United States District Court, S.D. New York
OPINION & ORDER
PAUL A. ENGELMAYER, District Judge.
Pending before the Court is a motion by the defendants to consolidate these two actions. These two lawsuits were filed by different plaintiffs, a few months apart, against the same two defendants: (1) a restaurant and bar (200 Ninth Restaurant LLC, which does business as "The Meatball Shop") and (2) its landlord (200 Chelsea Corp.), which owns the property. The two plaintiffs, who both use wheelchairs, bring fundamentally the same core claim: that The Meatball Shop is inaccessible for disabled individuals and therefore the defendants have violated, inter alia, the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12181 et seq., the New York City Human Rights Law ("NYCHRL"), and the New York State Human Rights Law ("NYSHRL"). Because the Court has determined that these two cases involve significant common questions, the Court grants defendants' motion to consolidate these two cases, for all pretrial purposes. Following the close of discovery and the resolution of any summary judgment motions, the Court will determine, if necessary, whether consolidation of these actions for a common trial is also merited (as appears likely).
I. Factual and Procedural Background
On July 8, 2014, plaintiff Joseph Parenteau ("Parenteau") filed a Complaint, alleging that the defendants violated Title III of the ADA, the NYCHRL, and the NYSHRL based on, inter alia, architectural barriers to access at The Meatball Shop, which is located at 200 Ninth Avenue in Manhattan. 14 Civ. 5099, Dkt. 1 ("Parenteau Compl."). Parenteau's Complaint alleges that, inter alia, (1) the front entrance violates these statutes because it lacks a ramp or wheelchair lift, and the front doors specifically are not ADA-compliant; (2) the restaurant lacks an accessible means of egress; (3) the restroom is not currently ADA-compliant; and (4) the bar is inaccessible to a customer in a wheelchair. Id. ¶ 16. Parenteau alleges that The Meatball Shop failed to make readily achievable accommodations. Id. ¶ 18. Parenteau seeks compensatory damages, a declaratory judgment, injunctive relief, and attorneys' fees and costs. Id. ¶¶ 29, 31, 32.
On November 14, 2014, plaintiff Claudio Darezzo ("Darezzo") filed a Complaint, alleging that the same defendants violated Title III of the ADA, the NYCHRL, the NYSHRL, and the New York State Civil Rights Law ("NYSHRL"), and also committed common-law negligence, based on, inter alia, architectural barriers to access at The Meatball Shop. 14 Civ. 9081, Dkt. 1 ("Darezzo Compl."). Darezzo's Complaint alleges that, inter alia, (1) the front entrance violates these statutes because it lacks a ramp or wheelchair lift, and the front doors specifically are not ADA-compliant; (2) the restaurant lacks an accessible means of egress; (3) the restroom is not currently ADA-compliant; and (4) the bar is inaccessible to a customer in a wheelchair. Id. ¶ 22. Darezzo alleges that The Meatball Shop failed to make readily achievable accommodations. Id. ¶ 32. Darezzo seeks compensatory damages, a declaratory judgment, injunctive relief, attorneys' fees and costs, punitive damages, and a ruling that defendants are guilty of a Class A misdemeanor for violating the NYSCRL. Id., pp. 13-15.
Defendants answered both Complaints, denying plaintiffs' allegations and raising the same 20 affirmative defenses in each Answer. See 14 Civ. 5099, Dkt. 11; 14 Civ. 9081, Dkt. 10.
On December 22, 2014, defendants moved to consolidate these two cases and submitted a brief in support. 14 Civ. 5099, Dkt. 19-21; 14 Civ. 9081, Dkt. 11-13. On December 24, 2014, the Court issued an Order directing plaintiffs to inform the Court whether they opposed defendants' motion. Darezzo does not oppose the motion, see 14 Civ. 9081, Dkt. 15; Parenteau, by contrast, filed a brief in opposition to the consolidation motion, see 14 Civ. 5099, Dkt. 24 ("Parenteau Opp. Br.").
II. Legal Standard
Rule 42(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that, "[i]f actions before the court involve a common question of law or fact, the court may: (1) join for hearing or trial any or all matters at issue in the actions; (2) consolidate the actions; or (3) issue any other orders to avoid unnecessary cost or delay."
This Rule "empowers a trial judge to consolidate actions for trial"-or for more limited purposes, such as pretrial proceedings-"when there are common questions of law or fact, " and where consolidation will avoid needless costs or delay. Johnson v. Celotex Corp., 899 F.2d 1281, 1284 (2d Cir. 1990). "The Rule should be prudently employed as a valuable and important tool of judicial administration, invoked to expedite trial and eliminate unnecessary repetition and confusion. In assessing whether consolidation is appropriate in given circumstances, a district court should consider both equity and judicial economy." Devlin v. Transp. Commc'ns Int'l Union, 175 F.3d 121, 130 (2d Cir. 1999) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). "Typically, considerations of judicial economy favor consolidation, but the benefits of efficiency can never be purchased at the cost of fairness." M & T Mortg. Corp. v. White, No. 04 Civ. 4775 (WFK) (VVP), 2012 WL 715896, at *1 (E.D.N.Y. Feb. 14, 2012) (quoting Malcolm v. Nat'l Gypsum Co., 995 F.2d 346, 350 (2d Cir. 1993)), report and recommendation adopted, No. 04 Civ. 4775 (WFK) (VVP), 2012 WL 954651 (E.D.N.Y. Mar. 5, 2012). Before a Court orders a consolidated trial, it must consider several factors and determine, inter alia, whether the gains in efficiency and economy are outweighed by the "risks of prejudice and possible confusion." Johnson, 899 F.2d at 1284 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).
The Court holds that consolidation of these cases is clearly merited, at least for pretrial purposes such as discovery and the resolution of dispositive pretrial motions. Both plaintiffs have sued the same two defendants, concerning the same facility-The Meatball Shop-and have brought parallel and highly similar claims under the ADA and parallel state and city laws: to wit, that The Meatball Shop unlawfully discriminated against the plaintiffs based on the facility's inaccessibility to those individuals who use wheelchairs. Plaintiffs, in fact, make certain identical claims of ADA violations in their Complaints, including that: (1) the front entrance violates the anti-discrimination statutes because it lacks a ramp or wheelchair lift, and because the front doors are not ADA-compliant; (2) the restaurant lacks an accessible means of egress; (3) the restroom is not ADA-compliant; and (4) the bar is inaccessible to a customer using a wheelchair. Given these similarities, it is perhaps unsurprising that Parenteau and Darezzo seek largely the same remedies, including compensatory damages, a declaratory judgment, injunctive relief, and attorneys' fees and costs.
Parenteau's and Darezzo's claims also turn on entirely the same-or at a minimum, virtually all the same-evidence. Most centrally, Parenteau and Darezzo will need to inspect the same property and depose the same witnesses. Consolidation will "eliminate unnecessary repetition, " reduce the costs for all parties, and avoid the possible risk of inconsistent rulings. Devlin, 175 F.3d at 130. The Court therefore holds that these two cases obviously present a host of common questions of law and fact, including whether The Meatball Shop and its landlord violated the ADA, the NYCHRL, and the NYSHRL based on the derelictions alleged in both Complaints.
Recognizing the obvious inefficiency of separate proceedings, Darezzo does not oppose defendants' motion for consolidation; Parenteau, however, the first plaintiff to bring suit, does. Parenteau's arguments include the following: (1) these two cases "are not entirely consistent with one another, " because one alleges 18 ADA violations, whereas the other alleges 20 ADA violations, Parenteau Opp. Br. ¶ 1; (2) these two cases involve different plaintiffs who are unrelated to each other, id. at ¶ 3; (3) Darezzo asserts two causes of action not asserted by Parenteau, namely a negligence claim and a NYSCRL claim, id. in 5-6; (4) Darezzo seeks punitive damages whereas Parenteau does not, id. ¶ 7; and (5) an out-of-circuit case found ...