When a party determines which court they are planning on suing in, they need to be familiar with the joining laws of that jurisdiction.  Both claims and parties can be joined together. For instance, picture that party A wants to sue party B for breach of contract, negligence, and fraud. All three claims may be brought against party B. Additionally, picture that party A wants to sue party B, C, and D (or party A and B can sue party C and D).

Joining Claims

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allow parties to add claims broadly. According to Rules 8 and 18, a party may bring as many claims, whether related or unrelated, against another party. Although all the claims may be brought together, there may still be separate trials for the unrelated claims.

Rule 18(a):

“A party asserting a claim, counterclaim, crossclaim, or third-party claim may join, as independent or alternative claims, as many claims as it had against an opposing party.”

However, note that you have to check multiple boxes. Just because you can add multiple claims by Rule 18, that does not mean that all claims will be heard in a federal court. For example:

  • Rules must allow it
  • Subject Matter Jurisdiction – Rule 12(b)(1)

Joining Parties

According to Rule 20, multiple plaintiffs can sue the same defendant (or multiple defendants) if their claims arise from the same transaction or circumstances of events.

Additional Notes

Rule 20(a): Permissive Joinder of Parties

“Persons may join in one action as plaintiffs if: (A) they assert any right to relief . . . arising out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences, and (B) any question of law or fact common to all plaintiffs will arise in the action.”

Rule 21: Misjoinder or Nonjoinder

“Misjoinder of parties is not a ground for dismissing an action. On motion or on its own, the court may at any time . . . add or drop a party. The court may also sever any claim against a party.”

Hohlbein v. Heritage Mutual Insurance Co.

106 F.R.D. 73 (E.D. Wis 1985).

Hohlbein and three others are plaintiffs. Heritage filed a motion to sever the plaintiff’s into four different lawsuits.


Should the motion to sever be granted?


Rule 20(a)

Plaintiff’s may “join in one action as plaintiffs if they assert any right to relief jointly, severally, or in the alternative in respect of or arising out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences and in any question of law or fact common to all these persons will arise in the action.”

In other words, joining has two elements:

  • Each plaintiff’s claim arrises out of the same series of occurrences or transactions.
  • The same question of law or fact is common to all parties.

Ultimately, the test is met if there is overlap in evidence that all of the claims will be efficient and convenient for the court.


Close enough to deny the motion.


Each of the plaintiffs were interviewed for executive positions at the defendant’s headquarters. All of these interviews happened at different times and for different positions. However, each were not informed that the position was based on a probation period after accepting the position. Additionally, applicants were not always properly informed of their duties.

Consequently, these four applicants sued the defendant. However, the defendant wished to sever the plaintiffs into four separate claims.


Although this is a close call, the court determines that the better practice would be to allow the litigation to continue as formatted.

First, the defendant argues that the plaintiff’s are too dissimilar. None of them were applying for the same position or were even applying at the same time. Only two of them had held the same position at some point in their tenure at the company. Although this is true, the court determines that the defendant’s continued practice is a good indicator that the elements have been met.

Additionally, the court mentioned that continuing litigation as is would not deeply prejudice the defendant’s nor confuse the jury. Further, this ruling allows the courts to run efficiently, with only one trial instead of four (saving time and money).

Additional Notes

Defendants are not a fan of rule 20 because ultimately it means that the defendant has multiple plaintiffs testifying in front of the same jury. Consequently, there is a much better chance of winning if the plaintiffs are separate.

As such, defendants often try to apply Rule 21, just like applied in this case. However, to apply Rule 21, both the elements of Rule 20 need to be met. If the answer to part 1 is “yes” then the answer to part 2 is also going to be “yes.”

To meet the elements, the plaintiffs need to show that the defendant’s actions develop a pattern of continued behavior that is sufficiently similar between operative facts.


The first to sue is the plaintiff. However, the defendant may also have a claim against the plaintiff. In this instance, they file a counterclaim.

Counterclaims come in two forms: Compulsory or Permissive

Rule 13(a)(1)(A) – Compulsory Counterclaims. A compulsory counterclaim is a requirement to countersue if your claim would arise from the same facts as the current litigation. The purpose of this requirement is to minimize the amount of court expenses for the same issue (e.g. no need to litigate the same thing twice). (Common nucleus of operative fact to the plaintiff’s claims). Failure to state a Rule 12(a) counterclaim, those claims are waived.

Rule 12(b) – Permissive Counterclaims – “A pleading may state a counterclaim against any claim that is not compulsory.” In other words, a party may make a counterclaim for any claim that does not relate to the plaintiff’s pleadings (e.g. plaintiff sues for failing to mow lawns, defendant counters for unrelated car accident).

King v. Blanton

735 S.E.2d 451 (N.C. App. 2012).

This present action is brought by King. The case was granted summary judgment in favor of Blanton and King appealed.


Whether King was required to bring her counterclaim in the original dispute instead of a later lawsuit.


Compulsory Counterclaims:

“A pleading shall state as a counterclaim any claim which at the time of serving the pleading the pleader has against any opposing party, if it arises out of the transaction or occurrence that is the subject matter of the opposing party’s claim and does not require for its adjudication the presence of third parties of whom the court cannot acquire jurisdiction.”


  1. the issues of fact and law are largely the same;
  2. the same evidence is involved in each action; and
  3. there is a logical relationship between the nature of the actions and the remedies sought.

Then the defendant is required to bring a counterclaim in the original proceeding. Failure to do so requires dismissal of future claims.


Here, there was no error. Thus, the trial courts grant of summary judgment is affirmed.


Previously, King and Blanton were involved in a car accident. Shortly after the accident, Blanton sued King for running the red light and causing the injuries. At that time, King obtained a lawyer from her insurance company and the two worked out an agreement where the case would be dismissed with prejudice for a cash settlement.

Nearly a year later, King sued Blanton for the same car accident. However, she claims that Blanton had run the red and caused her injuries. Because the car accident was the same one, Blanton argued that the case should be dismissed because King would have been required to file the counterclaim at the original litigation.


Quite simply, the court reads the rule then adopts it to the facts of this case. Here, the car accident was at the heart of both litigations. Thus, the only way for King’s argument to work is if she had no viable way to present the counterclaim earlier. However, all the evidence was present and she was represented by counsel. Consequently, the current litigation fails because she should have made the claim nine months earlier.


The counterclaims appear in the answer of the pleadings.


The content contained in this article may contain inaccuracies and is not intended to reflect the opinions, views, beliefs, or practices of any academic professor or publication. Instead, this content is a reflection on the author’s understanding of the law and legal practices.

Will Laursen

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