Surrett v. YBE Oxford LLC et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER SEVERING LAWSUIT. Signed by Judge Virginia Emerson Hopkins on 1/4/2013. (JLC)
2013 Jan-04 PM 05:27
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
TERESA G. BRANHAM, JODI E.
BROWN, MINDY SURRETT, and
KIM M. ALMANZA,
) Case No.: 1:12-CV-2617-VEH
YBE OXFORD, LLC d/b/a
GOLDEN CORRAL BUFFET &
GRILL; RODNEY ROBERSON and )
ALICIA FLETCHER, Individually, )
AND ORDER SEVERING LAWSUIT
Plaintiffs initiated this job discrimination lawsuit on August 2, 2012. (Doc. 1).
After reviewing the complaint preliminarily, the court entered an order on September
4, 2012, directing Plaintiffs to show cause why the court should not sever their claims
into discrete actions due to their uniqueness. (Doc. 7); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 21
(“The court may also sever any claim against a party.”). Plaintiffs responded on
September 24, 2012, indicating that all the claims asserted in this case are properly
joined and should continue to proceed together. (Doc. 9).
After Defendants had answered the complaint, the court entered an order (Doc.
17) requiring them to respond to the severance issue. Defendants did so on December
23, 2012, indicating that “[s]everance is appropriate here because Plaintiffs’ claims
arise out of separate sets of facts and involve distinct and unrelated causes of action.”
(Doc. 20 at 2). Defendants also maintain that severance would promote judicial
Rule 21 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.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 21 (emphasis added).
Severance under Rule 21 is directly related to permissive joinder of parties
under Rule 20. As Rule 20 pertains to joining plaintiffs in pertinent part:
(a) Persons Who May Join or Be Joined.
(1) Plaintiffs. Persons may join in one action as plaintiffs
(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
(B) any question of law or fact common to all
plaintiffs will arise in the action.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 20(a).
A district court’s decision to allow joinder or order severance is a discretionary
one. See, e.g., Nor-Tex Agencies, Inc. v. Jones, 482 F.2d 1093, 1100 (5th Cir. 1973)
(“The district judge acted within his discretion in allowing the joinder under Rule
20(a), as well as denying the motion for severance under Rule 20(b).”) (emphasis
added);1 see also Alexander v. Fulton County, Ga., 207 F.3d 1303, 1322 (11th Cir.
2000) (“We review a district court’s joinder of Plaintiffs’ claims and denial of
severance for abuse of discretion.”) (citing Nor-Tex Agencies, 482 F.2d at 1100),
overruled on other grounds by Manders v. Lee, 338 F.3d 1304, 1328 (11th Cir. 2003).
Having studied both sides’ positions, the court agrees with Defendants that
Plaintiffs’ claims lack the caliber of commonality which makes joinder of them
sensible. Instead, Plaintiffs’ claims arise out of varying transactions and occurrences
involving different alleged wrongdoers during disconnected periods of time.
Also, the range of claims asserted in the complaint is broad and includes
In Bonner v. City of Prichard, 661 F.2d 1206, 1209 (11th Cir. 1981) (en
banc), the Eleventh Circuit adopted as binding precedent all decisions of the former
Fifth Circuit handed down prior to October 1, 1981.
several which are asserted by only one plaintiff: Title VII race discrimination, Title
VII retaliation arising under Title VII, FLSA overtime compensation (i.e., Plaintiff
Teresa Branham only); Title VII sexual harassment (i.e., Plaintiff Jodi Brown only);
Title VII religious discrimination (i.e., Plaintiff Mindy Surrett only). (Doc. 20 at 56); (see also Doc. 1 at 18-32 (section entitled “STATEMENT OF CLAIMS”)).
Based upon controlling law applicable within the Eleventh Circuit:
A party seeking joinder of claimants under Rule 20 must establish two
prerequisites: 1) a right to relief arising out of the same transaction or
occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences, and 2) some
question of law or fact common to all persons seeking to be joined. See
Fed. R. Civ. P. 20(a). Plainly, the central purpose of Rule 20 is to
promote trial convenience and expedite the resolution of disputes,
thereby eliminating unnecessary lawsuits. See Mosley v. General
Motors Corp., 497 F.2d 1330, 1332 (8th Cir. 1974). The Federal Rules,
however, also recognize countervailing considerations to judicial
economy. Rule 42(b), for example, provides for separate trials where
the efficiency of a consolidated trial is outweighed by its potential
prejudice to the litigants. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 42(b); Grayson, 79 F.3d
at 1097. The Supreme Court has instructed the lower courts to employ
a liberal approach to permissive joinder of claims and parties in the
interest of judicial economy: “Under the Rules, the impulse is towards
entertaining the broadest possible scope of action consistent with
fairness to the parties; joinder of claims, parties and remedies is strongly
encouraged.” United Mine Workers v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 724, 86 S.
Ct. 1130, 1137, 16 L. Ed. 2d 218 (1966).
Alexander, 207 F.3d at 1322-23 (emphasis added).
Regarding the first requirement, the Alexander court explained:
In determining what constitutes a transaction or occurrence for the
purposes of Rule 20(a), courts have looked for meaning to Fed. R. Civ.
P. 13(a) governing compulsory counterclaims. See Mosley, 497 F.2d at
1333. For the purposes of Rule 13(a), “ ‘[t]ransaction’ is a word of
flexible meaning. It may comprehend a series of many occurrences,
depending not so much upon the immediateness of their connection as
upon their logical relationship.” Moore v. New York Cotton Exchange,
270 U.S. 593, 610, 46 S. Ct. 367, 371, 70 L. Ed. 750 (1926) (interpreting
the compulsory counterclaim provision of former Equity Rule 30).
Accordingly, “all ‘logically related’ events entitling a person to institute
a legal action against another generally are regarded as comprising a
transaction or occurrence.” Mosley, 497 F.2d at 1333. Several courts
have concluded that allegations of a “pattern or practice” of
discrimination may describe such logically related events and satisfy the
same transaction requirement. In Mosley, perhaps the leading case on
the joinder of Title VII plaintiffs under Rule 20, see 4 Lex K. Larson,
Employment Discrimination, § 78.05, at 28-29 (2d ed.1994), ten black
plaintiffs alleged that General Motors had a general policy of
discrimination against black employees. The trial court had ordered the
severance of the claims, concluding that the allegations presented a
variety of issues and had little relationship to one another. Mosley, 497
F.2d at 1332. The Eighth Circuit reversed the trial court’s order to sever
plaintiffs’ claims, concluding that, based on its reading of Rule 20, the
General Motors policy “purportedly designed to discriminate against
blacks in employment ... [arose] out of the same series of transactions
and occurrences.” Id. at 1334. The court held that “[s]ince a ‘state-wide
system designed to enforce the registration laws in a way that would
inevitably deprive colored people of the right to vote’ was determined
to arise out of the same series of transactions or occurrences, we
conclude that a company-wide policy purportedly designed to
discriminate against blacks in employment ... arises out of the same
series of transactions or occurrences” Id. at 1333-34 (quoting United
States v. Mississippi, 380 U.S. 128, 142, 85 S. Ct. 808, 815-16, 13 L. Ed.
2d 717 (1965)). See also Blesedell v. Mobil Oil Co., 708 F. Supp. 1408,
1422 (S.D.N.Y.1989) ( “A company-wide policy purportedly designed
to discriminate against females in employment arises out of the same
series of transactions or occurrences.”); King v. Pepsi Cola Metro.
Bottling Co., 86 F.R.D. 4, 6 (E.D. Pa.1979) (noting that allegations of
a “pervasive policy of discrimination” by the employer bring the
“complaints of individual Plaintiffs under the rubric of the ‘same series
of transactions’ ”); Vulcan Soc’y of Westchester Cty. v. City of White
Plains Fire Department, 82 F.R.D. 379, 387 (S.D.N.Y.1979) (stating
that transaction requirement met where Plaintiffs and would-be
Plaintiffs claimed discriminatory policies and practices which included
a series of exams allegedly used to discriminate against blacks).
Alexander, 207 F.3d at 1323-24 (emphasis added).
As the Alexander court clarified the scope of the second joinder requirement:
The second prong of Rule 20 does not require that all questions
of law and fact raised by the dispute be common, but only that some
question of law or fact be common to all parties. See Mosley, 497 F.2d
at 1334. Several courts have found that the question of the
discriminatory character of Defendants’ conduct can satisfy the
commonality requirement of Rule 20. See Mosley, 497 F.2d at 1334
(finding that whether the threat of a racially discriminatory policy hangs
over a racial class is a question of fact common to all the members of the
class); Blesedell, 708 F. Supp. at 1422 (noting that “[i]n employment
discrimination cases under Title VII, courts have found that the
discriminatory character of a defendant’s conduct is common to each
plaintiff’s recovery”); cf. Grayson, 79 F.3d at 1095-96 (suggesting that
“a unified policy, plan, or scheme of discrimination” can satisfy Rule
20’s commonality requirement).
On the other hand, the prejudicial effects of other witnesses’
alleged discriminatory experiences may outweigh their probative value
where, for example, the alleged discrimination occurs during different
time periods, see, e.g., Annis v. County of Westchester, 136 F.3d 239,
247 (2d Cir. 1998); Williams v. The Nashville Network, 132 F.3d 1123,
1130 (6th Cir.1997), different supervisors make the challenged
decisions, see, e.g., Annis, 136 F.3d at 246-47; Williams, 132 F.3d at
1130; Mooney v. Aramco Servs. Co., 54 F.3d 1207, 1221 (5th Cir.
1995), or the alleged discrimination happens at geographically removed
places, see, e.g., Williams, 132 F.3d at 1130; Mooney, 54 F.3d at 1221.
None of these concerns is presented here.
Alexander, 207 F.3d at 1324 (emphasis by underlining added).
In upholding the district court’s decision permitting joinder under Rule 20, the
Alexander court summarized:
In this case, the district court did not abuse its discretion in
finding that the Plaintiffs satisfied both requirements for joinder. As for
the first requirement, all of the Plaintiffs’ claims stem from the same
core allegation that they were subject to a systemic pattern or practice
of race-based discrimination against white law enforcement officers by
Sheriff Barrett in her first year in office. Plaintiffs all seek relief based
on the same series of discriminatory transactions by the same
decision-maker in the same department during the same short time
frame. As for the second requirement, the discriminatory character of
Defendants’ conduct is plainly common to each plaintiff's recovery. The
fact that the Plaintiffs suffered different effects-in this case,
discrimination in promotions, transfers, assignments, or discipline-from
the alleged policy of discrimination did not preclude the trial court from
finding a common question of law and fact. See Mosley, 497 F.2d at
1334; Blesedell, 708 F. Supp. at 1422.
Alexander, 207 F.3d at 1324 (emphasis added).
Against this backdrop, the court finds that, in sharp contrast to the underlying
record analyzed in Alexander, this case presents a wide variety of claims, factual
patterns, time periods, and key witnesses. Further, even if the court assumes that the
first joinder prong is satisfied, the second one is undoubtedly not due to the probative
value being outweighed by the prejudicial impact of other witnesses’ alleged
discriminatory (and unrelated) experiences on each of the plaintiff’s respective set of
claims. Cf. Alexander, 207 F.3d at 1324 (“None of these concerns is presented
Accordingly, the clerk is HEREBY DIRECTED to sever this lawsuit into
three new cases for Plaintiffs Jodi Brown, Mindy Surrett, and Kim Almanza,
respectively, and Plaintiff Teresa Branham should remain as the sole plaintiff in this
action. The parties are still permitted to conduct discovery in a collective manner
when appropriate and if so stipulated by both sides. Finally, the three new cases as
well as this action shall all be assigned to the undersigned.
DONE and ORDERED this the 4th day of January, 2013.
VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS
United States District Judge
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