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Southwest Fair Housing Council v. WG Chandler Villas SH LLC

United States District Court, D. Arizona

March 26, 2019

Southwest Fair Housing Council, Plaintiff,
WG Chandler Villas SH LLC, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff Southwest Fair Housing Council initiated this lawsuit on April 20, 2018 (Doc. 1) and filed its First Amended Complaint (“FAC”) on June 26, 2018 (Doc. 8). In the FAC, Plaintiff sues the following Defendants: WG Chandler Villas SH, LLC d/b/a Atria Chandler Villas (“Chandler Villas”); WG Campana Del Rio SH, LLC d/b/a/ Atria Campana Del Rio (“Campana Del Rio”); WG Scottsdale, LLC d/b/a Atria Sierra Pointe (“Atria Sierra Pointe”); Brookdale Senior Living Communities, Inc. d/b/a/ Brookdale Arrowhead Ranch and Brookdale Freedom Plaza (“Brookdale”); Immanuel Caring Ministries, Inc and CopperSands, Inc. d/b/a Immanuel Campus of Care (“Immanuel and CopperSands”); La Posada at Park Centre, Inc. (“La Posada”); MorningStar Senior Management, LLC and MS Arrowhead, LLC d/b/a MorningStar at Arrowhead (“the MorningStar Defendants”); Solterra of Arizona, LLC (“Solterra”); The Ensign Group, Inc. and Saguaro Senior Living, Inc. d/b/a Sherwood Village Assisted Living and Memory Care (“the Sherwood Village Defendants”); SRG Management, LLC d/b/a Silver Springs and Village at Ocotillo (“SRG”); Sunrise Senior Living Development, Inc., Sunrise Senior Living Management, Inc., and Sunrise Senior Living Service, Inc., d/b/a Sunrise at River Road (“the Sunrise Defendants”); and Watermark Retirement Communities, Inc. d/b/a Fountains at La Cholla (“Watermark”).

         Pending before the Court are Defendants' Motions to Sever. (Docs. 90-94, 98, 100-105.)[1] Plaintiff filed a single Response to all of the Motions (Doc. 106), and Defendants filed Replies (Docs. 107-113, 115-118).[2]

         I. Background

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendants own, lease, and/or operate nursing-home facilities located in and around the Tucson and Phoenix areas, and that Defendants “discriminate against elderly deaf residents and prospective residents by failing and/or refusing to provide qualified American Sign Language interpreters or other auxiliary aids and services to ensure effective communication.” (Doc. 8 at ¶¶ 6, 15-44.) According to the FAC, Plaintiff utilized “fair housing testers” in 2016-2018 to determine whether Defendants would supply an American Sign Language interpreter for a deaf resident if requested or necessary. (Id. at ¶ 5, 47, 49-80.) Defendants' employees allegedly informed the testers that Defendants would not provide ASL interpreters and that the purported relatives could provide their own interpreters or communicate with staff in writing. (Id. at ¶ 5.) Plaintiff asserts claims under the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3602, et seq.; Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794; Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12181, et seq.; Section 1557 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, 42 U.S.C. § 18116; and the Arizona Fair Housing Act, A.R.S. § 41-1491, et seq. (Id. at ¶¶ 7, 81-138.) Plaintiff seeks declaratory, injunctive, and equitable relief; compensatory and punitive damages; and costs, interest, and attorneys' fees. (Id. at ¶ 7; see also Id. at 27-29.)

         II. Defendants' Motions to Sever and Motions to Transfer Venue

         Defendants argue that Plaintiff has, for its own convenience, impermissibly lumped fourteen separate lawsuits into one. According to Defendants, Plaintiff cannot satisfy the requirements for permissive joinder under Rule 20(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure because Plaintiff's testers had different communications, on different dates, in different locations, with employees of 14 different facilities owned and/or operated by 17 different entities, each with their own separate, distinct policies and procedures. Defendants further argue that the witnesses and documentary evidence will differ for each Defendant and that severance will facilitate settlement, promote judicial economy, reduce what would otherwise be prohibitively expensive discovery and litigation costs, prevent jury confusion, and avoid prejudice. Finally, some of the Maricopa County Defendants request a transfer of venue, arguing that the claims brought against them have been brought in the incorrect division of the District of Arizona.

         Plaintiff argues in response that its claims are logically related and rely on common questions of law and fact, because they all arise under the same statutes and involve the same test used to identify an identical harm. Plaintiff further argues that joinder is neither unfair nor prejudicial to Defendants because the evidence and legal theories will overlap and a single lawsuit will serve judicial economy. Plaintiff also argues that the jury will be capable of sorting the allegations against each Defendant, and that any jury confusion can be remedied by a limiting instruction. In a footnote, Plaintiff argues that a transfer of venue is improper because some of the Defendants' conduct occurred in Pima County, and the Local Rules of Civil Procedure specify that, “[i]n cases where the cause of action has arisen in more than one county, the plaintiff may elect any of the divisions appropriate to those counties for filing and trial purposes.” (Doc. 106 at 9 n.8 (quoting LRCiv. 5.1(a)).) . . . . . . . .

         III. Legal Standard

         Rule 20 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure permits joinder of multiple defendants in one action if:

(A) any right to relief is asserted against them jointly, severally, or in the alternative with respect to or arising out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences; and
(B) any question of law or fact common to all defendants will arise in the action.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 20(a)(2). If these requirements are not both satisfied, a district court may sever misjoined parties “as long as no substantial right will be prejudiced by the severance.” Coughlin v. Rogers, 130 F.3d 1348, 1351 (9th Cir. 1997); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 21 (authorizing courts to add or drop parties or sever claims). Furthermore, even when the requirements of Rule 20 are satisfied, “a district court must examine whether permissive joinder would ‘comport with the principles of fundamental fairness' or would result in prejudice to either side.” Coleman v. Quaker Oats Co., 232 F.3d 1271, 1296 (9th Cir. 2000) (quoting Desert Empire Bank v. Ins. Co. of N. Am., 623 F.2d 1371, 1375 (9th Cir. 1980)). If a likelihood of prejudice and jury confusion outweigh any likely gains in judicial efficiency, severance is appropriate. See Id. at 1296-97.

         IV. ...

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