Fed. R. Civ. P. 20 imposes two specific requisites to the joinder of parties: (1) a right to relief must be asserted by, or against, each plaintiff or defendant relating to or arising out of the same transaction or occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences; and (2) some question of law or fact common to all the parties must arise in the action. In ascertaining whether a particular factual situation constitutes a single transaction or occurrence for purposes of Rule 20, a case by case approach is generally pursued.
Plaintiffs jointly brought a 12-count action, alleging discriminatory employment practices by defendants. The district court severed the first 10 counts into 10 separate causes of action and withheld determination of the propriety of the purported class until further discovery. Plaintiffs appealed.
Does a trial court have the discretion to order separate trials, thus preventing the joinder of parties filing collectively as part of a class action suit?
The court reversed the district court, remanded with directions to permit the plaintiffs to proceed jointly under Fed. R. Civ. P. 20(a), and affirmed that portion of the district court's judgment withholding determination of the propriety of the purported class until further discovery.
Here, the plaintiffs have asserted a right to relief arising out of the same set of transactions. Each of the ten plaintiffs alleged that he had been injured by the same discriminating policy on the part of General Motors and the Union. Since a "state-wide system designed to enforce the registration laws in a way that would inevitably deprive colored people of the right to vote" was sure to arise from the same set of transactions, the court concluded that a company-wide policy purportedly designed to discriminate against Negroes in employment similarly arises out of the same circumstances. Thus the plaintiffs meet the first requisite for joinder under Rule 20(a).
The right to relief here relies on the showing that each of the plaintiffs was wronged by racially discriminatory policies on the part of the defendants General Motors and the Union. As such, the discriminatory character of the defendants' conduct is basic to each plaintiff's recovery. The fact that each plaintiff may have suffered different effects from the alleged discrimination is immaterial for this purpose. Thus, the court correctly ruled that the second requisite for joinder under Rule 20(a) is also met by the complaint.