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Czuchaj v. Conair Corp.

United States District Court, S.D. California

August 10, 2016

CYNTHIA L. CZUCHAJ, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
CONAIR CORPORATION, a Delaware corporation, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART MOTION TO SEVER AND TRANSFER CERTAIN CLAIMS

          Hon. Roger T. Benitez United States District Judge.

         Defendant Conair Corporation filed a Motion to Sever and Transfer Certain Claims. (ECF No. 290.) Defendant seeks the following orders: (1) to sever individual claims from class claims; (2) to sever the California subclass count from the New York subclass count; (3) to transfer the New York subclass count to the Southern District of New York or the District of Connecticut; and (4) to transfer the individual claims to their respective Federal District Courts. (Id.) Plaintiffs oppose the Motion. (ECF No. 299.)

         As explained below, the Court severs and transfers the non-California individual claims. The Court declines to sever the California subclass claim from the New York subclass claim.

         BACKGROUND

         This action arises from two alleged defects in Defendant Conair’s Infinity Pro 1875 Watt hair dryer, a defect to the strain relief in the product’s cord and a defect to coils in the barrel of the product. Plaintiffs argue that all hair dryers suffered from the coil defect, even if the hair dryers first failed due to problems with the cord. There are four named plaintiffs: Plaintiffs Czuchaj, Carter, McConnell, and Mundy. Czuchaj is the only California resident. Carter resides in New York, McConnell resides in Michigan, and Mundy resides in Pennsylvania. The hair dryers of Czuchaj and McConnell had cord failures, while the hair dryers of Carter and Mundy failed because of the coil issue.

         On March 30, 2016, the nationwide damages class was decertified, and on May 24, 2016, the nationwide injunctive relief class was decertified. (ECF Nos. 248, 280.) After decertification and summary judgment, by the Court’s count, twenty-seven claims remain, only two of which have been certified for a class action. The two class claims are a California damages subclass for violation of the Song-Beverly Warranty Act, represented by Plaintiff Czuchaj, and a New York damages subclass for violation of New York General Business Law section 349, represented by Plaintiff Carter. There are twenty-five individual claims asserted under five states’ laws: California, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan. Each plaintiff individually asserts claims based on strict products liability, implied warranty, and consumer protection laws.[1]

         Defendant seeks to sever and transfer Plaintiffs Mundy and McConnell’s individual claims because it would be inefficient, cumbersome, and prejudicial to try their cases with the other claims. Defendant asserts that their claims are factually and legally different than the class claims. Defendant requests, but does not address, severance of Plaintiffs Czuchaj and Carter’s individual claims and transfer of Carter’s claims to the Southern District of New York or the District of Connecticut.

         Plaintiffs agree to sever the individual claims of Mundy and McConnell but do not consent to transfer. They believe that Mundy and McConnell’s claims should be stayed until completion of the class trial.

         Defendant also requests severance of the California subclass from the New York subclass and transfer of the New York subclass to an appropriate district court. Defendant argues severance is necessary to avoid prejudice to Conair and promote judicial economy. Plaintiffs reject Defendant’s contentions.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Defendant’s Motion to Sever

         A. Legal Standard Governing Severance

         A court has broad discretion to sever claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 21, which permits a court to “sever any claim against a party.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 21. In considering whether to sever a claim under Rule 21, the court considers the following factors: (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 avoided if severance were granted; and (5) whether different witnesses and documentary proof are required for the separate claims. Anticancer, Inc. v. Pfizer Inc., No. 11-cv-107, 2012 WL 1019796, at *1 (S.D. Cal. Mar. 26, 2012).

         B. The Court Severs the Non-California Individual Claims

         Severance of Plaintiffs Carter, McConnell, and Mundy’s individual claims under the laws of New York, Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania will promote judicial economy and avoid prejudice to both parties. Although Plaintiffs’ claims all arise from alleged defects to the same hair dryer, the facts differ regarding each Plaintiff’s use (and potential misuse) of the product and resulting damages. There is a risk that a jury might conclude that one plaintiff’s misuse of a product bars all of the other plaintiffs’ individual claims. Similarly, “one plaintiff, despite a weaker case of causation, could benefit merely through association with the stronger plaintiff’s case.” Rubio, 2016 WL 3097292, at *6. Furthermore, the numerous individual claims raise different legal issues arising under different state laws. Trying the claims together would require the Court to decide ...


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