United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Peoria Division
DAVID L. BIELFELDT, et al., Plaintiffs,
LEE C. GRAVES, et al., Defendants.
Jonathan E. Hawley U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
the Court are the Defendants, Lee Graves‘s and Graves
Law Office, P.C.'s, Motion to Sever Count XI of
Plaintiffs' Third Amended Complaint (D. 91)and Motion to
Dismiss Count XI of Plaintiffs' Third Amended Complaint
(D. 93). Plaintiffs, David Bielfeldt and Karen Wales, have
filed responses in opposition to both motions. (D. 99, 100).
For the reasons stated, infra, Defendants'
motions are DENIED.
October 2015, Plaintiffs David L. Bielfeldt and Karen Wales
filed their Complaint as individuals and on behalf of Elm One
Call Locators, Inc. against Defendants James Bourazak, Lee
Graves, and Elm One Call Locators, Inc. (Elm One). (D. 1).
Plaintiffs filed their First Amended Complaint three days
later, curing diversity jurisdiction allegations identified
by the Court but otherwise making no substantive changes. (D.
March 2016, the Court held a Rule 16 Scheduling Conference
with the parties and set the deadline to amend pleadings/join
parties for May 18, 2016. On that date, the Plaintiffs filed
their Second Amended Complaint against the original
Defendants which included the following 11 counts: Count I
Federal Securities Law; Count II Illinois Securities Law;
Count III Breach of Fiduciary Duties; Count IV Mandamus;
Count V Breach of Contract; Count VI Unjust Enrichment; Count
VII Fraud; Count VIII Conspiracy to Commit Fraud; Count IX
RICO; Count X Conversion; and Count XI Legal Malpractice. (D.
46). Plaintiffs also added Graves Law Office, PC as a
2016, Defendant Elm One filed a Motion to Dismiss the
Eleventh Count of Plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint,
arguing, inter alia, the Complaint failed to state a
claim upon which relief could be granted. (D. 48 at pg. 1).
Defendants Bourazak and Graves joined in this motion in June
2016. (D. 54). Defendant Graves Law Office, PC, did not. The
Court granted Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Count XI with
respect to Plaintiffs' legal malpractice claims brought
against Defendants Graves and Graves Law Office, PC,
individually. (D. 61 at pg. 7). The Court further found,
however, Plaintiffs had sufficiently alleged a derivative
legal malpractice claim against Defendants Graves and Graves
Law Office, PC. Id.
filed their Third Amended Complaint (D. 62) and Defendants
Lee Graves and Graves Law Office, P.C., ultimately filed the
motions presently before the Court. Defendants' Motion to
Sever Count XI of Plaintiffs' Third Amended Complaint
alleges that without severing Count XI from the rest of
Plaintiffs' claims, the eventual jury in this case will
be confused, potentially resulting in prejudice to the
parties. (D. 92 at pg. 2). Defendants' Motion to Dismiss
Count XI of Plaintiffs' Third Amended Complaint asserts
that Plaintiffs' legal malpractice claim fails to state a
claim upon which relief can be granted for a variety of
reasons. (D. 93-1 at pg. 5). Defendants further argue, in the
alternative, that the Court should order Plaintiffs to
provide a more definitive and concise statement of Count XI.
Id. at pg. 11. The Court addresses each of
Defendants' arguments in turn.
Defendants argue Count XI should be severed from the
remaining counts in Plaintiffs' Third Amended Complaint
because they present separate questions of law that are
likely to confuse the jury and result in prejudice to the
parties. (D. 92 at pg. 7). In response, Plaintiffs aptly
highlight that Defendants' motion relies heavily on an
argument for separate trials. (D. 99 at pg. 1). Indeed,
Defendants' sole rationale for severance-jury confusion
resulting in prejudice- pertains only to the trial phase of
litigation. Defendants argue there is a strong risk of jury
confusion in assessing Graves' actions in his separate
roles as an attorney, a corporate officer, and a shareholder.
(D. 92 at pg. 10-11). The Plaintiffs do not oppose a separate
trial for Count XI. They argue, however, that granting
severance before the trial phase is inefficient. Plaintiffs
cite Federal Rule 20, arguing that the Court should deny
Defendants' motion for severance. Fed.R.Civ.P. 20.
bring their motion to sever pursuant to Federal Rules of
Civil Procedure 21 and 42(b). Fed.R.Civ.P. 21, 42(b). Rule 21
gives the Court “broad discretion” in deciding
whether to sever a claim. Rice v. Sunrise Express,
Inc., 209 F.3d 1008, 1016 (7th Cir. 2000). Rule 42(b)
states, in relevant part, “For convenience, to avoid
prejudice, or to expedite and economize, the court may order
a separate trial of one or more separate issues, claims,
crossclaims, counterclaims, or third-party claims.”
FRCP 42(a) specifically permits separation where the court
determines that separate trials would avoid prejudice to a
party or promote judicial economy. Houseman v. U.S.
Aviation Underwriters, 171 F.3d 1117, 1121 (7th Cir.
1999). Only one of those criteria must be met for a court to
order separation. Id. Neither criteria is met in the
case at bar at this stage of the litigation.
Court agrees with the Plaintiffs that Rule 20 applies.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 20. “The purpose of Rule 20(a) in
permitting joinder in a single suit of persons who have
separate claims, albeit growing out of a single incident,
transaction, or series of events, is to enable economies in
litigation . . . .” Elmore v. Henderson, 227
F.3d 1009, 1012 (7th Cir. 2000). The Court is further guided
by the notion that the tests of Rule 20(a) are “to be
read as broadly as possible whenever doing so is likely to
promote judicial economy.” 7 Charles Alan Wright,
Arthur R. Miller, Mary Kay Kane, Richard L. Marcus & Adam
N. Steinman, Federal Practice & Procedure § 1653 (3d
ed. 2015); see also United Mine Workers of America v.
Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 724 (1966) (“Under ...