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Blackmon v. Bracken Construction Co., Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

April 8, 2019

TED BLACKMON ET AL.
v.
BRACKEN CONSTRUCTION COMPANY ET AL.

          RULING AND ORDER

          BRIAN A. JACKSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court are four motions: the Motion to Bifurcate Trial and Discovery (Doc. 76) filed by Defendants Anthony Ver Meer, The Charter Oak Fire Insurance Company, Travelers Property Casualty Company of America, and Travelers Excess and Surplus Lines Company (collectively, the "Insurer Defendants"); the Motion to Bifurcate and Stay Discovery (Doc. 77) filed by Defendants C3 Construction Services, Inc., Bracken Construction Company, Inc., and Jhon Evelio Jaramillo (collectively, the "Insured Defendants"); the Motion to Enforce Settlements (Doc. 88) filed by the Insurer Defendants; and the Motion to Lift Stay (Doc. 104) filed by Plaintiffs Ted and Ruthie Blackmon. Also before the Court is Plaintiffs' Notice of Voluntary Partial Dismissal (Doc. 86) of their rescission and negligence claims.

         For the reasons that follow, the Motions to Bifurcate (Docs. 76, 77) are GRANTED, the Motion to Enforce Settlements (Doc. 88) is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART, and the Motion to Lift Stay (Doc. 104) is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This dispute arises from a car accident and an insurer's efforts to settle the claims that resulted from it. (Doc. 79).

         On the day of the accident, Jhon Jaramillo was driving a truck for his employers, C3 Construction Services and Bracken Construction Company. (Id.). Jaramillo's westbound truck entered the eastbound lane and struck a sedan driven by Ted Blackmon and carrying two passengers, Shemika Robinson and Khance Blackmon. (Id.). The accident killed Khance Blackmon and Robinson; it injured Ted Blackmon. (Id.). Claims adjuster Anthony Ver Meer negotiated settlements with Plaintiffs for claims arising from the accident. (Id.).

         Plaintiffs sued (1) the Insurer Defendants to rescind the settlements and to recover damages for fraud, and (2) the Insured Defendants for negligently causing the accident. (Id.). Plaintiffs allege that the Insurer Defendants fraudulently induced them to settle their claims arising from the accident by misrepresenting the amount of available insurance coverage. (Id.).

         Chiefly at issue is how this litigation should proceed-on one track or two. Plaintiffs seek single-track trial and discovery; Defendants seek two-track trial and discovery; they hope to litigate the rescission and fraud claims before the accident-related negligence claims. (Docs. 76, 77, 104). To persuade the Court that single-track trial and discovery is appropriate, Plaintiffs noticed the voluntary dismissal of their negligence and rescission claims. (Doc. 86). Because the effect of that notice is relevant to the Court's bifurcation analysis, the Court addresses the notice first.

         II. Effect of Notice of Voluntary Dismissal

         Plaintiffs noticed the voluntary dismissal of their negligence and rescission claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a). (Doc. 86). Defendants argue that the dismissal is ineffective because Rule 41(a) allows dismissal of "an action," and Plaintiffs' notice purports to dismiss less than "an action." (Doc. 96). The Court agrees.

         A plaintiff may "dismiss an action without a court order by filing a notice of dismissal before the opposing party serves an answer or a motion for summary judgment." FED. R. ClV. P. 41 (a)(1)(A)(i) (emphasis added). An "action" is a "civil or criminal judicial proceeding." Black's Law Dictionary 32 (9th ed. 2009).

         Plaintiffs' notice purports to dismiss four of twelve claims-not this "proceeding." (Doc. 86). Because Plaintiffs' notice purports to dismiss less than this "proceeding," it does not seek dismissal of "an action." See FED. R. Civ. P. 41(a)(1)(A)(i). And because it does not seek dismissal of this "action," it is ineffective under Rule 41(a). See Bailey v. Shell W. E&P, Inc., 609 F.3d 710, 720 (5th Cir. 2010) ("Rule 41(a) dismissal only applies to the dismissal of an entire action[.]").[1]

         It is by Rule 15 amendment-not Rule 41(a) voluntary dismissal-that Plaintiffs may drop particular claims. Accordingly, Plaintiffs' Notice of Voluntary Partial Dismissal (Doc. 86) is WITHOUT EFFECT and ...


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