United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina
SUPERIOR PERFORMERS, INC. d/b/a NATIONAL AGENTS ALLIANCE, Plaintiff,
FAMILY FIRST LIFE, LLC, and SHAWN L. MEAIKE, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
JAMES A. BEATY, Jr. District Judge.
This matter is currently before the Court on the Motion to Consolidate [Doc. #10] filed by Plaintiff Superior Performers, Inc. ("Plaintiff" or "NAA"). For the reasons discussed below, the Court grants in part and denies in part Plaintiff's Motion to Consolidate. All Defendants in the four cases (Cases Nos. 1:13cv1149, 1:14cv232, 1:14cv283, and 1:14cv382) (collectively "Consolidation Defendants"), have filed Responses in Opposition to the Motion to Consolidate [Doc. #19], to which, Plaintiff has filed a Reply [Doc. #21].
This case is one of several related cases brought by Plaintiff in an attempt to, among other things, enforce restrictive covenants entered into by current and former NAA agents and managers. The Court previously granted Plaintiff's Motion for Temporary Restraining Order in Case Number 1:13CV1149 [Case No. 1:13CV1149, Doc. #36], and allowed the terms of that injunctive relief to remain in effect from the March 5, 2014 hearing until its Memorandum Opinion and Order [Case No. 1:13CV1149, Doc. #88] granting in part Plaintiff's Motion for Preliminary Injunction [Case No. 1:13CV1149, Doc. #13] was filed on April 11, 2014.
Plaintiff now brings a Motion to Consolidate the following federal cases: 1:13CV1149, 1:14CV232, 1:14CV283, 1:14CV382. Collectively, these cases contain a total of 36 separate Defendants and 31 Causes of Action. In Case Number 1:13CV1149, Plaintiff asserts five Causes of Action against six Defendants. These Causes of Action include those for breach of contract based on alleged violations of the non-solicitation and non-competition agreements, a claim for tortious interference with contract and business relationships, a claim for unfair and deceptive trade practices, a civil conspiracy claim, and a wiretapping claim.
Case Number 1:14CV232, includes 30 Defendants with 16 Causes of Action. Like 1:13CV1149, Case Number 1:14CV232 also includes breach of contract claims based on alleged violations of the non-solicitation agreements, as well as claims for breach of contract based on other parts of the agent and managerial agreements. Other claims involved in 1:14CV232 include claims for tortious interference, unfair and deceptive trade practices, unfair competition, civil conspiracy, and wiretapping. None of the Defendants named in Case Number 1:13CV1149 are also named in Case Number 1:14CV232. The Court also notes that the Defendants in Case Number 1:14CV232 have asserted counterclaims, and claims against Third-Party Defendants.
In Case Number 1:14CV283, Plaintiff asserts claims against Family First Life, LLC ("Family First") and Shawn Meaike based on these Defendants alleged use of NAA's service mark. These claims include, claims for breach of contract, unfair competition, service mark infringement, unfair and deceptive business practices, and unfair competition and business conversion based on use of the service mark. Both of the Defendants named in Case Number 1:14CV283 are also named in more than one of the other cases before the Court.
The most recent case filed by Plaintiff is Case Number 1:14CV382, which asserts five 꺱 of Action against eight Defendants, all of who are named in other cases before the Court. This case includes claims based on Defendants alleged unlawful competition with Plaintiff. Based on these alleged actions, Plaintiff asserts claims for breach of contract, common law unfair competition and business conversion, unfair and deceptive trade practices, tortious interference with contract and business relationships, and civil conspiracy.
Plaintiff contends that there are sufficient common questions of law or fact and overlapping Defendants to merit consolidation of the above-described cases. Consolidation Defendants assert, however, that the actions involve different facts as to each Defendant as well as different legal claims. Further, Consolidation Defendants argue that any consolidation will result in prejudice, insofar as each individual will incur costs and expenses related to claims that are not central to his, her, or its defenses, confusion to the trier of fact, and imputation of allegations onto the Consolidation Defendants as a group. In Plaintiff's Reply, it asserts that Consolidation Defendants' argument fail to provide any substantive objection to consolidation for the purposes of pre-trial motions and discovery. Accordingly, Plaintiff requests that consolidation should at least be allowed until the close of discovery.
Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 42(a)(2), district courts may consolidate cases pending before it, if such cases "involve a common question of law or fact." Fed.R.Civ.P. 42(a)(2). If this threshold requirement is met, a district court has "broad discretion" concerning whether or not to consolidate cases before it. A/S J. Ludwig Mowinckles Rederi v. Tidewater Constr. Co. , 559 F.2d 928, 933 (4th Cir. 1977). When determining whether consolidation is appropriate,
the court should weigh the risk of prejudice and possible confusion versus the possibility of inconsistent adjudication of common factual and legal issues, the burden on the parties, witnesses, and judicial resources by multiple lawsuits, the length of time required to try multiple suits versus a single suit, and the relative expense required for multiple suits versus a single suit.
In re Cree, Inc., Securities Litig. , 219 F.R.D. 369, 371 (M.D. N.C. 2003) (citing Arnold v. Eastern Air Lines , 681 F.2d 186, 193 (4th Cir. 1982)).
Initially, the Court notes that Case Numbers 1:13CV1149, 1:14CV232, and 1:14CV382 most certainly involve common legal and factual questions concerning the validity of the restrictive covenants contained in the parties' agreements. Case Number 1:14CV382 specifically involves the non-competition provisions, while the other two cases focus to a greater extent on the non-solicitation provisions. Both non-competition and non-solicitation provisions, however, are restrictive covenants and require the application of the same law. See Medical Staffing Network, Inc. v. Ridgway , 670 S.E.2d 321, 327-328 ( N.C. Ct. App. 2009) (applying the same law to both non-competition and non-solicitation provisions). As indicated in the Court's Memorandum Opinion and Order granting in part Plaintiff's Motion for Preliminary Injunction in Case Number 1:13CV1149, issues remain for discovery concerning the original contracts entered into by the Defendants and whether or not the alleged consideration provided for the later-signed contracts is legally sufficient pursuant to North Carolina law concerning restrictive covenants. (See Mem. Opinion and Order [Case No. 1:13CV1149, Doc. #88], at 14-17.) Further, as the Amended Complaint stands in Case Number ...