Circuit Split as to Whether District Court May Partially Transfer an Action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1631

Johnson v. Mitchell, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 65934 (E.D. Cal. May 10, 2012):

The Circuits are split regarding whether the language of 28 U.S.C. § 1631 permits federal courts to partially transfer an action. See United States v. County of Cook, Ill., 170 F.3d 1084 (Fed. Cir. 1999) (approving transfer of some, but not all, claims); FDIC v. McGlamery, 74 F.3d 218, 222 (10th Cir. 1996) (finding transfer of some claims appropriate only after a Rule 21 severance); Hill v. United States Air Force, 795 F.2d 1067, 1070 (D.C. Cir. 1986) (finding the statute authorizes the transfer of an action, not a claim). Even within the same circuit, cases have not always been consistent. The Tenth Circuit recently stated that, although transfer was a discretionary option under 28 U.S.C. § 1631 to cure deficiencies related to personal jurisdiction, it was "aware of no authority even permitting, much less requiring, a district court to unilaterally split up an action and transfer the resultant components to diverse jurisdictions under the auspices of § 1631." Schrader v. Biddinger, 633 F.3d 1235, 1249-50 (10th Cir. 2011). However, Schrader curiously cited to an earlier Tenth Circuit decision, Trujillo v. Williams, 465 F.3d 1210 (10th Cir. 2006), which actually held that the district court had discretion to sever and transfer a plaintiff's claims against Virginia-based defendants from his claims against New Mexico-based defendants, or to dismiss the claims against the Virginia-based defendants, to cure jurisdictional defects. Id. at 1216. Indeed, in Trujillo, because the district court had not indicated its reasons for dismissing as opposed to transferring the claims, the Tenth Circuit remanded the case for a specific determination of whether the plaintiff's claims against the Virginia defendants should be transferred rather than dismissed under the federal transfer statutes. Id. at 1222-23.

While the Ninth Circuit has not squarely addressed the issue, it implicitly recognized that a portion of a case could be transferred. See e.g. Baeta v. Sonchik, 273 F.3d 1261, 1264 (9th Cir. 2001) ("Under the circumstances presented, transfer of the portion of the habeas petition raising nationality allegations to this Court is appropriate."); see also Nelson v. International Paint Co., 716 F.2d 640, 642 (9th Cir. 1983). Additionally, the court agrees with the rationale of the Federal Circuit in allowing transfer of individual claims:

The United States suggests no logical reason why this remedy should not be allowed on a claim-by-claim basis. It would indeed be a curious result that a district court could transfer an action under § 1631 containing a single claim over which it lacked jurisdiction but could not transfer that claim if the claimant made an additional claim in his action over which the court did have jurisdiction. We see no reason to deny the remedial benefit of § 1631 in this circumstance merely because some of the claims were properly lodged in the transferor court.

County of Cook, Ill., 170 F.3d at 1089. Furthermore, in the event a Rule 21 severance 4 is technically required before transfer of individual claims so as to result in the transfer of an "action," see 28 U.S.C. § 1631 and McGlamery, 74 F.3d at 222, the court has no difficulty doing so here. Defendant Parsons is not an indispensable party to this action, and plaintiff's claims against her can be severed if necessary to prevent prejudice. See Pamplona v. Hernandez, 2009 WL 578578, at * 3 (S.D. Cal. March 5, 2009).

Footnote 4. Fed. R. Civ. P. 21 provides, in part, that "[t]he court may also sever any claim against a party."

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