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Sturgis v. Silvers

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

March 16, 2017

JARED SILVERS, et al. Defendants


          Hon. Jane Magntts-Stinson, Chief Judge United States District Court

         On January 27, 2017, the Court ordered the parties to show cause why Timarron Real Estate LLC's (“Timarron”) crossclaims should not be severed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 21 and the resulting new action stayed pursuant to Colorado River Water Conservation District v. United States, 424 U.S. 800 (1976). [Filing No. 254.] The parties have responded to the Court's Order. Timarron partially supports the proposed actions [Filing No. 261; Filing No. 282], while the Crossclaim Defendants (“Tenants”)[1] [Filing No. 280] and Plaintiff Diana Sturgis (“Ms. Sturgis”) [Filing No. 281] oppose them. Having considered the parties' submissions and all relevant factors, the Court concludes that a severance and stay of Timarron's crossclaims is appropriate and in the interests of justice.



         A. Procedural History in this Case

         Ms. Sturgis brought this personal injury action in May 2015, alleging that Timarron, the owner of the property at which she was injured, was responsible for the injuries she suffered after falling from a deck during a social gathering after the deck's railing broke. [Filing No. 1.] Ms. Sturgis amended her complaint in October 2015 to add negligence claims against the Tenants of Timarron's property. [Filing No. 33; see Filing No. 42 (currently-operative third amended complaint).]

         On November 11, 2015, Timarron brought a three-count crossclaim against the Tenants. [Filing No. 49.] Count I alleges breach of contract for the property damage the Tenants caused during their tenancy. [Filing No. 49 at 12-13.] Counts II and III allege contractual and common-law indemnification claims for Timarron's defense against any personal injury actions arising out of the social gathering where the deck railing broke. [Filing No. 49 at 13-16.]

         B. Indiana Case

         While litigating its crossclaims in this Court, Timarron has simultaneously pursued similar claims against the Tenants in a previously-filed Indiana state court action (“Indiana Case”). In April 2014, more than a year before the instant case was filed, Timarron brought an action for eviction and damages against the Tenants in Monroe Circuit Court. [See Filing No. 254-1; Filing No. 254-2.] In July 2015, Timarron filed an amended complaint in the state court action, alleging breach of contract for the property damage and contractual indemnification for its damages in defending against Ms. Sturgis's lawsuit. [Filing No. 254-3.] The Indiana Case has not materially progressed by agreement of the parties since November 2015. [Filing No. 280 at 5; Filing No. 261 at 6.]

         C. Perlman Case

         Timarron has also pursued crossclaims in a personal injury suit brought by another person injured when the deck railing broke. On April 1, 2016, Adam Perlman brought suit in Indiana state court against Timarron and the Tenants for his injuries suffered in the same incident (“Perlman Case”). Plaintiff's Complaint for Damages, Perlman v. Timarron Real Estate, LLC, No. 53C01-1604-CT-000725 (Monroe Cir. Ct. Apr. 1, 2015). On August 15, 2016, Timarron crossclaimed against the Tenants with claims identical to those asserted in this case, including breach of contract for property damage and indemnification for any lawsuit stemming from the broken railing incident.[2] Timarron Answer and Cross-Claims, Perlman, at 10-17 (Monroe Cir. Ct. Aug. 15, 2016). On November 28, 2016, Mr. Perlman settled his claims against Timarron and dismissed them with prejudice. Joint Motion for Order of Dismissal, Perlman (Monroe Cir. Ct. Nov. 28, 2016). Timarron's crossclaims remain pending in the Perlman Case.

         D. Sturgis-Timarron Settlement in this Case

         On January 4, 2017, Ms. Sturgis settled her claims in this case against Timmaron and dismissed them with prejudice. [Filing No. 212.] Timarron is therefore no longer a defendant to Ms. Sturgis's personal injury suit in this Court. Timarron's breach of contract and indemnification crossclaims, however, remain pending against the Tenants.

         In summary, Timarron has similar or identical breach of contract and indemnification claims against the Tenants in three different actions: the first-filed Indiana Case, this case, and the Perlman Case. This Order addresses the appropriate treatment of Timarron's crossclaims in this matter given the trifurcated proliferation of these actions.



         A. Legal Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 21 provides that the “court may at any time, on just terms, add or drop a party.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 21. “It is within the district court's broad discretion whether to sever a claim under Rule 21” where there is “a discrete and separate claim.” Rice v. Sunrise Express, Inc., 209 F.3d 1008, 1016 (7th Cir. 2000). Claims may be “discrete and separate” even where “the facts underlying the[] claims overlap.” Gaffney v. Riverboat Servs. of Ind., Inc., 451 F.3d 424, 434 (7th Cir. 2006). Severance is proper where “severance would simplify the proceedings, ” id., though the Court may not “abuse[] its discretion to separate an essentially unitary problem, ” Hebel v. Ebersole, 543 F.2d 14, 17 (7th Cir. 1976) (internal quotation omitted). In evaluating the propriety of severance in a particular case, courts generally consider factors such as “(1) whether the claims arise out of the same transaction or occurrence; (2) whether the claims present some common questions of law or fact; (3) whether settlement of the claims or judicial economy would be facilitated; (4) whether prejudice would be ...

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