defendants' motion to sever and stay the third-party claims.
1. Motion to Sever and Stay Third-Party Claims
Third-party defendants move to sever and stay the third-party claims,
pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 14(a) and 42(b), until
after the adjudication or settlement of the plaintiffs' claims against
the primary defendants. They argue that the severance and stay would
prevent the derailing of the progress made to date in the primary
litigation, preclude the unnecessary litigation of potentially moot
claims, prevent undue complication of the primary suit and promote the
likelihood of an early settlement. Therefore, the severance and stay
would promote "the fundamental policies underlying CERCLA —
expeditious recovery of money to the Fund." Third-Party Defendants'
Memorandum in Support of Motion to Sever and Stay, at 1.
Defendants/third-party plaintiffs counter that, in fact, the policies
underlying CERCLA will be promoted if the third-party claims are not
severed or stayed. They argue that severance would encourage delay and
undermine judicial economy by requiring separate, largely duplicative
proceedings. Defendant/third-party plaintiff Atochem argues that a
severance and stay also would scuttle the case management scheme crafted
by Magistrate Judge Jerome B. Simandle in this case, and would decrease
the chance of settlement-because third-party defendants will have no real
incentive to participate in meaningful settlement negotiations.
a. Power of the Court to Sever and Stay
Third-party defendants' motion is based upon Rules 42(b) and 14(a).
Rule 42(b) provides that "[t]he court, in furtherance of convenience or
to avoid prejudice, or when separate trials will be conducive to
expedition and economy, may order a separate trial of any claim,
cross-claim, counterclaim, or third-party claim." Rule 14(a) provides
that "[a]ny party may move to strike the third-Party claim, or for its
severance or separate trial."
A district court has inherent power to "control the disposition of
cases on its docket with economy of time and effort for itself, for
counsel and for litigants." Landis v. North Am. Co., 299 U.S. 248, 254,
57 S.Ct. 163, 165-66, 81 L.Ed. 153 (1936). See also Manual for Complex
Litigation 2d ("MCL 2d") § 20.1, at 6 (1985). Rules 14(a) and 42(b)
supplement this power and entrust the decision of whether issues should
be separated for trial to the discretion of the trial court. See, e.g.,
Bandai American Inc. v. Bally Midway Mfg. Co., 775 F.2d 70, 74 (3rd Cir.
1985), cert. denied, 475 U.S. 1047, 106 S.Ct. 1265, 89 L.Ed.2d 574
(1986). See also Gold v. Johns-Manville Sales Corp., 723 F.2d 1068, 1077
(3rd Cir. 1983) ("The power to stay proceedings is incidental to the
power inherent in every court to schedule disposition of the cases on its
docket so as to promote fair and efficient adjudication. How this can
best be done is a decision properly vested in the trial courts.")
In addition, the specific statutory provision governing the third-party
claims in this case also leaves the decision whether to sever to the
discretion of the trial judge. CERCLA Section 113(f)(1),
42 U.S.C. § 9613(f)(1), provides that
[a]ny person may seek contribution from any other
person who is liable or potentially liable under
section 9607(a) of this title, during or following
any civil action under section 9606 of this title or
under section 9607(a) of this title. Such claims
shall be brought in accordance with this section and
the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and shall be
governed by Federal Law.
On its face, the statute expresses no preference either way with regard
to whether the contribution claims should be severed; rather, it provides
only that those claims may be brought "during or following" the primary