United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma
TIMOTHY D. DEGIUSTI CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
the Court is Motion for Rule 54(b) Order of Judgment [Doc.
No. 57], filed by Defendant AgSource, Inc. (ASI) pursuant to
Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(b). ASI proposes that the Court enter a final
judgment on Plaintiff's negligence claim against it,
allowing negligence claims against the remaining defendants
to proceed separately. Although not expressly stated in the
Motion, the result would be to require Plaintiff to take an
immediate appeal from the Order of September 20, 2019 [Doc.
No. 55], dismissing his action as to ASI only. Plaintiff has
filed a response [Doc. No. 59] in opposition to the Motion,
which is fully briefed.
Tenth Circuit has held that Rule 54(b) “certification
is appropriate only when the district court adheres strictly
to the rule's requirement that a court make two express
determinations.” Stockman's Water Co., LLC v.
Vaca Partners, L.P., 425 F.3d 1263, 1265 (10th Cir.
2005) (internal quotation omitted) (emphasis omitted).
“First, the district court must determine that its
judgment is final.” Id. (citing
Curtiss-Wright Corp. v. Gen. Elec. Co., 446 U.S. 1,
7 (1980)). A judgment is “final” for purposes of
Rule 54(b) when it represents “an ultimate disposition
of an individual claim entered in the course of a multiple
claims action.” Curtiss-Wright, 446 U.S. at 7.
In this case, Plaintiff “does not dispute that
ASI's claim is separate and distinct from his remaining
claims . . ., and the Court's Order constituted a final
judgment of the only claim against ASI.” See
Pl.'s Resp. Br. at 4.
the district court must determine that no just reason for
delay of entry of its judgment exists.”
Stockman's, 425 F.3d at 1265 (citing
Curtiss-Wright, 446 U.S. at 8). The court of appeals
has instructed district courts as follows:
In making these determinations, the district court should act
as a “dispatcher” weighing Rule 54(b)'s
policy of preventing piecemeal appeals against the inequities
that could result from delaying an appeal. Factors the
district court should consider are whether the claims under
review are separable from the others remaining to be
adjudicated and whether the nature of the claims already
determined are such that no appellate court would have to
decide the same issues more than once even if there were
Id. (internal quotations and citations omitted). The
sole disputed issue presented by ASI's Motion - on which
the opposing parties strongly disagree - is whether there is
no just reason for delaying the entry of a separate judgment
on Plaintiff's claim against ASI. Although this may be a
close question, ASI fails to persuade the Court that an
immediate entry of judgment on only one of Plaintiff's
claims is appropriate.
September 20 Order which is the subject of ASI's Motion,
the Court dismissed Plaintiff's negligence claim against
ASI as preempted by federal law. By this claim, Plaintiff
sought to hold ASI liable, together with other alleged
tortfeasors, for personal injuries he suffered in a highway
trucking accident. Plaintiff originally sued the driver of
the truck hauling a load of freight, the driver's
employer, and the employer's insurers. The Court allowed
Plaintiff to add ASI as a defendant after discovery revealed
ASI's identity as the freight broker. The Court
determined that permissive joinder under Rule 20 was
appropriate to promote federal “policies of judicial
efficiency, convenience, consistency, and fairness.”
See 7/9/18 Order [Doc. No. 32] at 3. The Court
expressly found that the joinder of all defendants connected
to the accident in one lawsuit would “permit the
orderly pursuit of all logically-related claims in one case
and avoid duplicative litigation.” Id.
Court's view, allowing an immediate appeal of one of
several negligence claims that seek to impose liability on
multiple defendants for a single indivisible injury, would
have the opposite effect. Although Plaintiff's theory of
ASI's liability is separate and distinct from his
negligence claims against other defendants, and although only
ASI has asserted a defense of federal preemption,
Plaintiff's damages were allegedly caused jointly by the
conduct of all defendants. Thus, the Court finds that the
claim for which ASI seeks immediate finality is not separable
from Plaintiff's claims against other defendants that
remain pending for adjudication.
ASI argues only its view that inequity would result if it
must wait to “learn whether Plaintiff actually appeals
the preemption ruling” and, if Plaintiff appeals,
whether it must defend the litigation on the merits.
See Reply Br. [Doc. No. 60] at 3-4. But the prospect
of subsequent, duplicative litigation does not hinge on
when an appeal of the Court's preemption ruling
is decided. Requiring Plaintiff to take an immediate appeal
will not eliminate the possibility of subsequent litigation
if this case proceeds to judgment while the appeal is
pending. The danger of piecemeal appeals arises
from the nature of Plaintiff's claims and his injury; it
is not eliminated by requiring Plaintiff to appeal now rather
than later. Only a stay of the remaining claims during an
immediate appeal would avoid the prospect that Plaintiff
might have to litigate his case twice and that inconsistent
judgments might be reached.
other hand, it is quite possible that delaying an appeal
could benefit ASI. If the litigation proceeds to a conclusion
and Plaintiff's claims against other defendants are
satisfied - whether resolved through trial or settlement -
then Plaintiff may have no need to pursue a claim against ASI
because he cannot obtain a duplicative recovery of the same
damages a second time. ASI's position that the appeal
raises only a discrete issue of federal preemption and should
be finally resolved without delay, disregards the unfairness
to Plaintiff of requiring a premature choice. If a judgment
is entered now on the September 20 Order, Plaintiff would
need to take an immediate appeal or forfeit the right to do
so, and if he takes an appeal, he would need to decide
whether to request a stay of the remaining case or proceed to
trial. The Court finds that creating a situation where
Plaintiff must choose to either simultaneously pursue an
appeal and the remaining claims, or possibly wait another
year to litigate his case regarding an injurious accident
that occurred in 2016, is unfairly prejudicial to Plaintiff
and other defendants (if the case is delayed and evidence
becomes stale), and should be avoided.
these reasons, the Court finds that ASI has failed to
establish there is no just reason to delay the finality of
the September 20 Order, and denies ASI's request for
entry of a final judgment under Rule 54(b).
THEREFORE ORDERED that Defendant ASI's Motion for Rule
54(b) Order of Judgment [Doc. No. 57] is DENIED.