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Cooper v. Meritor, Inc.

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

April 24, 2018




         This case is before the Court on the defendants' motion to sever. Doc. #414.

         I Relevant Procedural History

         On March 16, 2016, Brenda Cooper, Sylvia Caffey, Margaret Odems, Bernice Richardson, Dora Ward, Rosie Brady, Pearl Seldon, Betty Phillips, Alice Crumley, and Sylvia Cunningham filed a complaint in this Court against Rockwell International Corporation and Randall Division of Textron, Inc. Doc. #1. Approximately four months later, the plaintiffs filed an amended complaint against Meritor, Inc., Rockwell Automation Inc., The Boeing Company, and Textron, Inc. Doc. #43.

         In the amended complaint, the plaintiffs, residents or former residents of Grenada County, Mississippi, seek to recover for injuries to their homes and property caused by a manufacturing plant located in Grenada, Mississippi. The plaintiffs allege that they “are residents or former residents of a neighborhood adjacent” to the manufacturing plant, specifically, the “Eastern Heights” neighborhood, and that the plant was operated by: (1) Rockwell International Corporation, the predecessor to Rockwell Automation, Inc., which itself is a predecessor to The Boeing Company, from 1965 until 1985; and (2) Randall Wheel Trim, a subsidiary of Textron, Inc., from 1985 until the present. Doc. #43 at 1-6, 9. The plaintiffs further allege that the plant, which was used to manufacture chrome-plated wheel covers, utilized numerous chemicals, including hexavalent chromium, and trichloroethylene (“TCE”), and that these chemicals were illegally dumped into the environment, with the defendants concealing such disposal. The plaintiffs assert six claims arising from the allegedly wrongful acts: (1) Fraud and Fraudulent Concealment (Count I); (2) Civil Conspiracy (Count II); (3) Negligence (Count III); (4) Nuisance (Count IV); (5) Trespass (Count V); and (6) Intentional and/or Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress (Count VI). Subsequently, the parties stipulated to the dismissal of Count I and Count II. Doc. #174.

         On November 15, 2017, the defendants moved to sever the ten plaintiffs into nine separate actions, with the claims of Phillips and Crumley (asserted as joint representatives of Hildred Johnson) remaining together. Doc. #414. The plaintiffs responded in opposition to the motion on November 29, 2017, and the defendants replied on December 6, 2017. Doc. #435; Doc. #450. On April 5, 2018, the defendants moved to supplement their motion. Doc. #528. The plaintiffs did not respond to the motion to supplement within the time allowed.


         Motion to Supplement

         In their motion to supplement, the defendants assert that, due to delays by the plaintiffs, they only recently deposed Phillips and that the deposition:

revealed (1) unique claims and corresponding defenses regarding ownership of the residence at issue (and discrete issues with … Plaintiff Alice Crumley, Ms. Phillips' sister), (2) a potential personal injury claim by Ms. Phillips, and (3) the failure to join necessary parties to resolve Ms. Phillips' case, resulting in potential incomplete relief.

Doc. #528 at 1-2. The defendants claim supplemental briefing is warranted to show how “[t]hese individualized issues raised by just one of the Plaintiffs' claims illustrate precisely why severance is appropriate.” Id. at 2. In essence, the defendants seek leave to argue that all plaintiffs should be severed because Phillips should be severed. Because the law of severance, as set forth below, does not support such an argument, the motion to supplement will be denied. The defendants may, however, raise their arguments related to Phillips' joinder in a separate motion to sever. Such motion must be filed within fourteen days of this order.



         Pursuant to Rule 20 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure:

Persons may join in one action as plaintiffs if:
(A) they assert any right to relief jointly, severally, or in the alternative with respect to or arising out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences; and
(B) any question of law or fact common to all plaintiffs will arise in the action.

Fed. R Civ. P. 20(a)(1). Notwithstanding this provision, Rule 21 grants a district court broad discretion to “sever any claim against a party.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 21 (emphasis added); see Brunet v. United Gas Pipeline Co., 15 F.3d 500, 505 (5th Cir. 1994) (“The trial court has broad ...

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