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King v. Cole's Poultry, LLC

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Aberdeen Division

December 13, 2016

JAMES E. KING, SR., et al. PLAINTIFFS
v.
COLE'S POULTRY, LLC, et al. DEFENDANTS

          ORDER

          MICHAEL P. MILLS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This cause comes before the Court on defendant Peco Foods, Inc.'s (“Peco”) Motion to Sever [257]. Plaintiffs filed a response in opposition to the motion [353], to which Peco filed a reply [391]. Having reviewed the parties' submissions, along with relevant evidence and authorities, the Court is prepared to rule.

         I. Relevant Factual and Procedural Background

         Cole's Poultry, LLC (“Cole's”), Skeels Poultry, LLC (“Skeels”), and Peco are engaged in broiler chicken operations, utilizing confined chicken facilities in Monroe County, Mississippi, to raise chickens for meat production. Under their arrangement, Peco, an Alabama corporation, supplies the chickens to Cole's and Skeels, who actually operate the Monroe Country facilities. While Cole's and Skeels operate the facilities, Peco maintains an extensive amount of authority over the chicken growing process and the day-to-day operations of the facilities.

         This action commenced on July 20, 2011, when fifty-seven[1] residents of Monroe County, Mississippi (collectively “Plaintiffs”), filed their complaint against Cole's, Skeels, and Peco. Plaintiffs filed their suit in the Circuit Court of Monroe County, Mississippi, alleging that the defendants' confined chicken facilities located in close proximity to Plaintiffs' homes and properties interfere with their ability to use and enjoy their properties. Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that “[t]he foul, noxious, and potentially dangerous odors emanating from these chicken facilities, as well as millions of flies and other potentially harmful emissions have impaired Plaintiffs' ability to use and enjoy their properties and have caused substantial damage to their quality of life.” Cole's and Skeels were eventually dismissed from the action, leaving Peco as the sole defendant. On November 27, 2013, Peco removed the action to this Court based upon diversity jurisdiction. In the third amended complaint, Plaintiffs assert against Peco causes of action for temporary and continuing nuisance, negligence, and negligent entrustment. On November 29, 2016, the Court granted Peco's omnibus motion for summary judgment as to the negligent entrustment claim but denied their motion as to all other claims. Thus, Plaintiffs' negligence and nuisance claims remain pending.

         Now before the Court is Peco's motion to sever. In the motion, Peco argues Plaintiffs' claims were fraudulently joined and thus should be severed and tried separately. Plaintiffs responded in opposition, and Peco filed a reply. Upon due consideration of these submissions, in addition to relevant case law and evidence, the Court finds that Peco's motion should be denied.

         II. Conclusions of Law

         To determine whether Plaintiffs' claims were fraudulently misjoined, the Court looks to the Mississippi Rules of Civil Procedure. Cooper v. AIG Claim Servs., Inc., 2009 WL 279101, at *2 (N.D. Miss. Feb. 5, 2009) (“In a removed case, questions of ‘fraudulent misjoinder' are determined by the state's joinder rules.”).[2] The Mississippi Supreme Court has recognized that trial courts maintain “broad discretion in determining when and how claims are tried” under the Mississippi Rules. First Investors Corp. v. Rayner, 738 So.2d 228, 238 (Miss. 1999). Rule 20 is the particular rule at issue in resolving questions of fraudulent misjoinder. Tri-Miss. Servs. Inc. v. Fairley, 2012 WL 5611058, at *3 (S.D.Miss. Nov. 15, 2012) (“To determine if a party has been fraudulently misjoined, the court applies Rule 20 of the Mississippi Rules of Civil Procedure.”).

         In pertinent part, Rule 20 provides:

All persons may join in one action as plaintiffs if they assert any right to relief jointly, severally, or in the alternative in respect of or arising out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences, and if any question of law or fact common to all these persons will arise in the action.

         Miss. R. Civ. P. 20(a). Thus, in order for joinder to be proper under Rule 20, two criteria must be satisfied: (1) that the plaintiffs “assert any right to relief jointly, severally, or in the alternative” which “aris[e] out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences”; and (2) that “any question of law or fact common to all these persons will arise in the action.” Id. (emphasis added). The comment to Rule 20 states in part:

The phrase “transaction or occurrence” requires that there be a distinct litigable event linking the parties. Rule 20(a) simply establishes a procedure un1der which several parties' demands arising out of the same litigable event may be tried together, thereby avoiding the unnecessary loss of time and money to the court and the parties that the duplicate presentation of the evidence relating to facts common to more than one demand for relief would entail.

Miss. R. Civ. P. 20 cmt.

         The Court finds that both Rule 20(a) requirements are satisfied here. Regarding the first prong, Plaintiffs have all asserted the same rights to relief based upon the odors, flies, and truck traffic caused by the Monroe County chicken houses. Their claims are based upon the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences. The ongoing operations at the Monroe County facilities create a distinct litigable event linking Plaintiffs' claims. The second prong requires the presence of any common question of law or fact. Here, there are common questions of law, as Plaintiffs have all asserted identical causes of action. Thus, Plaintiffs will all be required to prove the same elements in order to recover. There are also common questions of fact, as Plaintiffs' claims all revolve around the operations at the Monroe County facilities. Therefore, both Rule 20(a) requirements are satisfied. Borrowing the ...


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