Non-Party May Not Intervene to Seek Relief Identical to That Already Being Sought by Party — Mere Fact That Lawsuit May Impede Non-Party’s Ability to Recover in Separate Suit Insufficient Grounds to Intervene — First-to File Rule

Worthington v. Bayer Healthcare LLC, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 144369 (D.N.J. Dec. 15, 2011):

In these purported class actions brought in the above-captioned matters, Robert Worthington, Dino Rikos, and Troy Yuncker ("Plaintiffs") allege that Bayer Heathcare LLC ("Bayer") deceptively advertised and marketed several of Bayer's colon health products including, Phillips' Colon Health, Phillips' Colon Health Probiotic Caps, and Phillips' Colon Health Probiotic + Fiber (the "Products"). In each Complaint, Plaintiffs claim that these marketing practices violate the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, N.J.S.A. 56:8-1 et seq., and common law breach of warranty principles. As such, Plaintiffs argue that Bayer has unjustly received a benefit at the expense of Plaintiffs and the other members of the putative class. Bayer has moved to dismiss Plaintiffs' suits under the first-to-file rule. Presently before the Court is a motion to intervene ("Motion to Intervene") in the New Jersey actions by Diana Stanley ("Stanley"). Stanley is a plaintiff in a putative nationwide class action pending in the Southern District of California in which Stanley asserts California and common law causes of action against Bayer concerning its advertising and marketing practices regarding the Products. Stanley seeks to intervene for the limited purpose of filing her own motion to dismiss or transfer under the first-to-file rule. For the reasons set forth below, the intervention motion is denied. ***

A. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 24(a)(2)

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 24 provides in pertinent part: "(a). Intervention of Right. Upon timely application anyone shall be permitted to intervene in an action . . . (2) when the applicant claims an interest relating to the property or transaction which is the subject of the action and the applicant is so situated that the disposition of the action may as a practical matter impair or impede the applicant's ability to protect their interest, unless the applicant's interest is adequately represented by existing parties." Fed. R. Civ. P. 24(a)(2).

In order to prevail on a motion to intervene under Rule 24(a)(2), the applicant seeking to intervene must meet the following criteria: (1) the motion to intervene must be timely; (2) the proposed intervenor must have a sufficient interest in the litigation; (3) the disposition of the suit must threaten to impair or affect that interest; and (4) the proposed intervenor's interest must not be adequately represented by the existing parties. *** The proposed intervenor has the burden of proving each element and failure to prove any one of the criteria is sufficient grounds to deny the motion. See 6 James W. Moore et al., Moore's Federal Practice-Civil § 24.03 (3d ed. 2008).

To justify intervention as of right, the proposed intervenor must have an interest "relating to the property or transaction which is the subject of the action" that is "significantly protectable" and must be "a legal interest as distinguished from interests of a general and indefinite character." *** The Third Circuit has recognized that precisely defining the interest that satisfies 24(a)(2) has proved challenging. As such, in determining motions to intervene, the Court's inquiry is to be flexible and attuned to the circumstances and pragmatic considerations of the particular case. *** "Nonetheless, the polestar for evaluating a claim for intervention is always whether the proposed intervenor's interest is direct or remote. Due regard for efficient conduct of the litigation requires that intervenors should have an interest that is specific to them, is capable of definition, and will be directly affected in a substantially concrete fashion by the relief sought. The interest may not be remote or attenuated . . . . " AstraZeneca AB v. Dr. Reddy's Laboratories, Ltd., No. 05-5553, 2010 WL 4387519 (D.N.J. Oct. 29, 2010) (quoting Kleisser, 157 F.3d at 972).

Here, Stanley argues that she is entitled to intervene as of right in the New Jersey Actions under Fed. R. Civ. P. 24(a)(2) because: (1) her motion is timely; (2) she has a significantly protectable interest in the litigation; (3) her interests may be affected or impaired by the disposition of these actions; and (4) her interests will not be adequately represented by the existing Plaintiffs. Stanley's Br. at 7-20.

Plaintiffs argue that because Stanley seeks to intervene solely to dismiss or transfer Plaintiffs' claims, granting the intervention motion would prejudice the adjudication of the Plaintiffs' claims and should be denied. In support, Plaintiffs state "the first-filed rule does not apply here because there are different parties litigating different claims, possibly on behalf of different classes." *** Plaintiffs argue that nothing in the New Jersey Actions prevents Stanley from litigating her claims in California.***

1. Timeliness

Stanley has established that her Motion to Intervene is timely within the meaning of Rule 24. The timeliness of a motion to intervene is "'determined from all the circumstances' and, in the first instance, 'by the [trial] court in the exercise of it [sic] sound discretion.'"***

2. Sufficient Interest in the Litigation

Stanley, however, has not sufficiently shown the Court that her interest in this case is the type of interest warranting protection under Rule 24(a)(2). To establish a sufficient interest for intervention, Stanley must prove an interest "relating to the property or transaction which is the subject of the action." Mountain Top, 72 F.3d at 366. Stanley's interest must be "significantly protectable." Id. That is, the interest must be "a legal interest as distinguished from interests of a general and indefinite character." Harris v. Pernsley, 820 F.2d 592, 601 (3d. Cir. 1987) (citations omitted). Generally, an "economic interest in the outcome of litigation is insufficient to support a motion to intervene." Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. v. Treesdale, Inc., 419 F.3d 216, 221 (3d Cir. 2005) (quoting Mountain Top, 72 F.3d at 366). The "mere fact that a lawsuit may impede a third party's ability to recover in a separate suit ordinarily does not give the third party a right to intervene." Id. See Alcan Aluminum, 25 F.3d at 1185 ("Some courts have stated that a purely economic interest is insufficient to support a motion to intervene."); Mountain Top, 72 F.3d at 366 (holding that the denial of the request to intervene was correct "if the appellants' only interest in the present case was to ensure that the [debtor] would have sufficient resources to satisfy any judgment that [the intervenor] may be able to obtain.").***

The Court will ... address Stanley's contention that filing a motion to dismiss or transfer pursuant to the first-to-file rule is a sufficiently cognizable interest in the litigation. ***

In Glover v. Ferrero, Judge Wolfson thoroughly explained the first-to-file rule and its application:

The first-filed rule is based on the principle that "in all cases of federal concurrent jurisdiction, the court which first has possession of the subject must decide it." EEOC v. University of Pennsylvania, 850 F.2d 969, 971 (3d Cir. 1988) (citations omitted). To be applicable, the Third Circuit has explained that "the later-filed case must be truly duplicative of the suit before the court . . . That is, the one must be materially on all fours with the other . . . The issues must have such an identity that a determination in one action leaves little or nothing to be determined in the other." Grider v. Keystone Health Plan Cent., Inc., 500 F.3d 322, 334 n. 6 (3d Cir. 2007) (quotations and citations omitted). Importantly, however, the first-filed rule is "not rigidly applied nor absolute." Clean Harbors Inc. v. Acstar Ins. Co., Civ. No. 09-5175, 2010 WL 1930579, at *5 (D.N.J. May 12, 2010). Indeed, the Third Circuit has recognized that "District courts have always had discretion to retain jurisdiction given appropriate circumstances justifying departure from the first-filed rule." EEOC, 850 F.2d at 971.

Id., at *4.

Here, Stanley seeks to intervene in order to present legal arguments in support of a motion to dismiss or transfer pursuant to the above-described first-filed rule. As noted, supra, Bayer has already filed a Motion to Dismiss pursuant to the first-filed rule, currently pending before the Honorable Esther Salas. Thus, Stanley seeks to file its motion without being constrained by Bayer's views on this issue. Whether a proposed intervenor's interest in filing a motion to dismiss or transfer an action when a similarly styled motion is already pending before the Court is sufficient to warrant intervention as of right is an issue of first impression in this Circuit. As such, the Court looks to other federal courts for guidance. In Askin v. Quaker Oats Co., No. 11-00111, 2011 WL 5008524 (N.D.Ill. Oct. 20, 2011), Magistrate Judge Young B. Kim analyzed this exact issue. In Askin, Plaintiff filed a putative class action complaint alleging that defendant Quaker deceptively labeled its products as "heart-healthy." Prior to the filing of the suit, three similar suits had already been filed in the Northern District of California in which the plaintiffs had brought nearly identical claims under California's consumer protection laws. Quaker moved to dismiss Askin's suit under the first-to-file rule. Thereafter, the plaintiffs in the California action filed a motion to intervene for the limited purpose of filing their own motion to dismiss under the first-to-file rule. Judge Kim concluded that the California plaintiffs failed to show that they met the requirements for intervention as of right; specifically, Judge Kim found that the plaintiffs' interest in the case was not "the kind that is contemplated by Rule 24(a)(2)." Id., at *7. Judge Kim concluded:

Any reasoning in the court's ultimate decision on the first-to-file motion is unlikely to have much persuasive authority in the Northern District of California. And even if this court denies the motion to dismiss under the first-to-file rule and that decision is ultimately challenged on appeal, by the time this litigation proceeds to a final appealable order[,] the California litigation will have progressed as well, likely rendering moot the concerns regarding duplication and waste raised in the . . . plaintiffs' proposed first-to-file motion. Accordingly, their interest in avoiding the possible stare decis effect in California of decisions related to the first-to-file question here does not have sufficient teeth to meet the Rule 24(a) standard for intervention as of right.

Id., at *8-9 (citations omitted). This Court agrees. Judge Salas's decision on either Bayer's or Stanley's first-to-file motion will equally have little to no impact on the ultimate disposition of Stanley's claims in California. As such, Stanley's interest in this case will not be "affected in a substantially concrete fashion...," a prerequisite to intervention as of right. See Kleisser, 157 F.3d at 972.

Further, the Court finds that, as is the case in the instant matter, where a proposed intervenor has: (1) admittedly asserted that she has no particular interest in the disposition of the action in which she seeks to enter (other than seeing that it not go forward) and (2) an existing party to the case has already sought the same relief on nearly identical grounds, that party is not entitled to intervene as of right. Here, Stanley seeks to intervene solely to file a motion to dismiss or transfer pursuant to the first-filed rule. Bayer's Motion to Dismiss, brought on nearly the same grounds, is before the Court, fully briefed, and ripe for decision. The Court acknowledges that Bayer is Stanley's opponent in the California Action. However, in the New Jersey Actions, their interests are aligned - both parties request that this Court dismiss Plaintiffs' actions pursuant to the first-to-file rule. Therefore, Stanley would be hard-pressed to argue that a potential threat to her interest exists. In sum, Stanley's interest in filing a motion to dismiss or transfer is the exact type of general interest the Third Circuit has explained is not significantly protectable. Intervention is improper if the interest is "remote or attenuated"; instead, the interest must be direct. Id. Stanley would have a direct interest in the litigation if she sought to intervene for the purpose of asserting her consumer fraud act and breach of warranty claims along with Plaintiffs. However, Stanley has made clear that she is not interested in affirmatively taking part in the New Jersey Actions. Accordingly, the Court finds that Stanley's stated interest in solely having this action dismissed or transferred pursuant to the first-to-file rule is insufficient to satisfy the second prong of 24(a)(2).

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