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Williams v. Taylor Seidenbach, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

May 4, 2020, Filed

No. 18-31159; 18-31161


JAMES C. HO, Circuit Judge, joined by OWEN, Chief Judge, and JONES, STEWART, DENNIS, ELROD, HAYNES, GRAVES, HIGGINSON, and ENGELHARDT, Circuit Judges:

] When a plaintiff sues multiple defendants, counsel may need to take certain steps to ensure the plaintiff's right to appeal. That is because courts of [*2]  appeals have jurisdiction to review only certain types of district court decisions.

] Under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, courts of appeals may review only "final decisions" of the district courts. Under our precedents, there is no final decision if a plaintiff voluntarily dismisses a defendant without prejudice, because the plaintiff "is entitled to bring a later suit on the same cause of action." Ryan v. Occidental Petroleum Corp., 577 F.2d 298, 302 (5th Cir. 1978). And in a suit against multiple defendants, there is no final decision as to one defendant until there is a final decision as to all defendants. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(b) (absent an order to the contrary, "any order or other decision, however designated, that adjudicates fewer than all the claims or the rights and liabilities of fewer than all the parties does not end the action as to any of the claims or parties").

A potential complication arises when a case implicates both of those principles—that is, when a plaintiff sues two defendants, and then voluntarily dismisses one defendant without prejudice, while litigating against the other to conclusion. Some have expressed concern that the plaintiff may fall into a "finality trap"—unable to obtain an appealable final decision, despite having lost to the second defendant. See Terry W. Shackmann [*3]  & Barry L. Pickens, The Finality Trap: Accidentally Losing Your Right to Appeal (Part I), 58 J. MO. B. 78, 78 (2002).

But ] established rules of civil procedure provide many tools to avoid that alleged "trap." They include amendment of the complaint to remove claims or parties under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a); severance of parties under Rule 21; and entry of a partial final judgment under Rule 54(b).1 A plaintiff can also voluntarily dismiss a defendant with prejudice.

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2020 U.S. App. LEXIS 14214 *

TARSIA WILLIAMS; BRECK WILLIAMS, Plaintiffs - Appellants v. TAYLOR SEIDENBACH, INCORPORATED, Defendant - Appellee; TARSIA WILLIAMS; BRECK WILLIAMS, Plaintiffs - Appellants v. MCCARTY CORPORATION, Defendant - Appellee

Prior History:  [*1] Appeals from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

Williams v. Taylor Seidenbach, Inc., 935 F.3d 358, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 24367 (5th Cir. La., Aug. 15, 2019)


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Civil Procedure, Appeals, Appellate Jurisdiction, Parties, Voluntary Dismissals, Notice of Dismissal, Dismissal Without Prejudice, Appellate Jurisdiction, Final Judgment Rule, Pleading & Practice, Pleadings, Amendment of Pleadings, Judgments, Entry of Judgments, Multiple Claims & Parties, Dismissal, Voluntary Dismissals, Governments, Courts, Authority to Adjudicate, Rule Application & Interpretation, Interlocutory Orders, Preliminary Considerations, Jurisdiction