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Dismissal of Some Defendants in Civil Case Not Final Order

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held it does not have jurisdiction over an appeal challenging the dismissal of some, but not all, defendants in a civil proceeding.

Michigan prisoner Michael A. Kitchen filed a civil rights action against 22 prison guards.  He encountered seven defendants from one prison, thirteen in another, and two based on their statewide responsibilities.  The defendants; based on Fed. R. Civ. P. 20 (a) (2), argued such joinder is not, allowed and they requested all but the first seven defendants be removed.  The district court invoked Rule 21 and corrected the error, dismissing the 15 defendants without prejudice.

The Sixth Circuit said “[t]hat kind of order usually takes little work to handle.”  Rule 21, however, complicates things.  When confronted with a misjoinder or non-joinder, a court may (1) “add or drop” parties or (2) “sever” the claims against the parties.

Where a district court drops a party or severs claims, nothing is final to invoke appellate jurisdiction.  If claims are severed and one claim is dismissed, the dismissal is a final order that invokes appellate jurisdiction.  Here 15 of the defendants were dropped.  That is not a final order.  Kitchen had the option of filing suit against those 15 defendants and proceeding against the seven in the current suit at the same time.  Thus, a final order was not entered, depriving the Sixth Circuit of jurisdiction.  That result did not change because of an injunction the district court entered that required the defendants to return Kitchen’s legal work to him.

The appeal was dismissed for lack of appellate jurisdiction.  See: Kitchen v. Heyns, 802 F. 3d 873 - 2015.

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Related legal case

Kitchen v. Heyns