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Thompson Thrift Construction, Inc. v. Hyman Plumbing Co.

United States District Court, Sixth Circuit

July 11, 2013

THOMPSON THRIFT CONSTRUCTION, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
HYMAN PLUMBING COMPANY, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

DANNY C. REEVES, District Judge.

This matter is pending for consideration of Defendant Hyman Plumbing Company's ("Hyman") motion to sever the plaintiff's claims and to transfer venue. [Record No. 10] Hyman contends that, because the Complaint involves "three wholly-independent construction projects, " each claim should be severed and transferred to a different venue. [Record No. 10-1, p. 1] Having reviewed this matter, the Court concludes that Plaintiff Thompson Thrift Construction, Inc. ("Thompson") properly joined all of its claims against Hyman. After weighing the factors of prejudice to the parties, juror confusion, and convenience and economy, the Court is not convinced that severance is appropriate. Transferring the case is similarly inappropriate. Therefore, the defendant's motion will be denied.

I.

Thompson is an Indiana corporation that provides "material, labor, equipment and supervision for the installation of plumbing systems." [Record No. 1, p. 2] Hyman is "a plumbing company that operates as a subcontractor on large multi-family residential construction projects nationwide." [ Id. ] According to the Complaint, the parties entered into three agreements under which Hyman would provide services for Thompson, including: (1) the Hamburg Subcontract, [1] executed on or around February 2, 2012, for a project in Lexington, Kentucky; (2) the Indian Lake Subcontract, executed on or around November 15, 2011, for a project in Hendersonville, Tennessee; and (3) the Sienna Plantation Subcontract, executed on or around November 1, 2011, for a project in Missouri City, Texas. [Record No. 1] The Indian Lake and Sienna Plantation Subcontracts contain choice-of-law provisions designating Tennessee and Texas law, respectively, as controlling.

Thompson alleges that Hyman provided defective plumbing work, and failed to complete work on all three projects pursuant to the subcontracts. It further contends that the contracts were terminated after Hyman failed to comply with a Notice of Default which requested that the defendant remedy the deficiencies. As a result, Thompson states that it was required to hire another subcontractor for each project.

Thompson has joined in this action all of its claims against Hyman. In each instance, it seeks compensatory damages for the alleged defective work and breach of contract. However, Hyman argues that each claim should be severed and transferred to the venues where the subcontracts were to be performed. Specifically, it asks that "the claims regarding the Sienna Subcontract [] be transferred to the Southern District of Texas, and the claims regarding the Indian Lake Subcontract [] be transferred to the Middle District of Tennessee."[2] [Record No. 10-1, p. 3]

II.

As an initial matter, the Court notes that even where claims are properly joined it may sever any claim against a party. Fed.R.Civ.P. 21. "For convenience, to avoid prejudice, or to expedite and economize, the court may order a separate trial of one or more separate issues, claims, crossclaims, counterclaims, or third-party claims." Fed.R.Civ.P. 42(b). In determining whether separate trials are appropriate, "the court should consider several facts, including the potential prejudice to the parties, the possible confusion of the jurors, and the resulting convenience and economy." Wilson v. Morgan, 477 F.3d 326, 339 (6th Cir. 2007). Further, the determination of whether claims should be severed is a discretionary one. New York v. Hendrickson Bros., Inc., 840 F.2d 1065, 1082 (2d Cir. 1988) ("The decision of whether to grant severance is committed to the sound discretion of the trial court.").

In addition to the authority to sever claims, the Court has "broad discretion" in ruling on a motion to transfer matters to other venues. Ky. Speedway, LLC v. Nat'l Ass'n of Stock Car Auto Racing, 406 F.Supp.2d 751, 754 (E.D. Ky. 2005). When making this determination, the following factors are weighed:

(1) the convenience of witnesses; (2) the location of relevant documents and relative ease of access to sources of proof; (3) the convenience of the parties; (4) the locus of the operative facts; (5) the availability of process to compel the attendance of unwilling witnesses; (6) the relative means of the parties; (7) the forum's familiarity with the governing law; (8) the weight accorded the plaintiff's choice of forum; and (9) trial efficiency and the interests of justice, based on the totality of the circumstances.

Cowden v. Parker & Assoc., Inc., No. 5:09-CV-0323-KKC, 2010 WL 715850, at *3 (E.D. Ky. Feb. 22, 2010). In addressing these factors, the Sixth Circuit has indicated that district courts have broad discretion to determine when convenience or the interests of justice make transfer appropriate. Reese v. CNH Am., LLC, 574 F.3d 315, 320 (6th Cir. 2009). Although severance of claims and transfer of actions may occur even if venue is proper, a request to sever should be denied if it will result in delay, inconvenience, or added expense to the parties. 7 Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1689 (3d ed. 2013).

III.

A. Severance

In addition to the foregoing principles, Rule 18 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that a "party asserting a claim.... may join, as independent or alternative claims, as many claims as it has against an opposing party." Fed.R.Civ.P. 18. This rule "proceed[s] upon the theory that no inconvenience can result from the joinder of any two or more matters in the pleadings, but only from trying two or more matters together which have little or nothing in common." Advisory Committee notes to Fed.R.Civ.P. 18. Thus, the rule "provides the parties with great freedom in the joinder of claims." 7 Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1689 (3d ed. 2013). Of course, Rule 18(a) is subject to the court's power to direct an appropriate procedure for trying the claims. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 42(b), 20(b), 21. Thus, even though Thompson has ...


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