Hill et al v. Ford Motor Company
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER granting Ford Motor Company's 4 MOTION to Stay; denying as moot plaintiffs' 7 CROSS-MOTION for a Case Management Order Establishing Bellwether Protocol, which included their motion to consolidate. Signed by Judge Robert C. Chambers on 1/5/2017. (cc: counsel of record; any unrepresented parties) (taq)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR
THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF WEST VIRGINIA
TIMOTHY HILL, et al.
CIVIL ACTION NO. 2:16-9851
FORD MOTOR COMPANY,
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Pending before the Court is Ford Motor Company’s Motion to Stay this action until
the Court has decided whether or not to certify a class in the currently-pending Johnson v. Ford
Motor Co., Civ. Act. No. 3:13-06529.1 Johnson and Hill are substantially identical cases and are
represented by the same counsel. Ford argues that a stay in the Hill case is justified because
allowing it to proceed will cause undue prejudice and delay in the Johnson case. Specifically, Ford
asserts counsel will be required to divert their attention from Johnson in order to file a motion to
dismiss in Hill and commence an extensive and expensive discovery process. As the parties already
have spent nearly four years in litigation in the Johnson case, Ford further argues it would be
incredibly inefficient for the parties to embark on a parallel action when decisions in the Johnson
case will have great precedential, and perhaps controlling, effect on the Hill case.
Johnson was consolidated with two parallel actions for pretrial purposes on August 6 and
13, 2013. Sub nom. Belville v. Ford Motor Co., 3:13-6529, ECF No. 44 & 46 (consolidating with
3:13-14207 and 3:13-20976).
In their Response, Plaintiffs share Ford’s concern that these actions proceed in an
efficient manner. To accomplish this goal, however, Plaintiffs do not believe a stay is sufficient by
itself and, therefore, Plaintiffs filed as part of their Response a Cross-Motion for a Case
Management Order Establishing Bellwether Protocol. ECF No. 7. Plaintiffs argues that the Court
enter a case management order “(1) consolidating the Hill action with the related action of Johnson
. . . for discovery and pretrial purposes; (2) sequencing the upcoming class certification and
summary judgment briefing in the Johnson action to start with five bellwether states; and (3)
staying all other claims until the first bellwether process is complete.” Pls.’ Resp. to Ford Motor
Co.’s Mot. to Stay and Cross-Mot. for Case Mgmt. Order Establishing Bellwether Protocol, at 1,
ECF No. 7.
In its Reply, Ford objects to consolidating Hill with Johnson and to scheduling
bellwether cases in a consolidated action. As argued by Ford, this Court previously rejected
Plaintiffs’ attempt to add fourteen of the sixteen named Plaintiffs in the Hill case to the Johnson
action. Johnson v. Ford, Civ. Act. Nos. 3:13-6529, 3:13-14207, 3:13-20976, 2015 WL 5443550,
at *2 (Sept. 15, 2015). At that time, the Court held that adding new Plaintiffs to the Johnson case
would require Ford “to conduct extensive and expensive discovery on each new Plaintiff’s claims,”
resulting in “hit[ting] the reset button to this litigation to a significant extent.” Id. at *5. In addition,
the Court found that joining the “proposed Plaintiffs inevitably will delay resolution of this
Over a year later, Hill was filed as a stand-alone action, which Plaintiffs now seek
to consolidate with Johnson. Upon consideration, the Court agrees with Ford that Plaintiffs’
decision to wait over a year to bring a new action and then attempt to consolidate it with the
existing action is an effort to make an end-run around this Court’s previous decision denying
Plaintiffs’ motion to add new parties to the Johnson case. Consolidation does not alleviate any of
the concerns the Court expressed in its previous Johnson decision with respect to undue prejudice
and delay. In fact, Plaintiffs admit that six of the eleven statewide classes sought in Hill are not
covered by Johnson. Thus, to the extent there are individual state-law claims not addressed in the
Johnson case, it is likely there will be complex questions raised in a motion to dismiss on whether
specific claims should be dismissed, followed by extensive and expensive discovery conducted on
all the claims that survive. The fact discovery in Johnson is even closer to being concluded than it
was when this Court denied joinder over a year ago increases, not lessens, the undue prejudice and
delay that will result in Johnson if the Court permits consolidation. Accordingly, the Court
DENIES Plaintiff’s motion to consolidate the actions at this time. In addition, as the Court has
denied consolidation, the Court DENIES AS MOOT Plaintiffs’ request to establish a case
management order establishing a bellwether protocol.
Turning next to Ford’s Motion to Stay this action, this Court has the authority to
stay an action based upon its 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.” Landis v. N. Am. Co.,
299 U.S. 248, 254 (1936). “The party seeking a stay must justify it by clear and convincing
circumstances outweighing potential harm to the party against whom it is operative.” Williford v.
Armstrong World Indus., Inc., 715 F.2d 124, 127 (4th Cir. 1983). In considering whether to stay
an action, the Court should consider: “(1) the interests of judicial economy; (2) hardship and equity
to the moving party if the action is not stayed; and (3) potential prejudice to the non-moving party.”
Tolley v. Monsanto Co., 591 F. Supp.2d 837, 844 (S.D. W. Va. 2008) (quoting Meyers v. Bayer
AG, 143 F.Supp.2d 1044, 1049 (E.D. Wis.2001)).
Upon review, the Court finds that these criteria weigh heavily in favor of granting
a limited stay. As explained above, Hill is a parallel action to Johnson, but proceeding in Hill at
this juncture will not promote efficiency for the parties or the Court. Without doubt, allowing Hill
to proceed will significantly slow the progress in Johnson as the parties and the Court grapple with
complex motions and begin the arduous discovery process. On the other hand, if Johnson remains
on track, it likely will have a positive impact on the parties’ efficiency in litigating Hill after the
stay is lifted by giving them more direction and guidance on the best course to proceed. In addition,
for the reasons stated above, the Court finds that Ford will experience a significant hardship and
substantial prejudice if a stay is not granted, but Plaintiffs will suffer little prejudice if the Court
grants a limited stay.2 Thus, the Court finds that Ford has established by clear and convincing
circumstances that the potential harm it will incur by not granting a stay far outweighs any potential
harm that may befall Plaintiffs by granting it. Therefore, the Court GRANTS Ford’s Motion to
Stay. To be clear, however, the stay in this case will be limited. After the Court enters a Scheduling
Order in the Johnson action, the Court will reconsider whether a continuation of the stay in Hill
remains necessary and, if so, to what extent.
In fact, Plaintiffs suggest that, if the Court had granted consolidation, a stay should be
granted with respect to all claims in Hill “not proceeding to class certification and summary
judgment briefing” and “extended to any further discovery or motion practice with respect to the
claims in the Johnson action that are not selected for the first bellwether stage.” Pls.’ Resp. to Ford
Motor Co.’s Mot. to Stay and Cross-Mot. for Case Mgmt. Order Establishing Bellwether Protocol,
at 4, ECF No. 7.
Accordingly, for the foregoing reasons, the Court GRANTS Ford’s Motion to Stay
(ECF No. 4) and DENIES Plaintiffs’ Cross-Motion for a Case Management Order Establishing
Bellwether Protocol, which included their motion to consolidate. ECF No. 7.
The Court DIRECTS the Clerk to send a copy of this Order to counsel of record
and any unrepresented parties.
January 5, 2017
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