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Aguirre v. Valerus Field Solutions LP

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division

July 13, 2017

ELIZABETH AGUIRRE, Plaintiffs,
v.
VALERUS FIELD SOLUTIONS LP, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          MELINDA HARMON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Sever (Doc. 15), as well as Plaintiffs' Response (Doc. 18) and Defendants' Reply (Doc. 19). Upon review and consideration of the Motion, Response, Reply, the relevant legal authority, and for the reasons explained below, the Court finds that Defendants' Motion should be denied.

         I. Background

         Plaintiffs Elizabeth Aguirre (“Aguirre”), Abid Momin (“Momin”), and Kassirim Onyeri (“Onyeri”) (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) were formerly employed by Valerus Field Solutions L.P. (“Defendant Valerus”), each working various positions in the company throughout his or her employment period. Doc. 1 ¶¶ 3-17. Plaintiffs allege that Defendant Valerus, as well as Garland King and Lawrence McKinnon (collectively, “Defendants”) discriminated against them on the basis of their race or national origin and retaliated against Plaintiffs for engaging in activities protected by Title VII. Id. ¶¶ 17-29.

         Specifically, Aguirre and Onyeri contend that Defendants discriminated and retaliated against them on the basis of their sex. Id. ¶¶ 18-27. Aguirre and Onyeri also allege violations of the Equal Pay Act and retaliation under the Equal Pay Act. Id. Solely, Onyeri argues that Defendants discriminated against her on the basis of a disability. Id. ¶¶ 27-28. In sum, Defendants are faced with three individual Plaintiffs asserting a total of at least eighteen claims against them in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 29 U.S.C. § 206 (the Equal Pay Act), and 42 U.S.C. § 12101 (the Americans with Disabilities Act).

         II. Standard of Review

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 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.” The district court has broad discretion to sever claims and parties in a lawsuit. Anderson v. Red River Waterway Comm'n, 231 F.3d 211, 214 (5th Cir. 2000). Under Rules 21, severance creates “two separate actions or suits where previously there was but one.” United States v. O'Neill, 709 F.2d 361, 268 (5th Cir. 1983). The severed claims proceed as independent actions, and a court may render a final judgment in either one of the resulting two actions “notwithstanding the continued existence of unresolved claims in the other.” Id. When deciding whether parties were properly joined under Rule 20(a), the Court considers (1) whether the right to relief arises “out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences, ” and (2) whether there is a question of law or fact common to both plaintiffs. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 20(a). Joinder of parties is strongly encouraged. See, e.g., Blum v. General Elec. Co., 547 F.Supp.2d 717, 722 (W.D. Tex. 2008). This is particularly true in the employment discrimination context. See Castillo v. Lennar Corp., 2008 WL 4425298, at *1 (S.D. Tex. Sept. 23, 2008) (citing Alexander v. Fulton Cnty., 207 F.3d 1303, 1322 (11th Cir. 2000) (en banc)).

         Similarly, Rule 42(b) provides that a court has discretion to order separate trials of claims “in furtherance of convenience or to avoid prejudice, or when separate trials will be conducive to expedition and economy.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 42(b). “Thus, the two primary factors to be considered in determining whether to order separate trials are efficient judicial administration and potential prejudice.” Divine Restoration Apostolic Church v. Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co., 2010 WL 1064727, at *2 (S.D. Tex. 2010). Separation of issues for separate trials is “not the usual course that should be followed.” McDaniel v. Anheuser-Busch, Inc., 987 F.2d 298, 304 (5th Cir. 1993).

         III. Discussion

         In In re Rolls Royce Corp., the Fifth Circuit acknowledged that while it has not yet adopted a test for severance, a number of its district courts have applied the five-factor test of Paragon Office Services, LLC v. United Healthcare Insurance Co.: whether (1) the claims arise out of the same transaction or occurrence; (2) the claims present some common question of law or fact; (3) settlement of the claims or judicial economy would be facilitated; (4) prejudice would be avoided if severance were granted; and (5) different witnesses and documentary proof are required for the separate claims. 755 F.3d 671, 680 n.40 (5th Cir. 2014) (citing 2012 WL 444236, at *1 (N.D. Tex. Sept. 26, 2012)). “‘[S]everance will be refused if the court believes that it only will result in delay, inconvenience, or added expense.'” Id. (quoting Wright & Miller, Fed. Prac. & Proc. § 1689 (3d ed. 2004)). The impulse is towards considering the broadest possible scope of action consistent with fairness to the parties. HC4, Inc. Emp. Stock Ownership Plan v. HC4, Inc., 2016 WL 109880, at *6 (S.D. Tex. Jan. 11, 2016) (citing United Mine Workers v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 714, 724, 86 S.Ct. 1130, 16 L.Ed.2d 218 (1966)). Accordingly, “joinder of claims, parties and remedies is strongly encouraged.” United Mine Workers, 383 U.S. at 724.

         Although the Fifth Circuit has not adopted a particular test to decide what is “the same transaction or occurrence” under the first factor, Carter v. Diamond URS Huntsville, LLC, 175 F.Supp.3d 711, 727 (S.D. Tex. 2016), several of its district courts employ the Eighth Circuit's “logically related” test. See, e.g., Stinnette v. Medtronic, Inc., 2010 WL 767558, at *1 (S.D. Tex. Mar. 3, 2010). Under this test, “all ‘logically related' events entitling a person to institute a legal action against another generally are regarded as comprising a transaction or occurrence.” Mosely v. GMC, 497 F.2d 1330, 1333 (8th Cir. 1974) (citing 7 C. Wright, Fed. Prac. and Proc. § 1653 at 270 (1972)). As the Eight Circuit explained, “as used in Rule 20 [the terms] would permit all reasonably related claims for relief by or against different parties to be tried in a single proceeding. Absolute identity of all events is unnecessary.” Id.

         Under the second Paragon Office factor, a number of courts have held that the “common question” can be satisfied by the presence of only a single one. Carter, 175 F.Supp.3d at 727 (citing Tex. Instruments, Inc. v. Citigroup Global Markets, Inc., 266 F.R.D. 143, 148 (N.D. Tex. 2010) (“[D]efendants may be joined together in the same action only if (1) ‘there is asserted against them jointly, severally, or in the alternative any right to relief in respect of or arising out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences;' and (2) at least one ‘question of law or fact common to all of them will arise in the action.”')). However, the “mere fact that all Plaintiffs' claims arise under the same general law” is insufficient for a finding of a common question of law or fact. Castro v. Freeman, 2011 WL 13140728, at *10 (S.D. Tex. April 26, 2011) (citing Coughlin v. Rogers, 130 F.3d 1348, 1349 (9th Cir. 1997)).

         A. Same Transaction or Occurrence

         Defendants maintain that Plaintiffs' claims are “highly individualized and . . . based on discrete occurrences involving different legal issues, standards, and procedures.” Doc. 15 at 14. Plaintiffs were affected by the alleged discrimination in different ways, and each Plaintiff raises different claims against Defendants. Id. Moreover, many of the alleged similar incidents cited by Plaintiffs ...


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