Law School Case Brief
Hohlbein v. Heritage Mut. Ins. Co. - 106 F.R.D. 73
The rule regarding permissive joinder of parties is wholly procedural in nature and does not create nor alter the substantive rights of the parties. At the same time, there are two fundamental prerequisites for joinder under Fed. R. Civ. P. 20 (a)--namely, that the right to relief be asserted by each plaintiff relating to or arising out of the same transaction or occurrence or series of transactions or occurrences and that some question of law or fact common to all of the parties arise in the action.
Defendant employer filed a motion, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 20(a) and Fed. R. Civ. P. 21, to sever a fraud and misrepresentation action brought against it by plaintiff employees into four discrete lawsuits, one by each employee. The employees alleged independent causes of action against the employer under parallel theories of false or reckless misrepresentation, fraud, and breach of promise. The employer's representatives contacted each of the employees concerning executive employment positions. The employer made material misrepresentations of fact and failed to disclose other material information with respect to the executive positions during the course of the respective interviews. The employer sought severance of the employees' claims, arguing that none of the claims arose out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences and that there was no question of law or fact common to all of them.
Should the court deny defendant employer’s motion to sever plaintiff employees' claims where the discrete causes of action all spring from a consistent pattern or practice of employment behavior on the part of a single defendant?
The court denied the employer's motion to sever the claims of the employees brought under parallel theories of false or reckless misrepresentation, fraud, and breach of promise. The court held that resolution of the claims was best promoted if the action was not severed. The court found persuasive the employees' characterization of the employer's actions as demonstrative of a continuing pattern or practice with respect to its employment of admittedly unrelated individuals. The particular circumstances were sufficiently similar to overcome the factual dissimilarities that might otherwise have justified severance.
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