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Cooke v. Meritor, Inc.

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

May 15, 2018

KATHERINE LONGSTREET COOKE, et al. PLAINTIFFS
v.
MERITOR, INC., et al. DEFENDANTS

          ORDER

          DEBRA M. BROWN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This environmental action is before the Court on Stacy Bridges' motion for voluntary dismissal without prejudice. Doc. #331.

         I Relevant Procedural History

         On July 1, 2016, the plaintiffs in this action filed an amended complaint against Meritor, Inc., Rockwell Automation, Inc., The Boeing Company, and Textron, Inc. Doc. #44. The amended complaint asserts various claims against the defendants arising from pollution allegedly caused by the operation of a manufacturing plant in Grenada County, Mississippi. Id. at ¶ 1. The claims include causes of action for property damage and for emotional distress.

         On November 9, 2017, Stacy Bridges, one of the plaintiffs, filed a motion to voluntarily dismiss her claims without prejudice. Doc. #331. The defendants filed a joint response on November 22, 2017. Doc. #352. Bridges did not file a reply.

         II Analysis

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(2) provides that where, as here, an opposing party has served an answer or a motion for summary judgment and no joint stipulation of dismissal has been filed, “an action may be dismissed at the plaintiff's request only by court order, on terms that the court considers proper.” Decisions to grant dismissal under Rule 41(a)(2) fall within the discretion of the district court. U.S. ex rel. Doe v. Dow Chem. Co., 343 F.3d 325, 330 (5th Cir. 2003).

         “[T]here is no single formula for balancing a court's discretion on a Rule 41(a)(2) determination.” Oxford v. Williams Cos., Inc., 154 F.Supp.2d 942, 951 (E.D. Tex. 2001). However, “[m]otions for voluntary dismissal generally should be freely granted unless the non-moving party will suffer some plain legal prejudice other than the mere prospect of a second lawsuit.” Test Masters Educ. Servs., Inc. v. Robin Singh Educ. Servs., Inc., 799 F.3d 437, 448 (5th Cir. 2015) (quotation marks omitted). To determine the existence of plain legal prejudice, the Fifth Circuit has cited with approval a four-factor test from the Eighth Circuit under which a court considers: “(1) the defendant's effort and the expense involved in preparing for trial, (2) excessive delay and lack of diligence on the part of the plaintiff in prosecuting the action, (3) insufficient explanation of the need to take a dismissal, and (4) the fact that a motion for summary judgment has been filed by the defendant.” Elbaor v. Tripath Imaging, Inc., 279 F.3d 314, 317 n.3 (5th Cir. 2002) (quoting Witzman v. Gross, 148 F.3d 988, 992 (8th Cir. 1998)). In addition to these factors, the Fifth Circuit has considered whether dismissal would cause the non-movant to be stripped of an otherwise available defense, Phillips v. Ill. Cent. Gulf R.R., 874 F.2d 984, 987 (5th Cir. 1989); and whether the dismissal is sought “after an adverse trial court ruling, ” Manshack v. Sw. Elec. Power Co., 915 F.2d 172, 174 (5th Cir. 1990).

         A. Effort and Expense in Preparing for Trial

          “Where the plaintiff does not seek dismissal until a late stage and the defendants have exerted significant time and effort, the district court may, in its discretion, refuse to grant a voluntary dismissal.” Hartford Accident & Indem. Co. v. Costa Lines Cargo Servs., Inc., 903 F.2d 352, 360 (5th Cir. 1990). In this case, the defendants contend that they have invested significant effort and expense preparing for trial because:

This case has been pending before the Court for 19 months …. The parties are days away from completing more than a year of extensive party and third-party discovery, with multiple amended complaints filed and hearings attended. Indeed, discovery in this complex environmental contamination case involves multiple sets of parties, covers many decades, and requires costly expert reports and environmental surveys ….

Doc. #352 at 4-5.

         This Court agrees that, for the above reasons, the defendants have invested significant effort and expense into this case and that, therefore, the first factor weighs against dismissal without prejudice. See Dow Chem., 343 F.3d at 330 (affirming denial of voluntary dismissal where “[b]oth sides had filed responsive pleadings in addition to motions to compel, motions for expedited hearing, motions to dismiss, motions for oral arguments, and a motion for rehearing[ and t]he parties had attended several conferences for purposes of scheduling discovery.”).

         B. Excessive Delay and ...


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