Wednesday, March 4, 2015
Ninth Circuit Reverses Misjoinder Ruling in ADA Suit
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A district judge who dismisses a claim based on misjoinder cannot grant a dismissal, as opposed to severance, without determining the extent to which the plaintiff would be prejudiced by the dismissal, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday.
The panel ordered Americans with Disabilities Act claims reinstated against one defendant, and ordered reconsideration of the dismissal of two others, in a suit brought by a wheelchair-bound plaintiff.
Sandi Rush sued, alleging she encountered barriers in the restrooms and fitting rooms of stores in a shopping mall on Towne Center Drive in Foothill Ranch. The complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California named Sports Chalet, PetSmart and Babies “R” Us as defendants, as well as their landlord, Foothill Ranch LLC.
Rush settled her claims with Babies “R” Us in October 2012. Six days later and on his own motion, U.S. District Judge Otis Wright II dismissed the complaint after determining that the other defendants had been improperly joined in Rush’s action because she did not claim her injuries stemmed from “the same transaction, occurrence or series of transactions and occurrences.”
On appeal, Fox Sports Chalet and PetSmart did not file briefs, while Foothill Ranch contested some of Rush’s factual arguments but did not take a position regarding the legal issues.
As to Foothill Ranch, the Ninth Circuit panel said it and Babies “R” Us were properly joined because landlords are also liable for any encountered barriers and obstructions under the ADA. So when Rush settled with that retailer she carried forward viable claims against Foothill Ranch, the panel found.
For Sports Chalet and PetSmart, the panel held that Wright may have been correct in finding that they were misjoined since they are legally distinct from each other. Rather than dismissing the suit against them outright, the judge should at least have considered severing Rush’s complaint against them instead, considering the possibility that a new filing would be barred by the statute of limitations, among other things, Judge J. Frederick Motz wrote for the panel.
Motz, a senior judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland sitting by designation, wrote:
“Many of our fellow circuits have held that district courts who dismiss rather than sever must conduct a prejudice analysis. We adopt that rule as well. Here, because the district court below conducted no such analysis, we vacate and remand. The judge should reevaluate whether allowing two severed complaints to remain against Sport Chalet and PetSmart, each with Foothill Ranch as a named co-defendant, is necessary to avoid prejudice to Rush.”
Judges Stephen Reinhardt and Ronald M. Gould concurred in the opinion.
The case is Rush v. Sports Chalet, Inc., 12-57253.
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