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Doe v. Boy Scouts of America

United States District Court, D. Idaho

November 20, 2017

JOHN DOE XX, JOHN DOE XXI, JOHN DOE XXII, SHANE JULIAN, and RILEY GILROY, Plaintiffs,
v.
BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

          B. Lynn Winmill Chief Judge.

         INTRODUCTION

         The Court has before it Defendants' Motion to Sever (Dkt. 17). For the reasons explained below, the Court will grant the motion in part and deny it in part.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs filed this action in May 2017. On September 26, 2017, the parties entered a stipulation to add three additional Plaintiffs. Each Plaintiff alleges that BSA and the Church Defendants made material misrepresentations about the safety of Scouting, upon which Plaintiffs relied in deciding to participate in Boy Scouts. Am. Compl. Dkt. 28. As a result of the alleged misrepresentations, Plaintiffs claim they suffered serious physical, mental, and emotional injuries due to abuse they suffered at the hands of their Scoutmasters. Id. Doe XX, Doe XXIII, and Doe XXIV allege that Lawrence Libey sexually abused them between 1970-1972, when they were members of Scout Troop 156. Id. These Plaintiffs bring claims for constructive and actual fraud against Defendant BSA. Doe XXI and Doe XXII allege that Doug Bowen sexually abused them between 1974-75 when they were members of Troop 20, sponsored by the Boise Fifth Ward of the LDS Church. Id. Shane Julien and Riley Gilroy allege that James Schmidt sexually abused them between 1982-83 when they participated in a Troop sponsored by the Caldwell Fourth Ward of the LDS Church. Id. Doe XXV alleges that James Schmidt sexually abused him in 1980 when he participated in Troop 139, sponsored by the Nampa Third Ward of the LDS Church. Id. These Plaintiffs bring claims for constructive and actual fraud against all Defendants.

         The Church Defendants filed a Motion to Sever on June 21, 2017, arguing that Plaintiffs have impermissibly joined their claims into one lawsuit.[1] (Dkt. 17). BSA joined that Motion. (Dkt. 19). Defendants argue that the individual Plaintiffs' claims do not arise out of the same transaction or occurrence, and thus are improperly joined. Defendants, however, do not ask that Plaintiffs' claims be severed entirely. Rather, Defendants ask that Plaintiffs' claims only be severed for purposes of trial. Def.'s Reply at 3, Dkt. 23. Thus, at issue is whether any of the eight individual Plaintiffs should be allowed to try their claims together, or whether each Plaintiff should be required to proceed separately.

         The Court previously confronted this issue in a related case. See Mem. Decision and Order, Doe I v. BSA, Case No. 1:13-cv-00275-BLW, Dkt. 37 (“Doe I Order”). There, the Court ordered that twelve of the sixteen plaintiffs' claims be severed for the purposes of trial, but that all the claims remain joined during the pre-trial phase. (Doe I, Dkt. 37). The Court allowed four of the plaintiffs' claims to remain joined for trial, where the four plaintiffs were members of the same scout troop, and were abused by the same person on the same occasion. Here, Defendants seek an order severing every Plaintiff's claims for trial. Def.'s Reply at 3, Dkt. 23. Plaintiffs contest Defendants' claim they will face unfair prejudice should every Plaintiff be allowed to try their cases together, but concede that severance may be necessary to avoid inconsistent rulings between this case and Doe I. Pl.'s Resp. at 19, Dkt. 22. However, should the Court order Plaintiffs' claims severed for trial, they ask that Plaintiffs who were in the same Scout troop, and were abused by the same leader during the same time period, be allowed to try their claims together. Id. at 21.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         To join together in one action, plaintiffs must meet two specific requirements: (1) the right to relief asserted by each plaintiff must arise out of or relate to the same transaction or occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences; and (2) a question of law or fact common to all parties must arise in the action. Fed.R.Civ.P. 20(a). Generally, this joinder rule is to be construed liberally in order to promote trial convenience and to prevent multiple disputes. League to Save Lake Tahoe v. Tahoe Reg'l Planning Agency, 558 F.2d 914, 917 (9th Cir. 1977). As such, the decision to sever a claim under Rule 21 is in the Court's broad discretion. “If the test for permissive joinder is not satisfied, a court, in its discretion, may sever the misjoined parties, so long as no substantial right will be prejudiced by the severance.” Coughlin v. Rogers, 130 F.3d 1348, 1350 (9th Cir.1997); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 21 (allowing court to sever a claim against any party). Further, even if parties and claims have been properly joined, a court may, in its discretion, sever claims to “comport with principles of fundamental fairness” or avoid prejudice to the parties or jury confusion. Coleman v. Quaker Oats Co., 232 F.3d 1271, 1296 (9th Cir. 2000) (citing Desert Empire Bank v. Ins. Co. of N. Am., 623 F.2d 1371, 1375 (9th Cir. 1980) (finding that the district court did not abuse its discretion when it severed certain plaintiff's claims without finding improper joinder)).

         ANALYSIS

         1. The Same-Transaction Requirement

         The Court first addresses whether Plaintiffs' claims meet the basic requirements for joinder. Defendants do not contest that Plaintiffs have met the second requirement, that there be a common question of law or fact arising in each claim. Instead, Defendants argue that Plaintiffs' claims do not arise out of the same transaction or occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences. In analyzing the same-transaction prong, the Ninth Circuit instructs that courts should look to whether there is “similarity in the factual background” of the claims. Coughlin, 130 F.3d at 1350. This Court has previously adopted a test articulated by the Eighth Circuit to determine whether claims arise from a similar factual background, by looking at whether the events entitling a person to institute legal action are “logically related.” See Doe I Order at 7-8 (citing Mosley v. General Motors Corp., 497 F.2d 1330, 1333 (8th Cir. 1974). Claims may arise from the same transaction or occurrence where they arise from a “systematic pattern” of such events. Coughlin, 130 F.3d at 1350.

         In Doe I, the Court found that “the plaintiffs who joined the same scout troop and were later abused on the same night, in the same tent, by the same person, satisfy the same-transaction-or-occurrence requirement.” Doe I Order at 8. The Court further found that the claims of the twelve additional plaintiffs were logically related and consisted of a common series of occurrences, even though they did not allege abuse by the same person on the same occasion. Id. The logical relationship stemmed from the allegations by each plaintiff that BSA and the Church defendants “knew sex abuse occurred in scouting and that both entities chose not to disclose this danger to scouts or their parents.” Id. And the Court found further connections between plaintiffs' claims due to the similarity in their injuries, their relationships to defendants, and the misrepresentations they alleged defendants made. Id. (finding that all the plaintiffs “were abused by scout leaders . . . and all had joined scout troops and read the scouting handbook telling them, in essence, to trust scout leaders.”).

         Here, Defendants argue that the only connections between Plaintiffs' claims are that all Plaintiffs “were involved in Scouting during the time of their abuse and their abuse occurred in Idaho.” Def.'s Reply at 6 (internal quotations omitted). This statement ignores the fact that many of the same connections the Court found in Doe I exist between the claims here. Plaintiffs here each allege that BSA and the Church Defendants knew sex abuse occurred in Scouting generally and that they knew that the perpetrators who abused the Plaintiffs had previously abused other boys; that Defendants chose not to disclose these facts to the scouts or their parents; that Defendants instead represented that scouting was safe and that scouts should trust their scout leaders; and that Plaintiffs were abused by scout leaders, had joined scout troops, and had relied on Defendants' alleged misrepresentations in deciding to join. See Am. Compl. Dkt. 28. These ...


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