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Fitzwater v. Consol Energy, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Charleston

December 22, 2017

BENNY FITZWATER, and CLARENCE BRIGHT, on behalf of themselves and others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
CONSOL ENERGY, INC., and CONSOLIDATION COAL CO., and FOLA COAL CO., LLC, and CONSOL OF KENTUCKY, INC., and KURT SALVATORI Defendants. EMMETT Y, JR., and CONNIE Z. GILBERT, on behalf of themselves and others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
CONSOL ENERGY, INC., CONSOLIDATION COAL CO., BUCHANAN MINING CO., LLC, and KURT SALVATORI Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          John T. Copenhaver, Jr. United States District Judge.

         Pending before the court is the motion to consolidate the above-styled cases filed on September 29, 2017 by the defendants in the Casey matter (ECF No. 11) with notice given in the Fitzwater case that same day (ECF No. 85).

         Both cases seek to certify a class of retired mine workers whose medical, prescription drug, dental, vision, and life insurance benefits were terminated by defendants in 2014 or 2015. See Fitzwater Pls.' Mem. Supp. Mot. Certify Class at 2; Casey Compl. at 9, 24.

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 42(a) covers the matter of consolidation and provides as follows:

(a) Consolidation. If actions before the court involve a common question of law or fact, the court may:
(1) join for hearing or trial any or all matters at issue in the actions;
(2) consolidate the actions; or
(3) issue any other orders to avoid unnecessary cost or delay.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 42(a). “[C]laims brought against the same defendant, relying on the same witnesses, alleging the same misconduct, and answered with the same defenses, clearly meet” the standard of Fed.R.Civ.P. 42(a). Harris v. L & L Wings, 132 F.3d 978, 981 n.2 (4th Cir. 1997).

         Consolidation is appropriate when doing so will foster clarity, efficiency, and the avoidance of confusion and prejudice. Allfirst Bank v. Progress Rail Servs. Corp., 178 F.Supp.2d 513, 520 (D.Md. 2001) (citing Arnold v. Eastern Airlines, 681 F.2d 186, 192-93 (4th Cir. 1982)). “District courts have broad discretion under F.R. Civ. P. 42(a) to consolidate causes pending in the same district.” A/S J. Ludwig Mowinckles Rederi v. Tidewater Constr. Corp., 559 F.2d 928, 933 (4th Cir. 1977). Our court of appeals has identified factors to guide the district courts in exercising this discretion:

The critical question for the district court in the final analysis [is] whether [1] the specific risks of prejudice and possible confusion [are] overborne by the risk of inconsistent adjudications of common factual and legal issues, [2] the burden on parties, witnesses and available judicial resources posed by multiple lawsuits, [3] the length of time required to conclude multiple suits as against a single one, and [4] the relative expense to all concerned of the single-trial, multiple-trial alternatives.

Arnold 681 F.2d at 193.

         Defendants in the Casey matter argue that all of the factors favor consolidation of the action with Fitzwater. Defs.' Mem. Supp. Mot. Consolidation at 6. Plaintiffs respond that they do not oppose consolidation of the cases for the purposes of discovery, but they do not consent to the consolidation for any other purposes at this time. Pls.' Resp. Defs.' Mot. Consolidation at 1. Plaintiffs emphasize that the “factual allegations and many of the witnesses are distinct in these cases because they involve two separate groups of mine sites in different regions, meaning the two cases would necessarily proceed under independent tracks as distinct subclasses even if they were ultimately consolidated for trial.” Id.

         It appears to the court that consolidation of these matters is appropriate because both proposed classes bring claims raising the same factual and legal issues. Both cases are brought against substantially similar defendants and assert the same seven[1] causes of action for the same termination of retiree benefits. These benefits were terminated at the same time and in the same manner for the putative class members in both actions. See Fitzwater Am. Compl. at ¶¶ 25-27; Casey Compl. at ¶¶ 24-26. Although the proposed class in Casey worked at different mine sites from the proposed class in Fitzwater, all of the sites at issue were operated by CONSOL Energy, Inc. and its subsidiaries. Additionally, the ...


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