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Gerace v. Cliffstar Corp.

December 15, 2009

BRENDA GERACE, LEE ANN JOHNSON, AND KIMBERLY WEINERT, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CLIFFSTAR CORPORATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: William M. Skretny United States District Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiffs Brenda Gerace, Lee Ann Johnson, and Kimberly Weinert commenced this action by filing a Complaint in the United States District Court for the Western District of New York on February 1, 2005, alleging that Defendant Cliffstar Corporation discriminated against them in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq ("ADA"), and New York State Human Rights Law, N.Y. Exec. §§ 290 et seq ("NYHRL"). This case was originally assigned to the Honorable John T. Elfvin, Senior United States District Judge.

Presently before this Court is Defendant's renewed motion to sever Plaintiffs' claims*fn1 under Rule 21 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Docket No. 59.) The motion is fully briefed,*fn2 and the Court has determined oral argument is unnecessary. For the reasons discussed below, Defendant's motion is denied.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Facts

Plaintiffs are former employees of Cliffstar, a company that produces fruit juice. Plaintiffs, all hired as general laborers at a plant in Dunkirk, New York, worked on the bottling production lines, and also at "rework" stations, where they corrected problems in bottles and products. All three Plaintiffs claim that during the time they were employed at Cliffstar, they sustained injuries and/or suffered from medical conditions that substantially impaired their major life activities. Each claims to be disabled within the meaning of the ADA and NYSHRL. Plaintiffs alternatively claim that Cliffstar regarded them as disabled.

On June 18, 2003, Cliffstar issued the same letter to each Plaintiff, wherein it stated it could not accommodate their respective restrictions in their current positions, and terminated their employment. Plaintiffs were sent another letter, dated June 27, 2003, informing them that the first letter had been "written incorrectly" and that each should consider herself on layoff status. On November 25, 2003, Cliffstar informed each Plaintiff by letter that her employment was being terminated.

The gravamen of this action is Cliffstar's alleged failure to provide Plaintiffs reasonable accommodation. This case is now ready to proceed to trial and Defendant seeks a separate trial for each individual Plaintiff.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Law

Rule 21 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs "misjoinder and non-joinder of parties" and provides, in part, that the court may "add or drop a party" or "sever any claim against a party." Courts have "broad discretion to sever claims under Rule 21" and doing so results in entirely independent actions being tried to independent judgments. Tardd v. Brookhaven Nat'l Laboratory, No. 04-CV-3262, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 34378, at *18 (E.D.N.Y. May 8, 2007) (citing cases).

When considering a motion to sever, a district court must evaluate whether severance will further the aims of justice and fairness, and promote judicial economy while avoiding the cumulative presentation of evidence. Corporan v. City of Binghamton, No. 05-CV-1340, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 74963, at *9 (N.D.N.Y. Oct. 16, 2006). In doing so, the court should consider whether:

1) the claims arise out of the same transaction or occurrence; 2) the claims present some common questions of law or fact; (3) settlement of the claims or judicial economy would be facilitated; (4) prejudice would be avoided if severance were granted; and (5) different ...


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