Brief Fact Summary.
Plaintiffs sued defendants, alleging that DDT from defendant‘s manufacturing plan contaminated individual properties. Plaintiffs sought class action status, but the trial court denied certification. Defendants moved to sever the plaintiffs‘ claims into five different trials. The case would involve a mix of common and individualized evidence. The same experts would testify for the plaintiffs at trial, but the experts all lived out of state.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
Severing a multi-plaintiff lawsuit into individual trials is not warranted under the FRCP when: (1) a single trial would be more efficient than multiple trials, (2) the parties’ claims and defenses arise from the same transaction, and (3) any potential prejudice to the defendants can be averted by appropriate jury instructions.
A jury is presumed to follow the instructions given to it by the district judge.View Full Point of Law
Jessie Fisher, Arlean Reed, Barbara Byrd, Ronald McIntyre, and Sharon Greer (plaintiffs) sued current and former owners of Ciba Specialty Chemicals Corporation (Ciba) (defendants), alleging that DDT from Ciba’s plant contaminated their individual properties. The plaintiffs initially sought class status, but the court denied certification on the ground that common questions did not predominate over individualized ones, among others. Contending that a single trial would be inefficient and prejudicial to them, the defendants moved to sever the plaintiffs’ claims into five separate trials. The case involved a mix of common and individualized evidence. The same nine expert witnesses would likely be called to testify with respect to each of the plaintiffs’ claims, however, and the experts all lived out of state.
Is severing a multi-plaintiff lawsuit into individual trials warranted under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure if: (1) a single trial will be more efficient than multiple trials, (2) the parties’ claims and defenses arise from the same transaction, and (3) any potential prejudice to the defendants can be averted by appropriate jury instructions?
No. Severing the plaintiffs’ case into five separate trials is not justified under the circumstances.
1.FRCP 20(b) permit trial courts, at their discretion, to split a multi-plaintiff lawsuit into separate trials if a single trial would cause delay or prejudice
2.In considering a motion to sever, relevant factors include:
3. The term “transaction” is liberally construed to encompass a series of events that are logically related.
4. Here, the defendants’ arguments for severance are not persuasive.