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Marshall v. Pennsylvania Department of Corrections

United States District Court, Third Circuit

May 10, 2013

KERRY-X [MARSHALL], Plaintiff,
v.
PENNSYLVANIA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER[1]

MALACHY E. MANNION, District Judge.

On January 24, 2012, Plaintiff, Kerry-X Marshall, filed the above captioned, pro se action, on behalf of himself and four other individuals, [2] in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, at Civil No. 2:12-cv-00082. (See Doc. No. 7).

On February 1, 2012, Magistrate Judge Kelly issued a Report and Recommendation, recommending, inter alia, that the four parties who did not sign the Complaint be dismissed, and that the remaining claims be transferred to the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. (Doc. No. 2).

On February 17, 2012, Judge Bissoon adopted the Report and Recommendations in full, dismissed the four non-signatory Plaintiffs, and transferred the action to this Court. (Doc. No. 6).

On May 15, 2012, the Court, inter alia, denied Plaintiff's motion for preliminary injunction and directed the United States Marshal to serve the Complaint upon Defendants. (Doc. No. 21.) The United States Marshal Service served the Complaint on May 17, 2012. (See Doc. No. 28).

Presently before the Court are motions for permissive joinder, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 20, filed by James "Shakoor" Townsend, an inmate at the Mahanoy State Correctional Institution, Frackville, Pennsylvania, (See Doc. No. 17), and Shawn "Mustafa" Saunders, an inmate at the State Correctional Institution, Graterford, Pennsylvania. (See Doc. No. 23). For the reasons set forth below, these motions will be denied.

Discussion

In Hagan v. Rogers , 570 F.3d 146 (3d Cir.2009), the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit addressed certain considerations applicable to civil cases in which multiple prisoner-plaintiffs seek to join in one action pursuant to Rule 20.[3]

Rule 20 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides the following regarding permissive joinder of parties:

(1) Plaintiffs. Persons may join in one action as plaintiffs if:
(A) they assert any right to relief jointly, severally, or in the alternative with respect to or arising out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences; and
(B) any question of law or fact common to all plaintiffs will arise in the action.
(2) Defendants. Persons... may be joined in one action as defendants if:
(A) any right to relief is asserted against them jointly, severally, or in the alternative with respect to or arising out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences; and
(B) any question of law or fact common to all defendants will arise in the action.

Fed.R.Civ.P. 20(a).

The requirements prescribed by Rule 20(a) are to be liberally construed in the interest of convenience and judicial economy. See Swan v. Ray , 293 F.3d 1252, 1253 (11th Cir. 2002). However, the policy of liberal application of Rule 20 is not a license to join unrelated claims and defendants in one lawsuit. See, e.g., Pruden v. SCI Camp Hill , 252 Fed.App'x 436 (3d Cir.2007); George v. Smith , 507 F.3d 605 (7th Cir.2007); Coughlin v. Rogers , 130 F.3d 1348 (9th Cir.1997).

Moreover, Rule 21 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that, "[o]n 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." Similarly, a district court has broad discretion in deciding whether to sever a party or claim pursuant to Rule 21. Although Rule 21 is most commonly invoked to sever parties improperly joined under Rule 20, "the Rule may also be invoked to prevent prejudice or promote judicial efficiency." Lopez v. City of Irvington , 2008 WL 565776, *2 (D.N.J.2008); see also Sporia v. Pennsylvania Greyhound Lines, Inc. , 143 F.2d 105 (3d Cir.1944) (not limiting Rule 21 severance to cases of misjoinder); Wyndham Assoc. v. Bintliff , 398 F.2d 614 (2d Cir.) (same, citing Sporia), cert. denied, 393 U.S. 977 , 89 S.Ct. 444, 21 L.Ed.2d 438 (1968); Rohr v. Metropolitan Ins. & Cas. Co. , 2007 WL 163037 (E.D.La. Jan.17, 2007) (court may also consider whether jury confusion would result from the volume of evidence if the plaintiffs were joined); 4 James Wm. Moore et al., Moore's Federal Practice § 21.02(1) (3d ed.2007) (courts may issue severance orders under Rule 21, even in the absence of misjoinder and non-joinder of parties, "to construct a case for the efficient administration of justice").

Specific factors to be considered in determining whether severance is warranted include: "(1) whether the issues sought to be tried separately are significantly different from one another, (2) whether the separable issues require the testimony of different witnesses and different documentary proof, (3) whether the party opposing the severance will be prejudiced if it is granted, and (4) whether the party requesting severance will be prejudiced if it is not granted." German v. Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp. , 896 F.Supp. 1385, 1400 (S.D.N.Y. 1995).

In addition, a district court has the inherent power "to control the disposition of the causes on its docket with economy of time and effort for itself, for counsel, and for litigants." United States v. Colomb , 419 F.3d 292, 299 (5th Cir. 2005) (quoting Landis v. N. Am. Co. , 299 U.S. 248, 254, 57 S.Ct. 163, 81 L.Ed. 153 (1936)). "A court's inherent power to manage its caseload, control its docket, and regulate the conduct of attorneys before it, provides authority to fashion tools that aid the court in getting on with the business of deciding cases." Eash v. Riggins Trucking, Inc. , 757 F.2d 557, 567 (3d Cir.1985).

While the instant complaint seeks the shared remedy for the alleged denial of the First Amendment right to one's freedom to exercise religion, the complaint fails to set forth facts which are common to all Plaintiffs. (Doc. No. 7, complaint). While, "[u]nder the Rules, the impulse is toward entertaining the broadest possible scope of action consistent with fairness to the parties, " United Mine Workers of Am. v. Gibbs , 383 U.S. 715, 724 (1966) (footnote omitted), "[i]n making a joinder decision, the district court is guided by the underlying purpose of joinder, which is to promote trial convenience and expedite the resolution of disputes, thereby eliminating unnecessary lawsuits.' " Swan , 293 F.3d at 1253 (quoting Alexander v. Fulton County, Georgia , 207 F.3d 1303, 1323 (11th Cir. 2000)). "[T]he court has discretion to deny joinder if it determines that the addition of the party under Rule 20 will not foster the objectives of the rule, but will result in prejudice, expense or delay." Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1652 (3d ed.2009) (citations omitted); see also Chavez v. Illinois State Police , 251 F.3d 612, 632 (7th Cir. 2001) (a district court's discretion with respect to joinder "allows a trial court to consider, in addition to the requirements of Rule 20, 'other relevant factors in a case in order to determine whether the permissive joinder of a party will comport with the principles of fundamental fairness" (citations omitted)).

In this matter, in addition to an absence of shared facts or occurrences, is the absence of the proposed Plaintiffs' signatures on the complaint. The complaint is signed only by Marshall, and the attached supporting documentation refers only to Marshall. Id . Thus, the fact that the Complaint is signed only by Marshall, and is virtually silent as to any shared claims, suggest that a joinder of Plaintiff's claims with whatever challenges other Plaintiffs might wish to raise would not foster the objectives of the Rule; rather, it is likely to result in undue prejudice, unwarranted expense and/or unnecessary delay. Simply put, the claims set forth in the Complaint do not appear appropriate for joinder, cf. Pope v. Miller, Civil No. 07-0284, 2007 WL 2427978 (W.D. Okla. Aug. 21, 2007) (not appropriate to join access-to-courts claims and Eighth Amendment medical-care and conditions-of-confinement claims): proceeding with multiple, separate litigation for each Plaintiff under the same cause number would be distracting at best-and costly, confusing, and grossly inefficient at worst. See Johnson-Bey v. Indiana Department of Corrections, Civil No. 09-0249, 2009 WL 1691150 (N.D. Ind. June 16, 2009); Steward v. Mississippi, Civil No. 07-0184, 2007 WL 4375210 (S.D.Miss. Dec.12, 2007). Nor do the prospective Plaintiffs' motions support joinder.

Initially, the Court notes that inmate Saunders filed his motion for permissive joinder without a brief in support, as required by M.D. Pa. Local Rule 7.5, and his motion provides no information as to what facts or claims he shares with Plaintiff Marshall. Likewise, although inmate Townsend submitted a brief in support of his motion, he, too, fails to provide facts common with Plaintiff Marshall. In fact, there is no indication that either prospective Plaintiff was ever incarcerated in the same facility with Plaintiff Marshall, at the same time, experiencing the same alleged deprivations.

Moreover, Defendants submit the declaration of Keri Moore, Grievance Review Officer for the Secretary's Office of Inmate Grievances and Appeals, which reveals that neither Saunders, nor Townsend, ever appealed a grievance relating to religion or religious accommodations to the Secretary's Office for final review. (See Doc. Nos. 42, 43, Ex. A, Declaration of Keri Moore). As such, these prospective Plaintiffs would be barred from litigating any of the claims raised in the complaint.[4] Consequently, the Court declines to permit joinder of inmates Saunders and Townsend in the instant action. Inmates Saunders and Townsend are free, however, to pay the appropriate filing fee and file individual complaints.

NOW, THEREFORE, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED THAT:

1. The motions for joinder (Doc. Nos. 17, and 23) filed by inmates James "Shakoor" Townsend and Shawn "Mustafa" Saunders are DENIED.
2. Plaintiff's motions for leave to file a sur reply in response to Defendants' brief in opposition to the motions for joinder, (Doc. Nos. 66, and 68) are DISMISSED as moot.

Keith Michael Couture, Peter James Diiorio, Samuel Beardsley, Jr., Keith Couture Law Firm, Mandeville, LA, for Diane and Charlie ROHR, et al.

Judy Y. Barrasso, Shera J. Finn, Barrasso Usdin, Kupperman Freeman & Sarver, LLC, New Orleans, LA, for Metropolitan Insurance & Casualty Company.

ORDER AND REASONS

MARTIN L.C. FELDMAN, United States District Judge.

*1 Before the Court is the defendant's motion to sever and proceed separately. For the reasons that follow, the motion is GRANTED.

Background

Each plaintiff owns real property in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana and holds an insurance policy issued by Metropolitan Property & Casualty Insurance Company. The plaintiffs each allege damage to their property caused by Hurricane Katrina's landfall on August 29, 2005. They filed proofs of loss with Metropolitan, but were unable to resolve their claims. The plaintiffs did not have properties of equal value and of equal condition before Hurricane Katrina, do not have identical insurance policies, did not suffer identical property damage, and did not share the same adjustor. In addition, the plaintiffs' properties are in different parts of St. Bernard Parish.

On August 29, 2006, the plaintiffs filed a complaint in Louisiana state court alleging that Metropolitan is liable for the plaintiffs' property damage, failed to timely initiate loss adjustments for their claims, and has acted in bad faith in denying their claims. Metropolitan removed the lawsuit on November 20, 2006, invoking this Court's diversity jurisdiction.

Metropolitan now seeks severance under Rule 21 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

I.

A. Rule 20(a)

Rule 20(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure sets forth the requirements for permissive joinder of parties: "All persons may join in one action as plaintiffs [1] if they assert any right to relief... in respect of or arising out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences and [2] if any question of law or fact common to all these persons will arise in the action." "Both of these requirements must be satisfied in order to sustain party joinder under Rule 20(a).'" Johnson v. State Farm Fire & Cas., Co., No. 06-6248, 2006 WL 3714228, at *2 (E.D.La. Nov. 28, 2006) (Duval, J.) (quoting Wright, Miller & Kane, Federal Practice & Procedure, 1653 (1986)). District courts should generally employ a liberal approach to permissive joinder of claims to ensure fairness and promote judicial economy. See United Mine Workers v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 724 (1966).

The transaction and common question requirements "are not rigid tests." Wright, et al., supra, at § 1653. To determine "whether a particular factual situation constitutes a single transaction or occurrence for purposes of Rule 20, a case by case approach is generally pursued.'" Demboski v. CSX Transp., Inc., 157 F.R.D. 28, 29 (S.D.Miss.1994) (quoting Mosley v. Gen. Motors Corp., 497 F.2d 1130, 1333 (8th Cir.1974)).

B. Rule 21

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 21 provides that "[a]ny claim against a party may be severed and proceeded with separately." (emphasis added). This Court "has broad discretion to sever issues to be tried before it." Burnet v. United Gas Pipeline Co., 15 F.3d 500, 505 (5th Cir.1994); see also Anderson v. Red River Waterway Comm'n, 231 F.3d 211, 214 (5th Cir.2000) (same). A Rule 21 severance creates two (or more) distinct actions or suits where there was previously only one. United States v. O'Neil, 709 F.2d 361, 368 (5th Cir.1983).

*2 A district court is not limited under Rule 21 to remedying misjoinder; its discretion "is not so limited." Id. at 369. In addition to remedying misjoinder, the Court also enjoys discretion to sever an action that might cause delay or prejudice to a party. Applewhite v. Reichhold Chems., 67 F.3d 571, 574 (5th Cir.1995).

To determine whether claims should be severed, a court may consider the following factors: (1) whether the claims arose out of the same transaction or occurrence, (2) whether the claims present common questions of law or fact, (3) whether settlement or judicial economy would be promoted, (4) whether prejudice would be averted by severance, and (5) whether different witnesses and documentary proof are required for separate claims. See Vaz v. Allstate Prop. & Cas. Co., No. 1:06CV481-LTS-RHW, 2006 WL 2583733, at *1 (S.D.Miss. Sept. 6, 2006) (citing Morris v. Northrop Grumman Corp., 37 F.Supp.2d 556, 580 (S.D.N.Y.1999)). A court may also consider whether jury confusion would result from the volume of evidence if the plaintiffs were joined. See Pittman v. Purdue Pharma Co. , No. 3: 03CV152 (BN), 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9840, at *15 (S.D.Miss. Mar. 12, 2004).

II.

A.

Metropolitan claims that the plaintiffs fail to satisfy the two permissive joinder requirements of Rule 20(a). First, Metropolitan implies that there are no questions of fact common to all the plaintiffs because each plaintiff owns real property in a different part of St. Bernard Parish, and these properties varied in condition before Hurricane Katrina and sustained different amounts and types of damage after the hurricane. In addition, the insurance policies are not identical, nor did the plaintiffs share the same adjustor. Second, Metropolitan claims that because each of the insurance policies was executed separately and because each plaintiffs property suffered unique damage, there is no common transaction or occurrence. The plaintiffs, on the other hand, assert that the effects of Hurricane Katrina form the basis of a common occurrence.

The second prong of Rule 20(a) is disjunctive; the plaintiffs' claims need only have any question of law or fact in common. But even assuming that there is a common question of law among the plaintiffs' claims FN1 that would satisfy the second requirement of Rule 20(a), the plaintiffs have failed to satisfy the initial requirement of a common transaction or occurrence. Metropolitan's position has much support in recent court decisions from the Southern District of Mississippi, which, like this Court, is in the process of adjudicating Hurricane Katrina-related claims. In Comer v. Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co., for example, the plaintiffs sought leave to file a second amended complaint, requesting the court certify defendant classes under Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. No. 1:05CV436-LTD-RHW, 2006 WL 1066645, at *1 (S.D.Miss. Feb. 23, 2006). In denying the motion, Judge Senter wrote:

FN1. The plaintiffs each assert claims under

La. R.S. 22:658, 22:695, and 22:1220.

*3 1. Each property owner in Mississippi who had real and personal property damaged in Hurricane Katrina is uniquely situated. No two property owners will have experienced the same losses. The nature and extent of the property damage the owners sustain from the common cause, Hurricane Katrina, will vary greatly in its particulars, depending on the location and condition of the property before the storm struck and depending also on what combination of forces caused the damage. Thus, at least with respect to the issue of damages, each individual claim will require particular evidence to establish the cause of and the extent of the loss.
2. To the extent the property was insured, the particulars of coverage will vary from policy to policy.... In order to adjudicate the rights and liabilities between the policy holder and his insurance company, the particular terms of each policy must be considered.
Id. at *2. Similarly, in another case involving "hundreds of Plaintiffs [who were] joined in a single lawsuit, each asserting claims that ar[ose] out of damage to property caused by Hurricane Katrina, " the court concluded that
the Plaintiffs should be required to file separate complaints. Although there may be some common issues of law and fact, the Court finds that the Plaintiffs have not met the same transaction or occurrence prong of Rule 20(a). In a superficial sense, the hurricane was a common occurrence; however, the storm was vastly different in its effect depending on the specific geographic location of each particular home. Although Plaintiffs each held basically the same standard homeowner's policy, each insurance contract is a separate transaction.
Bradley v. Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co., No. 1:06CV528-LTS-RHW, 2006 WL 2594548, at *1 (S.D.Miss. Sept. 6, 2006); McFarland v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., No. 1:06CV466-LTS-RHW, 2006 WL 2577852, at * 1 (S.D.Miss. Sept. 6, 2006); Vaz v. Allstate Prop. & Cas. Co., No. 1:06CV481-LTS-RHW, 2006 WL 2583733, at *1 (S.D.Miss. Sept. 6, 2006).FN2
FN2. The situation before this Court is distinguishable from Johnson v. State Farm Fire & Casualty, Co., where that Section of this Court considered a motion to remand. No. 06-6248, 2006 WL 3714228, at *1 (E.D.La. Nov. 28, 2006) (Duval, J.). In Johnson, the joinder in question dealt with defendants, not plaintiffs, as is the case here. See id. at *2. The Johnson court noted that the "insurance contract[] is common among the parties.... [And] the common issues involve the allocation of damages among the parties [the insurer and the agent who sold the policy to the plaintiffs], and it could potentially lead to inconsistent results to allocate fault to litigate these claims in separate proceedings." Id. Here, however, the plaintiffs do not hold identical insurance policies, and there is only one defendant, eliminating the allocation-of-damages problem in Johnson.

This Court is persuaded by the reasoning of Comer and Bradley and concludes that the plaintiffs have failed to satisfy Rule 20(a)'s common transaction or occurrence requirement for permissive joinder. While each plaintiffs claims stem in some way from Hurricane Katrina, the hurricane can be considered no more than a common question of fact. It alone cannot serve as a common transaction or occurrence because the effects of the hurricane were unevenly felt, leaving each property owner in a unique situation based on the prior condition of the ...


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