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Cooper v. Fitzgerald

March 29, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robert F. Kelly, Sr. J.


Presently before the Court is the Motion to Sever filed by Defendants Karen Fitzgerald (District Director, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services ("USCIS"), Philadelphia District), Paul Novack (Director, USCIS, Vermont Service Center), Alejandro Mayorkas (Director, USCIS), Janet Napolitano (Secretary of Homeland Security), Robert S. Mueller, III (Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI")), and Eric H. Holder Jr. (Attorney General of the United States) (collectively "Defendants"). For the following reasons, Defendants' Motion is granted.


The seven Plaintiffs in this lawsuit -- Karpeh Cooper, Kelley Cooper, Afua Hammond, Anderson Knoble, Trudi Ann Brown-Cooper, Sabri Cooper, and Mamadou Sacko (collectively "Plaintiffs") -- filed a single Complaint to compel action on their individual applications for immigration benefits pending before the USCIS. In their First Amended Complaint, Plaintiffs seek among other things, declaratory relief, injunctive relief, and a Writ in the Nature of Mandamus to compel action on the outstanding applications.

In the instant Motion, Defendants allege that because of the dissimilarity of Plaintiffs' claims, they do not satisfy the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 20(a) test for permissive joinder. Specifically, Defendants contend that permissive joinder is inappropriate under Rule 20(a) because Plaintiffs' claims do not arise out of the same transaction or occurrence and lack a common question of law or fact. Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 21, the Defendants request that the Court sever the claims of Plaintiff Karpeh Cooper and dismiss without prejudice the remaining Plaintiffs' claims as a result of improper joinder.

The general background of the Plaintiffs, the types of immigration applications they have outstanding, and the status of those applications are described in the First Amended Complaint and Declaration ("Bausman Declaration") of Kathleen Bausman ("Bausman") that is attached to Defendants' Motion. Bausman is the acting Field Office Director of the USCIS Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Field Office. As the Field Office Director, Bausman is "responsible for monitoring and ensuring the timely adjudication of all immigration applications being adjudicated in [the] field office." (Defs.' Mot. to Sever, Bausman Declar., Ex. A ¶ 1.) Bausman reviewed the agency's administrative files for each Plaintiff in preparing the Declaration. (Id. ¶ 2.)

The Court will not rehash all of the factual details of each Plaintiff's application for immigration benefits, or the status of those applications. For purposes of the instant Motion, however, it is important to note that there are different immigration applications at issue (I-130 Petitions for Alien Relative and I-485 Applications to Adjust Status*fn1 ) and that each application is at a different stage in the adjudication process.*fn2


"A district court has broad discretion in deciding whether to sever a party pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 21." Boyer v. Johnson Matthey, Inc., No. 02-8382, 2004 WL 835082, at *1 (E.D. Pa. Apr. 16, 2004) (citing Fanning v. Black & Decker, Inc., No. 98-6141, 1999 WL 163628, at *1 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 18, 1999)). Rule 21 states: "Misjoinder of parties is not a ground for dismissing an action. On motion or on its own, the court may at any time, on just terms, add or drop a party." Fed. R. Civ. P. 21. The court may also sever any claim against a party. Fed. R. Civ. P. 21(a). Notably, "Rule 21 is 'most commonly invoked to sever parties improperly joined under Rule 20.'" Boyer, 2004 WL 835082, at *1 (citation omitted).

As a threshold matter, joinder is strongly encouraged. Hagan v. Rogers, 570 F.3d 146, 152 (3d Cir. 2009). However, joinder is only appropriate if both elements of Rule 20(a) are met. Lopez v. City of Irvington, No. 05-5323, 2008 WL 565776, at *2 (D.N.J. Feb. 28, 2008). Specifically, Rule 20(a) permits the joinder of plaintiffs in a single action if: "(1) the plaintiffs have a right to relief arising out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences; and (2) there exists some question of law or fact common to the plaintiffs." Cumba v. Merck & Co., Inc., No. 08-2328, 2009 WL 1351462, at *1 (D.N.J. May 12, 2009); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 20(a). Importantly, "Rule 20(a)'s purpose is to 'promote trial convenience and expedite the final determination of disputes, thereby preventing multiple law suits.'" Al Daraji v. Monica, No. 07-1749, 2007 WL 2994608, at *10 (E.D. Pa. Oct. 21, 2007) (citation omitted). The rule is designed "'to promote judicial economy . . . [and] reduce inconvenience, delay, and added expense.'" Id. (citation omitted).


As discussed below, the Court finds that the Plaintiffs are improperly joined because they do not meet the elements of permissive joinder outlined in Rule 20(a). In addition, judicial economy would not be served by the joinder of these Plaintiffs. Further, Plaintiffs will not be prejudiced by severance. Thus, the Court finds that severance of the Plaintiffs is appropriate pursuant to Rule 21.

A. "Same Transaction" Element

The first element of Rule 20(a), the "same transaction" or transactional relatedness prong, refers to the similarity in the factual background of the relevant claims. Coughlin v. Rogers, 130 F.3d 1348, 1350 (9th Cir. 1997). "'Courts generally apply a case-by-case approach' when considering whether the facts of several claims constitute a single transaction or occurrence, or a series of transactions or occurrences." Lopez, 2008 WL 565776, at *2. Significantly, "'[t]ransaction' is a word of flexible meaning, which 'may comprehend a series of many occurrences, depending ...

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