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Nicholas Spaeth v. Michigan State University College of Law

February 17, 2012

NICHOLAS SPAETH, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY COLLEGE OF LAW, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ellen Segal Huvelle United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff Nicholas Spaeth sued six law schools and various officers at those schools alleging that they violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. ("ADEA"), by not offering him a tenure-track teaching position after he applied to them in advance of the 2010 American Association of Law Schools ("AALS") Faculty Recruitment Conference in Washington, D.C. (See Amended Complaint, Nov. 7, 2011 [Dkt. No. 10] ("Am. Compl.").) Before the Court are motions to dismiss, or in the alternative to sever and transfer, brought by defendants Michigan State University College of Law ("Michigan State");*fn1 the University of Missouri School of law and its Chancellor, Brady J. Deaton (collectively, "Missouri"); Hastings College of the Law and its Chancellor and Dean, Frank H. Wu (collectively, "UC Hastings"); and the University of Iowa College of Law and its President, Sally Mason (collectively, "Iowa").*fn2 Upon consideration of these motions and Spaeth's oppositions thereto,*fn3 the Court will grant defendants' motions insofar as they seek severance and transfer, and deny them without prejudice insofar as they seek dismissal of plaintiff's claims.

BACKGROUND

Spaeth, a citizen and resident of Missouri who was born in 1950 (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 1, 6), applied for teaching positions "with each of the" defendant law schools "and every other AALS member school through the Faculty Appointments Register [("FAR")] during the 2010 hiring cycle." (Id. ¶ 28.*fn4 ) AALS's FAR process requires applicants to submit "a short profile of [their] education, background, and teaching interests," which is compiled on the "mandatory" FAR Form, and, if they wish, a full resume. (Id. ¶ 21.) Applicants' FAR Forms and optional resumes are then "distributed to all AALS members who are recruiting" prior to the Recruitment Conference. (Id. ¶ 22.) Separately, law schools participating in the Conference "list, in the AALS[] Placement Bulletin, [] descriptions of open positions and the type[s] of candidate[s] sought." (Id. ¶ 23.) Upon receipt of applicants' FAR Forms and optional resumes, law schools select and notify applicants they wish to interview at the Conference. (See id. ¶ 29; Iowa Mot. at 4--5.)

Spaeth was selected for two interviews at the 2010 AALS Recruitment Conference: "one at the University of Missouri, where he was already teaching as a visiting professor, and one at the University of Nebraska." (Am. Compl. ¶ 29.) He ultimately "received no job offers during the 2010 hiring cycle." (Id.) Spaeth alleges that each defendant law school made offers to other candidates who were younger than he, and that those candidates were less qualified than he. (Id. ¶ 1; see id. ¶¶ 36--63 (describing Spaeth's qualifications); id. ¶¶ 64--91 (comparing Spaeth's qualifications to those of the younger candidates hired by Michigan State); id. ¶¶ 95--130 (comparing Spaeth's qualifications to those of the younger candidates hired by Missouri); id. ¶¶ 132--61 (comparing Spaeth's qualifications to those of the younger candidates hired by UC Hastings); id. ¶¶ 195--223 (comparing Spaeth's qualifications to those of the younger candidates hired by Iowa).)

Having filed Charges of Discrimination against each defendant law school with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and having received Notices of Right to Sue (id. ¶¶ 4--5), Spaeth has now brought suit, alleging that each defendant law school violated the ADEA by not hiring him. He seeks an injunction "ordering each [defendant law school] to offer [him] a tenure-track teaching position," along with declaratory, compensatory, and exemplary relief, and fees, costs, and pre- and post-judgment interest. (Id. at 51--52.)

Defendants have moved to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), arguing that Spaeth has not pled a prima facie case under the ADEA.*fn5 In the alternative, defendants seek to sever Spaeth's suit, arguing that they have been misjoined and that the claims against each should be severed and transferred to each defendant law school's home forum. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 21 ("Misjoinder and Non-joinder of Parties"); 28 U.S.C. § 1404 ("Change of venue").*fn6

ANALYSIS

This Court will first consider severance and transfer, and since the Court concludes that they are appropriate for the reasons stated below, it need not address defendants' arguments for dismissal. See Pub. Citizen v. U.S. Dist. Court for the Dist. of Columbia, 486 F.3d 1342, 1348 (D.C. Cir. 2007) ("certain non-merits, non-jurisdictional issues may be addressed preliminarily" (citing Sinochem Intl' Co. v. Malaysia Int'l Shipping Corp., 549 U.S. 422, 425--26, 430--34 (2007))); Aftab v. Gonzalez, 597 F. Supp. 2d 76, 79 (D.D.C. 2009) ("Although the defendants have moved to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, the motion to transfer venue . . . may be addressed first."). Defendants' Rule 12(b)(1) and Rule 12(b)(6) arguments are best addressed by the courts where Spaeth should have brought his claims.

I. Severance

"The court may sever claims if parties are improperly joined." Davidson v. Dist. of Columbia, 736 F. Supp. 2d 115, 119 (D.D.C. 2010) (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 21). "In determining whether parties are misjoined for purposes of Rule 21, courts apply the permissive joinder requirements of Rule 20(a)." Id. (citing Montgomery v. STG Int'l, Inc., 532 F. Supp. 2d 29, 35 (D.D.C. 2008)). As relevant here, defendants are properly joined if "any right to relief is asserted against them . . . with respect to or arising out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences," and if "any question of law or fact common to all defendants will arise in the action." Fed. R. Civ. P. 20(a)(2).*fn7 "[T]he two prongs of Rule 20(a) 'are to be liberally construed in the interest of convenience and judicial economy . . . in a manner that will secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of th[e] action.'" Davidson, 736 F. Supp. 2d at 119 (second and third alterations in the original) (quoting Lane v. Tschetter, No. 05-cv-1414 (EGS), 2007 WL 2007493, at *7 (D.D.C. July 10, 2007)). If the Rule 20(a) test is not satisfied, however, then defendants are not properly joined and the claims against them can be severed under Rule 21. See, e.g., id. at 119--22.

Pursuant to the first prong of the Rule 20(a) test, Spaeth's claims against defendants "aris[e] out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences," Fed. R. Civ. P. 20(a)(2), only if they are "'logically related.'" Maverick Entm't Grp., Inc. v. Does 1-- 2,115, --- F. Supp. 2d ----, ----, 2011 WL 1807428, at *5 (D.D.C. 2011) (quoting Disparte v. Corporate Exec. Bd., 223 F.R.D. 7, 10 (D.D.C. 2004)); accord Bederson v. United States, 756 F. Supp. 2d 38, 54 (D.D.C. 2010). "The logical relationship test is flexible because 'the impulse is toward entertaining the broadest possible scope of action consistent with fairness to the parties; joinder of claims, parties and remedies is strongly encouraged.'" Disparte, 223 F.R.D. at 10 (quoting United Mine Workers of Am. v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 724 (1966)). Yet, Spaeth "cannot join defendants who simply engaged in similar types of behavior, but who are otherwise unrelated; some allegation of concerted action between defendants is required." Grynberg v. Alaska Pipeline Co., No. 95-cv-725(TFH), 1997 WL 33763820, at *1 (D.D.C. March 27, 1997) (emphasis added); see id. at *2 (examining cases and concluding that "[c]courts have not joined totally independent actors, without any allegation of concert or conspiracy" (citing United States v. Mississippi, 380 U.S. 128 (1965); Nassau Cnty. Ass'n of Ins. Agents v. Aetna Life & Cas., 497 F.2d 1151 (2d Cir. 1974); Cohen v. Dist. of Columbia Nat'l Bank, 59 F.R.D. 84 (D.D.C. 1972))). As in Davidson, other than "the fact that [Spaeth's] claims all arise under" the ADEA, Spaeth has "offered nothing to suggest that the claims are logically related in any way." 736 F. Supp. 2d at 121. Spaeth has not alleged any "concerted action between defendants." Grynberg, 1997 WL 33763820, at *1. He has not alleged that defendants conspired in declining to interview him or offer him a job,*fn8 nor has he claimed that they acted pursuant to a shared policy. By any reading of Spaeth's Amended Complaint, defendants acted independently when they evaluated his candidacy and decided, for whatever reason, against interviewing or hiring him.

Furthermore, the fact that defendants "are members of a common industry is not sufficient to satisfy the requirement that the right to relief against all [d]efendants arises out of the same transaction or occurrence." Wynn v. Nat'l Broad. Co., Inc., 234 F. Supp. 2d 1067, 1078 (C.D. Cal. 2002); see id. at 1079 (not finding "a single authority in which a plaintiff was permitted to join separate employers in an industry, for any reason, much less based solely on their classification as an employer in the industry").

As to the second prong, the fact that Spaeth's claims are premised on the same legal theory is insufficient for showing that they raise common "question[s] of law or fact." Fed. R. Civ. P. 20(a)(2)(B). "'Common issues of law does not mean common issues of an area of the law.'" Grennell v. Western Southern Life Ins. Co., 298 F. Supp. 2d 390, 398 (S.D. W.Va. 2004) (quoting Graziose v. Am. Home Prods. Corp., 202 F.R.D. 638, 640 (D. Nev. 2001));*fn9 accord Wynn, 234 F. Supp. 2d at 1081 ("While it is true that Plaintiffs have alleged claims against Defendants based on the same general theory of law, this is not a sufficient ground to find that their claims raise common legal or factual questions." (collecting cases)). Accordingly, when determining whether employment discrimination claims raise common questions of law or fact for purposes of permissive joinder, "courts often ...


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