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Johnson v. City Of Fayetteville

United States District Court, Eastern District of North Carolina, Western Division

May 27, 2015

DARWIN JOHNSON, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
CITY OF FAYETTEVILLE, et al., Defendants.

ORDER

James C. Fox Senior United States District Judge

This matter is before the court on Defendant Heather St. John's Motion to Sever and Remand, in which she moves the court to sever the sole remaining claim against her, a state-law negligence claim, and remand the claim to Cumberland County District Court for adjudication. [DE-344]. At the court's order, Plaintiffs filed their response and St. John filed a reply under an expedited schedule. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is ALLOWED in part.

I. BACKGROUND

On June 7, 2012, Plaintiffs Darwin Johnson, LaTonja Johnson, and Brenda Johnson Mathis initiated this action by filing a Complaint in the General Court of Justice, Superior Court Division, Cumberland County, State of North Carolina asserting various claims against the defendants, including a state-law negligence claim by Plaintiff LaTonja Johnson against Defendant St. John and Plaintiff Darwin Johnson's claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1985 against both Defendant St. John and Defendant Shane Koehler.

On July 20, 2015, the then-named Defendants jointly filed a Notice of Removal in this court. Therein, the Defendants, including St. John, stated that the court had supplemental jurisdiction over the state-law claims asserted against them, including the state-law negligence claim against St. John pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a) because they were"so related to the federal claims that [it] form[s] part of the same case or controversy." Notice of Removal [DE-1] ¶ 8.

After various pretrial rulings, the only remaining claims in this action are (1) Plaintiff LaTonja Johnson's claim for negligence against Defendant St. John, and (2) Plaintiff Darwin Johnson's claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and state-law claims for false imprisonment and assault and battery, all against Defendant Koehler. On April 21, 2015, St. John moved to sever the state-law claim against her and remand to state court.

II. DISCUSSION

St. John argues that this court lacks jurisdiction over the remaining claim asserted against her. She further argues that the claim against her is no longer properly joined with the claims asserted against Defendant Koehler, and it should be severed under Rule 21. The court agrees that severing the claim against St. John is appropriate, and further finds that remanding the severed claim to state court is proper.

Rule 21 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 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. A court may exercise the discretionary authority under this rule to correct a misjoinder at any time. See C.L. Ritter Lumber Co. v. Consol. Coal. Co. 283 F.3d 226, 229 (4th Cir. 2002); Cooper v. North Carolina State Bd. of Elections, No. 5:08-CV-423-D, 2009 WL 9081691, at *6 (E.D. N.C. June 12, 2009). Rule 21 is most commonly invoked to sever parties improperly joined under Rule 20. See 7 Charles Alan Wright, et al. Federal Practice and Procedure § 1689 at 515 (3d ed. 2001). Thus, while Rule 21 is silent on the standard applicable for determining misjoinder, "courts have uniformly held that 'parties are misjoined when they fail to satisfy either of the preconditions for permissive joinder of parties set forth in Rule 20(a).'" Jonas v. Conrath, 149 F.R.D. 520, 523 (S.D. W.Va. 1993) (footnote omitted) (quoting Bereton v. Comms. Satellite Corp., 116F.R.D. 162, 163 (D.D.C. 1987)).

Rule 20 provides, in relevant part:

(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 occurrences; and (B) any question of law or fact common to all plaintiffs will arise in the action. (2) Defendants. Persons ... 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 ....

Fed. R. Civ. P. 20(a)(l)-(2). As the Fourth Circuit has explained, "Rule 20 gives courts wide discretion concerning the permissive joinder of parties, and 'should be construed in light of its purpose, which is to promote trial convenience and expedite the final determination of disputes, thereby preventing multiple lawsuits."' Aleman v. Chugach Support Servs., 7«c., ...


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