealth defendants. Yet, Grigsby appears to seek recovery from these defendants based primarily on employment discrimination due to race. Brown, on the other hand, alleges that he was fired in retaliation for exposing Bureau's allegedly illegal "quota" system to the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors. Thus, Grigsby's allegations concerning her work environment and the manner in which cases were assigned to her are completely distinct from any of Brown's allegations.

Additionally, Brown and Grigsby have each filed independent amended complaints. It is apparent from these complaints that the rift between the plaintiffs has grown. Specifically, Brown alone has added the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors as a defendant. Grigsby, on the other hand, seeks damages from the Legal Aid Society of Chester County and two of its employees, as well as from David Dearden, Esquire and his law firm. The claims against these various defendants are distinct to the individual plaintiffs.

Thus, while the court is mindful that Grigsby's suit may encompass some of Brown's factual allegations, the court concludes that it would lead to substantially more confusion and prejudice for all parties concerned were the court not to sever the cases. In accordance with the court's December 19, 2000 oral ruling, the cases will not be severed through ...


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