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Gonzalez v. Angelus Sanitary Canning Machine Co.

IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA


November 2, 2010

MARIO GONZALEZ, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS
v.
ANGELUS SANITARY CANNING MACHINE COMPANY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS/THIRD PARTY PLAINTIFFS
v.
ACC MEAT COMPANY, LLC D/B/A ACC MEAT CANNING CO., ET AL., THIRD PARTY DEFENDANTS

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Christopher C. Conner United States District Judge

(Judge Conner)

MEMORANDUM

This is a diversity action filed by plaintiffs Mario Gonzalez and Lisa Gonzalez against Angelus Sanitary Canning Machine Company ("Angelus"), HEMA Technologies, S.A. ("HEMA"), Sidel, Inc. ("Sidel"), The IAMS Co. ("IAMS"), Alard Equipment Corp. ("Alard"), and Northbrook Engineering and Sales ("Northbrook"), alleging state law negligence, strict liability, and breach of warranty claims. Defendants HEMA, Sidel, IAMS, Alard, and Northbrook (collectively "third party plaintiffs") filed a third party complaint (Doc. 49) against ACC Meat Company, LLC ("ACC") on June 2, 2010. Presently before the court is ACC's motion (Doc. 52) to strike pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 14(a)(4), or in the alternative to dismiss pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6) the third party complaint. For the foregoing reasons the court will deny the motion.

I. BACKGROUND

On or about December 15, 2008, plaintiff Mario Gonzalez, an employee of Brother and Sister Food Company ("Brother and Sister"), was working on equipment manufactured and/or sold by defendants/third party plaintiffs when his jacket got caught in the moving parts of the equipment.*fn1 (Doc. 27 ¶ 44). Gonzalez was pulled into the equipment causing serious and permanent injuries to his left hand, forearm and arm. (Doc. 27 ¶ 44).

Plaintiffs filed the instant action against Angelus, HEMA, and Northbrook on June 29, 2009, in the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas. On July 27, 2009, defendant Northbrook removed the matter to this court. (Doc. 1).*fn2 The court issued a Case Management Order (Doc. 24) on October 20, 2009, setting a discovery deadline of August 2, 2010. Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint on November 10, 2009, joining Sidel, IAMS and Alard as defendants. (Doc. 27). On May 24, 2010, defendants HEMA, Sidel, IAMS, Alard, and Northbrook sought leave to file a third party complaint (Doc. 46), which the court granted on June 1, 2010. (Doc. 48). Third party plaintiffs filed their complaint on June 2, 2010 against ACC alleging ACC was the owner of the equipment at issue and altered the equipment in a way that resulted in plaintiffs' injuries. (Doc. 49). On June 25, 2010, ACC filed the present motion (Doc. 52) to strike or in the alternative to dismiss the third party complaint as untimely and materially prejudicial. The motion has been fully briefed and is now ripe for disposition.

II. DISCUSSION

ACC argues that the court should strike the third party complaint because it is untimely under local rules of court and it unduly prejudices ACC. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 14(a)(4) states that "[a]ny party may move to strike the third-party claim, to sever it, or to try it separately." Under local rules, a motion for leave to join a third party defendant "shall be made within three (3) months after an order has been entered setting the case for trial, or within six (6) months after the date of service of the moving defendant's answer to the complaint, whichever shall first occur." L.R. 14.1. The court may suspend the rule for good cause. See L.R. 14.3 ("The provisions of this rule may be suspended upon a showing of good cause."); see also L.R. 1.3 (stating that "[w]hen a judge of this court issues any order in a specific case which is not consistent with these rules, such order shall constitute a suspension of these rules for such case only and only to the extent that it is inconsistent.").

The parties disagree regarding the timeliness of the motion for leave to join ACC as a third party defendant,*fn3 however, the court need not resolve the dispute because the court finds that neither plaintiffs nor ACC will be unduly prejudiced by joinder in the instant matter and judicial economy warrants joinder of ACC past the deadlines prescribed in federal and local rules.

The purpose of Rule 14 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is to reduce duplicative litigation. Schwab v. Erie Lackawanna R.R. Co., 438 F.2d 62, 67 (3d Cir. 1971). Thus, in the interest of judicial economy, leave to join third parties is liberally granted by federal courts. See Con-Tech Sales Defined Ben. Trust v. Cockerham, 715 F. Supp. 701, 704 (E.D. Pa 1989). In determining whether to permit joinder, federal courts consider: (1) the possibility prejudice to the plaintiff; (2) the complication of issues at trial; (3) the probability of trial delay, and (4) the timeliness of the motion. Schlegel v. Wilson-Cook Medical, Inc., No. 1:05-CV-0660, 2007 WL 465528 at *5 (M.D. Pa. Feb. 8, 2007); Con-Tech Sales Defined Ben. Trust, 715 F. Supp. at 704 (citing O'Mara Enterprises, Inc. v. Mellon Bank, N.A., 101 F.R.D. 668, 670 (W.D. Pa. 1983).

First, plaintiffs are not prejudiced by joinder of ACC through a third party complaint at this stage in the litigation. The same facts alleged by plaintiffs are at issue in third party plaintiffs' complaint against ACC. This court has already decided that plaintiffs are not prejudiced by an extension of the discovery deadline and a later trial date, as made clear by the court's orders (Docs. 56, 61, 63) issued on July 27, 2010, September 8, 2010, and October 29, 2010, extending discovery deadlines in the instant matter.

ACC argues, however, that the court should consider the prejudice to ACC by joining them at this stage. ACC argues that adding them as a party now will be materially prejudicial to them because they have been unable to participate in the discovery that has occurred prior to the third party complaint. (Doc. 53 at 6). Additionally, ACC alleges that the discovery deadline, less than two months away at the time of the filing of the third party complaint,*fn4 left ACC insufficient time to investigate the claims and prepare a defense, and that they have been prejudiced by the fact that their officers were deposed without the benefit of counsel. (Id.) The court finds any prejudice to ACC to be slight in comparison to the judicial economy of trying virtually the same factual and legal disputes in one proceeding. The court has extended discovery deadlines and ACC's officers will likely testify at trial regardless of whether ACC is a party to the matter due to the officers' connection to plaintiff's employer, Brother and Sister.

Second, adding ACC will not complicate the issues for trial. The central issue in this matter is whether there was a safety guard on the equipment and the adequacy of that guard. Third party plaintiffs complaint alleges ACC negligently operated and installed the equipment without the guard. (Doc. 49 ¶ 48). The facts at issue in the plaintiffs' complaint and the third party complaint are essentially the same.

Third, joinder of ACC will not unreasonably delay the trial. Parties have been granted an extension of the discovery deadline to November 2, 2010, and trial is set for April 4, 2011. (See Doc. 61). Given the substantial similarity of facts and issues in the complaint and third party complaint, the slight delay of trial is not unreasonable in order to adjudicate the rights of all persons in the controversy and prevent multiplicity of suits-the exact purpose of federal civil procedure joinder rules. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 14; Con-Tech Sales Defined Ben. Trust, 715 F. Supp. at 704.

Fourth, the timeliness of third party plaintiffs' motion to file a third party complaint and join ACC in the instant matter is in dispute. The court need not resolve this dispute because the court finds that the other factors weigh in favor of permitting the third party complaint against ACC to proceed. The court may suspend Local Rules in its discretion and for good cause, see L.R. 1.3; L.R. 14.3, and the court granted third party plaintiffs' motion for leave to file a third party complaint with full knowledge of the requirements of Local Rule 14.1. See Schlegel, 2007 WL 465528 at *6 (citing Pa. Real Estate Inv. Trust v. SPS Techs., Inc. v. Kulicke & Soffa Indus., No. 94-CV-3154, 1995 WL 687003 (E.D. Pa. Nov. 20, 1995).

The court finds that allowing joinder of ACC through the third party complaint prejudices neither the plaintiffs nor the third party defendant, does not complicate the issues for trial, and does not unreasonably delay trial. The judicial economy of trying common questions of fact against all persons in the controversy outweighs any minimal delay and disruption borne by the plaintiffs and ACC in the instant matter.*fn5

III. CONCLUSION

For the foregoing reasons, ACC's motion (Doc. 52) to strike, or in the alternative, dismiss for failure to state a claim, the third party complaint will be denied.

An appropriate order follows.

ORDER

AND NOW, this 2nd day of November, 2010, upon consideration of third party defendant ACC Meat Company's motion (Doc. 52) to strike the third party complaint (Doc. 49), or in the alternative to dismiss pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6), and for the reasons set forth in the accompanying memorandum it is hereby ORDERED that the motion (Doc. 52) to strike, or in the alternative to dismiss is DENIED.


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