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Poincon v. Offshore Marine Contractors, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

October 31, 2018

SONIA POINCON
v.
OFFSHORE MARINE CONTRACTORS, INC., REC MARINE LOGISTICS, LLC and UNITED COMMUNITY BANK

         SECTION: M (3)

          ORDER & REASONS

          BARRY W. ASHE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is the motion[1] of defendant, United Community Bank (“UCB”), to sever the claims arising out of the two incidents involving plaintiff, Sonia Poincon (“Poincon”), that are alleged in her complaint.[2] Poincon opposes the motion to sever.[3] UCB filed a reply in support of the motion, [4] to which Poincon responded with a surreply in opposition to the motion.[5] Having considered the parties' memoranda and the applicable law, the Court issues this Order & Reasons.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This suit involves maritime claims by a Jones Act seafarer and cook arising out of two separate and distinct incidents resulting in personal injuries. According to Poincon's complaint, the first incident occurred in May 2015, while Poincon was employed by defendant Offshore Marine Contractors, Inc. (“OMC”) on the M/V Louis J. Eymard (the “Eymard”), a vessel owned by UCB.[6] Poincon alleges that a tug and barge owned and operated by defendant REC Marine Logistics, LLC (“REC”) collided with the Eymard, resulting in injuries to Poincon's neck and back.[7] Poincon's claims for this first incident are directed against REC, OMC and UCB.[8]

         Poincon alleges that the second incident occurred in February 2018, nearly three years later, while Poincon was employed by OMC on the M/V Toby Dodd, a vessel OMC owned.[9] Poincon alleges further that she injured her neck and back when attempting to break through ice that had accumulated in the vessel's freezer.[10] Poincon's claims for this second incident are directed against only OMC.[11]

         Poincon filed this lawsuit on March 14, 2018. On May 16, 2018, OMC answered and crossclaimed against UCB, seeking defense and indemnity for the first incident pursuant to a vessel boarding agreement (“VBA”).[12] OMC did not crossclaim against UCB with regard to the second incident.

         II. PENDING MOTION

         Pursuant to Rule 21 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, UCB moves to sever the claims arising out of Poincon's first incident from the claims arising out of Poincon's second incident, so that each incident can be litigated separately. UCB urges that “[b]ecause [Poincon's] two accidents are two separate incidents that occurred on different vessels, with different witnesses, at different times, and under different circumstances, these claims should be severed to prevent prejudice and promote judicial economy.”[13] UCB places particular emphasis upon OMC's crossclaim, arguing that it “highlights the separate and disparate nature of [Poincon's] two accidents” and “gives rise to inherent conflicts and perverse incentives if claims arising out of [Poincon's] two accidents are allowed to proceed in the same lawsuit.”[14] UCB also urges that severance is warranted to reduce jury confusion and to enhance fairness and equity.[15]

         III. LAW & ANALYSIS

         a. Rule 21 Standard[16]

Rule 21 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides:
Misjoinder of parties is not a ground for dismissing an action. On motion or on its own, the court may at any time, on just terms, add or drop a party. The court may also sever any claim against a party.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 21 (emphasis added). Under Rule 21, a “district court has the discretion to sever an action if it is misjoined or might otherwise cause delay or prejudice.” Applewhite v. Reichhold Chems., Inc., 67 F.3d 571, 574 (5th Cir. 1995). Despite the permissive nature of joinder, a district court has broad discretion in deciding whether to sever any claim against a party pursuant to Rule 21. See Brunet v. United Gas Pipeline Co., 15 F.3d 500, 505 (5th Cir. 1994); United States v. O'Neil, 709 F.2d 361, 367 (5th Cir. 1983). The Fifth Circuit has described the effect of severance as follows:

Severance under Rule 21 creates two separate actions or suits where previously there was but one. Where a single claim is severed out of a suit, it proceeds as a discre[te], independent action, and a court may render a final, appealable judgment in either one of the resulting two actions notwithstanding the continued existence of unresolved claims in the other.

O'Neil, 709 F.2d at 368; see also Allied Elevator, Inc. v. E. Tex. State Bank, 965 F.2d 34, 36 (5th Cir. 1992) (quoting O'Neil, 709 F.2d at 368).

         Because Rule 21 does not itself set out a standard for its application, courts have generally looked to Rule 20 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for guidance as to whether severance is proper under Rule 21. Acevedo v. Allsup's Convenience ...


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