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David Lee Morris, Pamela Morris: and Randy Morris v. Ronald Kesserling

December 14, 2010

DAVID LEE MORRIS, PAMELA MORRIS: AND RANDY MORRIS, PLAINTIFFS
v.
RONALD KESSERLING, ET AL., DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: (magistrate Judge Prince)

(JUDGE CONNER)

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

I. Procedural Background

Pursuant to an Order entered on October 1, 2010 (Doc. 91), the Honorable Christopher C. Conner referred the Defendants' pending Motion to Sever to the undersigned for disposition.

Plaintiffs initiated this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on September 8, 2009 (Doc. 1) and thereafter filed an amended complaint (Doc. 45) on February 2, 2010 (Doc. 45). The amended complaint asserts civil rights violations under the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, to wit., unlawful search and seizure, false arrest and malicious prosecution. Named as Defendants are Ronald Kesselring; Officers Robert Kesselring,*fn1 David Zumbrum, James Rowe II, Joshua Brady and Kenneth Smith and Chief Randy Whitson*fn2 of the Borough of Hanover Police Department; Officers Grimm and Morehead*fn3 of the Reading Township Police Department; Officers Schneider and Hippensteel of the West Manheim Police Department; Adam Fabbri, presumed to be a law enforcement officer with the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources ("DCNR")*fn4 ;

Officer Heddinger; Scott Strausbaugh and Mark Barney.*fn5

On September 28, 2010, Defendants Strausbaugh and Barney filed a Motion to Sever and Brief in Support, asserting they were misjoined (Doc. 88-89). Defendant West Manheim Township, Schneider and Hippensteel filed a Response and a Brief in Opposition to the Motion on October 12, 2010 (Docs. 94-95), and Plaintiffs also filed a Brief in Opposition to the Motion on October 12, 2010. (Doc. 97).*fn6 A Reply Brief was filed by Strausbraugh and Barney on October 25, 2010 (Doc. 101). The Motion to Sever is now ripe for disposition and, for the reasons that follow, the Motion will be denied.

II. Factual Background

Viewing the facts in a light most favorable to the Plaintiffs reveals the following background: Plaintiff Pamela Morris and Defendant Ronald Kesselring were involved in a relationship that was terminated. Thereafter, Plaintiffs contend that Ronald Kesselring engaged in retaliation against Pamela Morris, her now-husband David Morris and his brother Randy Morris. Such retaliation included acts of unlawful search and seizure, false arrest, malicious prosecution and harassment and is alleged to have been carried out by members of the Hanover Police Department, of which Ronald Kesselring's brother, Robert Kesselring, was a member. Other law enforcement bodies are also alleged to have participated in these acts against Plaintiffs.

Plaintiffs have also alleged claims against Strausbaugh and Barney, who are adjoining landowners to Plaintiffs' 222 Hobart Road, Hanover, Pennsylvania property.*fn7 Plaintiffs assert that these Defendants refused to let Plaintiffs access their mailbox from their property via a driveway and constructed a gate to prevent access thereto. As a result of this denial of access, Plaintiffs contend they are required to drive a circuitous route, navigate a dangerous curve and park their vehicle in the public roadway to retrieve their mail. The amended complaint added this claim, alleging that these acts by Strausbaugh and Barney were part of a conspiracy with West Manheim Township police and supervisors to retaliate against Plaintiffs for filing the present action.

Defendants Strausbaugh and Barney seek to have this claim severed from the rest of the action, asserting it is not part of the same transaction or occurrence giving rise to the other claims asserted by Plaintiffs and, moreover, that they will be unduly burdened by participating in the litigation proceedings inasmuch as their issue involves only a small portion of the entire case.

III. Standard of Review

Defendants Strausbaugh and Barney bring the present Motion pursuant to Rule 21, which provides: "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. The court may also sever any claim against a party." FRCP 21. "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); Rodin Properties-Shore Mall, N.V. v. Cushman & Wakefield of Pennsylvania, Inc., 49 F. Supp. 2d 709, 721 (D.N.J.1999). Notably, "Rule 21 is 'most commonly invoked to sever parties improperly joined under Rule 20.'" Boyer, 2004 WL 835082, at *1 (citation omitted). Rule 21 may also be invoked to prevent prejudice or promote judicial efficiency. Id. at *4 n. 1; see also United States v. Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp., No. 86-1094, ...


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