United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Florence Division
Allstate Insurance Company, Allstate Property & Casualty Insurance Company, Allstate Indemnity Company, and Allstate Vehicle and Property Insurance Company, Plaintiffs,
Electrolux Home Products, Inc., Defendant.
Bryan Harwell United States District Judge.
an insurance subrogation action. The matter is before the
Court for a ruling on Defendant's Motion to Sever, to
Dismiss, and to Transfer Divisions. See ECF No. 6.
The Court denies in part and grants in part Defendant's
motion for the reasons herein.
provided insurance coverage to five different property owners
in South Carolina who suffered losses in fires allegedly
caused by a defective design in clothes dryers manufactured
by Defendant. Plaintiffs, as subrogees of their insureds,
filed this products liability action against Defendant
alleging causes of action for strict liability and negligence
and seeking both actual and punitive damages. See
Complaint [ECF No. 1]. The Court has diversity jurisdiction
over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332.
their complaint, Plaintiffs allege Defendant designs,
manufactures, and sells gas and electric
“ball-hitch” style clothes dryers. Id.
at ¶ 3. The ball-hitch design includes the following
features: (1) a dryer drum that rotates around a fixed rear
axis and contains a void space located directly behind the
dryer drum, (2) a blower motor encased in a blower housing,
and (3) a trap duct with a mesh lint trap located in front of
the dryer cabinet. Id. at ¶¶ 12-13. In
1995 and 1996, Defendant changed the materials used in
certain components-including the blower housing and trap
duct-from steel to combustible plastics. Id. at
¶¶ 14-16. During testing, a dryer lit on fire: the
fire ignited in the dryer cabinet and spread to the plastic
trap duct. Id. at ¶ 18. Further testing showed
a fire that started in the dryer cabinet could spread to the
blower housing and trap duct, where the plastic components
could melt and spread fire outside the dryer cabinet.
Id. at ¶¶ 19-20. Additionally, Defendant
received consumer complaints and warranty claims about fires
in the dryers, and one of Defendant's product engineers
acknowledged during an investigation by the Japanese
government that lint could travel from the dryer drum and
ignite either the contents of the drum or lint accumulated in
the lint trap. Id. at ¶¶ 21-22, 24-25. The
Japanese government forced a recall of Defendant's
ball-hitch dryers in 2005, but Defendant never issued a
similar recall in the United States and never informed the
Consumer Product Safety Commission of the fire risks
associated with the dryers. Id. at ¶¶
further allege that their insureds/subrogors had
Defendant's ball-hitch dryers installed on their
properties and that the dryers ignited and caused significant
fire-related property damage. Id. at ¶¶
31-34. Plaintiffs' complaint includes the following chart
summarizing the five separate losses:
Dates of Loss
[Plaintiffs] Paid Out in Excess of
Lewis Mark & Erin Bryant
117 Elrod Place Drive Piedmont, South Carolina
Mark W. & Erika Chapman
1112 South Edisto Drive Florence, South Carolina
James M. & Laura Jennings
1115 Flint Hill Street Rock Hill, South Carolina
Carrie C. Samuel
103 Manning Court Greenwood, South Carolina
26 War Admiral Way Greenville, South Carolina
Id. at ¶ 4. As a result of the losses caused by
the fires, Plaintiffs' insureds/subrogors made claims on
their respective insurance policies, and Plaintiffs duly paid
these claims. Id. at ¶ 35. Plaintiffs then
brought this subrogation action against Defendant, and
Defendant filed the instant Motion to Sever, to Dismiss, and
to Transfer Divisions. See ECF No. 6. Plaintiffs
filed a response in opposition, and Defendant filed a reply.
See ECF Nos. 8 & 9.
motion, Defendant requests that the Court (1) sever the five
claims asserted in Plaintiffs' complaint, (2) dismiss
four of the severed claims for lack of subject matter
jurisdiction, (3) transfer the remaining claim to the Rock
Hill Division of this Court, and (4) dismiss Plaintiffs'
claim for punitive damages. See ECF No. 6.
asserts Plaintiffs' complaint asserts “five
improperly consolidated claims, ” and Defendant asks
the Court to sever these claims pursuant to Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 21. ECF No. 6 at 1; ECF No. 6-1 at pp. 3-10.
Defendant argues severance is necessary to avoid unfairness,
prejudice, and jury confusion. ECF No. 6-1 at p. 3. As
explained below, the Court finds severance is not warranted.
the Rules [of Civil Procedure], 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.” United Mine
Workers of Am. v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 724 (1966). Rule
18 permits a party to join “as many claims as it has
against an opposing party.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 18(a). Rule 20
governs permissive joinder of parties and allows plaintiffs
to join in one action if “(A) they assert any right to
relief jointly, severally, or in the alternative with respect
to or arising out of the same transaction, ...