Bernabe-Leon v. City of Irondale, Alabama
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER; Accordingly, pursuant to its authority under Fed. R. Civ. P. 21, the Court finds that this case should be severed into individual cases for each plaintiff. The Clerk of Court is DIRECTED to TERM all plaintiffs other than Cecilia Cano Diaz as party-plaintiffs in the present case, and to TERM all defendants other than the City of Leeds, Alabama as party-defendants in the present case. Further, the Clerk of Court is DIRECTED to assign the newly opened casesto the undersigned. Nicolas Garrido-Carapia, Ricardo Maximino-Gonzalez, Rafael Romero-Galvan, Juan Valdez-Ruiz, Hector Bernabe-Leon and Maria De Jesus Castanon-Lopez terminated. Signed by Judge Virginia Emerson Hopkins on 7/17/2012. (JLC)
2012 Jul-17 PM 03:21
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
CECILIA CANO-DIAZ, HECTOR
VALDEZ-RUIZ, MARIA DE JESUS
CITY OF ALABASTER,
ALABAMA, CITY OF PELHAM,
ALABAMA, CITY OF LEEDS,
ALABAMA, and CITY OF
Case No.: 2:11-CV-3448-VEH
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER
The court has examined the complaint in this action and finds that this action,
brought by seven separate plaintiffs, is, in actuality, seven cases. Accordingly,
pursuant to its authority under Fed. R. Civ. P. 21, the court finds that these cases
should be severed into individual cases for each plaintiff.1
Counsel for the parties were put on notice of the court’s intention to sever this case into
multiple suits by the court’s statements to counsel on the record at the beginning of the motion
hearing held on July 10, 2012.
This action was brought in federal court based on federal question jurisdiction,
seeking injunctive relief against five separate Alabama municipalities for alleged
unconstitutional activities. (Complt., Doc. 1 at 2). Plaintiffs filed their complaint on
September 23, 2011, “individually and as representatives of a class or classes of
person [sic] consisting of members of the Hispanic community of the subject
municipalities.” (Id. at 1). On February 16, 2012, on Plaintiffs’ motion, the court
dismissed without prejudice one municipality — the City of Hoover. (Motion To
Dismiss, doc. 14; Order of Pro Tanto Dismissal, doc. 25).
Following the court’s order requiring repleader (Doc. 28), on May 14, 2012,
Plaintiffs filed their First Amended Complaint against the four remaining Alabama
municipalities. (Doc. 29). In the First Amended Complaint, the seven individual
plaintiffs are described as Hispanic men or women who reside in various counties of
Alabama and “frequently visit or travel through municipalities where officers of
the Defendant’s [sic] police departments have been deployed and conduct traffic
stops, frisks and make arrests.” (Doc. 29 at ¶¶ 13–19). The Defendants are described
as “municipal corporations organized and existing under the laws of the State of
Alabama” (id. ¶ 20). Critically, although Plaintiffs allege that all the Defendants act
in the same allegedly unconstitutional manner, Plaintiffs nowhere allege the existence
of any agreement among the Defendant to so act, nor do they allege that the
Defendants act in concert with each other.
Plaintiffs aver that the Defendants have implemented, enforced,
encouraged and sanctioned a policy, practice and/or custom of
suspicionless traffic stops and/or frisks in violation of the Fourth
Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth
Amendment. This unconstitutional conduct is a direct and proximate
result of policies, practices and/or customs of supervisory personnel
within the Defendants’ respective police departments as well as the
elected Mayors and City Councils of the Defendants. These individuals
have acted with deliberate indifference to the constitutional rights of
those who would come into contact with police officers by: (a) failing
to properly screen, train, and supervise police officers, (b) inadequately
monitoring such officers and their stop and frisk practices, (c) failing to
sufficiently discipline officers who engage in constitutional abuses, and
(d) encouraging, sanctioning and failing to rectify the unconstitutional
practices, (e) the explicit and tacit encouragement, sanctioning and
ratification of and failure to rectify their respective police departments’
rampant unconstitutional practices. Defendants knew or should have
known that as a direct and proximate consequence of the policies,
practices and/or customs described herein, the constitutional rights of
thousands of individuals, particularly Black and Latino individuals,
would be violated. Despite this knowledge, and with deliberate
indifference to and reckless disregard for the constitutional rights of
such individuals, Defendant municipalities have implemented, enforced,
encouraged, sanctioned and failed to rectify such policies, practices
(Id. ¶ 28).
Based on these alleged facts, the Second Amended Complaint asserts five
identical types of claims against all four Defendants: Fourth Amendment violations
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count I); Equal Protection Clause violations pursuant
to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count II); claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of
1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000(d), et seq. (Count III); claims for remedial relief predicated
upon Defendants’ past practices (Count IV); and claims for money damages pursuant
to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count V).
As to the putative class allegations, Plaintiffs describe the class they seek to
a class of legal and undocumented or “illegal” Hispanic
immigrants/aliens who may have been or may be (a) illegally and
discriminatorily stopped, searched, arrested and charged by the several
municipal police departments and who have been convicted and
sentenced by the Defendants’ municipal courts; (b) required to pay
exorbitant sums to the municipal courts in fines and costs of court; (d)
[sic] subjected to racial profiling at the hands of the defendants[’] police
departments, and (e) otherwise deprived of rights, privileges and
immunities secured by the Constitution of the United States.
(Id. ¶ 59). “Plaintiffs estimate that there are at least 8000 members of the class.” (Id.
¶ 60). Issues alleged to be common to the class are described at Paragraph 61 and
involve questions such as whether each municipality has established a pattern,
practice, policy, procedure or custom pursuant to which Hispanic individual are
subjected to discriminatory law enforcement, whether the police officials of each
municipality have engaged in illegal racial profiling against Hispanic individuals, etc.
(See generally id. ¶ 61).
In their Prayer for Relief, Plaintiffs seek the same five categories of relief
against each Defendant municipality: for the court to issue a declaratory judgment;
for the court to issue certain injunctive relief; to award Plaintiffs compensatory and
punitive damages; to award Plaintiffs reasonable attorneys’ fees; to award Plaintiffs
costs of suit; and generally, for the court to award any other, further and different
relief as the Plaintiffs may be entitled to receive in the interests of justice. (Id. at ¶¶
The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure set out guidance for the parties and for
the court concerning the proper alignment of parties to a civil lawsuit. Rule 20, titled
“Permissive Joinder of Parties,” provides:
(a) Persons Who May Join or Be Joined.
(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
(B) any question of law or fact common to all plaintiffs
will arise in the action.
(2) Defendants. Persons--as well as a vessel, cargo, or other
property subject to admiralty process in rem--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.
(3) Extent of Relief. Neither a plaintiff nor a defendant need be
interested in obtaining or defending against all the relief demanded.
The court may grant judgment to one or more plaintiffs according
to their rights, and against one or more defendants according to
(b) Protective Measures. The court may issue orders--including an
order for separate trials--to protect a party against embarrassment, delay,
expense, or other prejudice that arises from including a person against
whom the party asserts no claim and who asserts no claim against the party.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 20.
When parties are improperly aligned, the rules afford the district court wide
discretion to correct the alignment, as evidenced by the court’s power under Rule
20(b) to order separate trials in the interests of justice. Similarly, Rule 21, titled
“Misjoinder and Nonjoinder of Parties,” 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). Pursuant to these rules, the trial court has
“broad discretion to sever issues to be tried before it.” Brunet v. United Gas Pipeline
Co., 15 F.3d 500, 505 (5th Cir. 1994) (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 21).
As explained on the record during the July 10, 2012, hearing, the court believes
that this case should not proceed as one action. Parties may properly join together to
bring a single action only if their claims arise out of “the same transaction,
occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 20(a).
“Transaction 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.” A.M. Alexander v. Fulton Cnty., 207 F.3d 1303,
1323 (11th Cir. 2000) (citations omitted) (looking to Fed R. Civ. P. 13(a), governing
compulsory counterclaims, in determining what constitutes a transaction or
occurrence for the purposes of Rule 20(a)). Here, each Plaintiff’s claims depend upon
proof of facts that, although alleged to be parallel and motivated by the same animus,
are not logically related. Each Plaintiff alleges that one or more law enforcement
officials from one of the four municipalities at different times stopped or otherwise
detained that Plaintiff. The officers cited different reasons for the detention of the
various Plaintiffs. The Plaintiffs allege that each of them was individually harmed
(by way of an alleged violation of constitutional rights) during those individualized
detentions. Critically, there is no allegation that Defendants conspired together, or
operated in conjunction or pursuant to any agreement, to deprive these various
individual Plaintiffs of their constitutional rights. The mere allegation of a similar
grievance is not enough to create a common transaction or occurrence under the facts
alleged in the Amended Complaint.
Additionally, the court finds that prosecution of all Plaintiffs’ claims in one
single action would most likely prejudice the Defendants, and would result in undue
expense and delay.
Furthermore, trial of these claims together would cause
unnecessary jury confusion. Moreover, interests of judicial economy are not served
by trying these cases together, since the court must deal with factually specific issues
related to the elements of each constitutional claim, and the resultant damages, for
each Plaintiff and each Defendant. From the court’s perspective, the claims can be
better managed in separate cases.
Having concluded that the claims of the seven Plaintiffs are misjoined because
they do not“aris[e] out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions
or occurrences,” Fed. R. Civ. P. 20(a)(1)(A), the court, on its own initiative, and in
the interests of justice, will sever the claims pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 21.
For the reasons stated above, the court ORDERS as follows:
The claim(s) of Plaintiff Cecilia Cano-Diaz will proceed in this action,
numbered 2:11-cv-03448-VEH, against the City of Leeds, Alabama.
The Clerk of Court is DIRECTED to open a new case for each of the
following plaintiffs as specified below:
Hector Bernabe-Leon v. the City of Irondale, Alabama;
Maria De Jesus Castanon Lopez v. the City of Pelham, Alabama;
Rafael Romero-Galvan v. the City of Alabaster, Alabama;
Nicolas Garrido-Carapia v. the City of Pelham, Alabama;
Ricardo Maximino-Gonzalez v. the City of Alabaster, Alabama;
Juan Valdez-Ruiz v. the City of Pelham, Alabama.
Accordingly, the Clerk of Court is DIRECTED to TERM all plaintiffs other
than Cecilia Cano Diaz as party-plaintiffs in the present case, and to TERM
all defendants other than the City of Leeds, Alabama as party-defendants in the
Further, the Clerk of Court is DIRECTED to assign the newly opened cases
to the undersigned.
The court will carry over all pleadings and filings to date to each of the new
cases and will rule on any currently pending motions separately in each case.
Any future filings or pleadings must be filed in each individual case.
Romero-Galvan, Garrido-Carapia, Maximino-Gonzalez, and Valdez-Ruiz each
is ORDERED to pay his or her respective required filing fee to the Clerk of
Court within twenty (20) days of the date of this Order. The failure of any
plaintiff to do so will result in the dismissal of that plaintiff’s case for want
DONE and ORDERED this the 17th day of July, 2012.
VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS
United States District Judge
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