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Molina v. Wal-Mart Stores Texas, LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Texas, San Antonio Division

July 2, 2019

JESUS MOLINA, Plaintiff,
v.
WAL-MART STORES, TEXAS, LLC, CLAUDIA NAVA, STEVE ESTRADA, JOHN DOE #1 and JANE DOE #1, Defendants.

          ORDER

          XAVIER RODRIGUEZ UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         On this date, the Court considered Plaintiff's Motion Seeking Leave to Amend Pleadings and Join Parties (docket no. 19), Plaintiff's Motion to Strike the Affidavit Response (docket no. 22), and the corresponding responses and replies. After careful consideration, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff's Motion to Amend and DENIES Plaintiff's Motion to Strike. Because the amended complaint adds a non-diverse defendant, diversity of citizenship is destroyed and the Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction. This case is remanded to state court.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Jesus Molina filed his Original Petition in the 224th Judicial District Court of Bexar County, Texas on October 18, 2018. Docket no. 1-3. Plaintiff's claims relate to injuries allegedly sustained when a Wal-Mart employee struck Plaintiff with a train of grocery carts. Id. Plaintiff asserts various negligence theories related to premises liability, general negligence, and vicarious liability for the negligent acts of employees.

         Plaintiff, a resident of Texas, named as Defendants Wal-Mart Stores, Texas, LLC (“Wal- Mart”), Claudia Nava, Steve Estrada, John Doe #1, and Jane Doe #1. For diversity purposes, Wal-Mart is a citizen of Arkansas and Delaware. Docket no. 1 at 2. Nava and Estrada, both Texas residents, were Wal-Mart managers at the store in question when Plaintiff was injured. Id. at 3. John Doe #1 and Jane Doe #1 were the unnamed Wal-Mart employee or employees who allegedly pushed the carts that struck Plaintiff. Docket no. 1-3.

         On December 6, 2018, Wal-Mart removed the case to this Court, alleging diversity of citizenship between the proper parties. Docket no. 1. Given that Plaintiff, Nava, and Estrada are citizens of Texas, Wal-Mart argued that Nava's and Estrada's citizenship should not be considered because they were improperly joined. Id. Plaintiff filed a Motion to Remand, which the Court denied on March 6. Docket no. 16. Nava and Estrada were dismissed as improperly joined. Id.

         Now, Plaintiff identifies John Doe #1 as former Wal-Mart employee Brandon San Miguel. Plaintiff's proposed amended complaint adds San Miguel as a defendant and asserts a negligence claim against him based on his handling of the grocery carts that allegedly struck Plaintiff. Docket no. 19-1 at 5-6. San Miguel is a Texas citizen-as is Plaintiff-so once more the Court must consider whether a non-diverse defendant destroys jurisdiction in the case.

         DISCUSSION

         The relevant inquiry here is whether the Court will allow post-removal joinder of a non-diverse party to this lawsuit, which would defeat the Court's jurisdiction. The Court finds that Brandon San Miguel should be joined as a party to this lawsuit, and that because of his joinder this Court lacks jurisdiction to hear this case. The Court makes these determinations by considering and allowing Plaintiff's amended complaint.

         As a preliminary matter, Wal-Mart's removal was proper because, under 28 U.S.C. § 1332, a federal court has jurisdiction over controversies involving disputes between citizens of different states where the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000. The Court has jurisdiction since it is undisputed that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000 and, as decided previously, Nava and Estrada were improperly joined and the citizenship of the then-Doe defendants was not considered for purposes of diversity of citizenship.

         Still, a court's subject matter jurisdiction may be defeated by the addition of a non-diverse defendant. See Doleac ex rel. Doleac v. Michalson, 264 F.3d 470, 477 (5th Cir. 2001). Joinder of a non-diverse defendant has a drastic consequence on jurisdiction, so a court has discretion to permit or deny joinder. See 28 U.S.C. § 1447(e) (“If after removal the plaintiff seeks to join additional defendants whose joinder would destroy subject matter jurisdiction, the court may deny joinder, or permit joinder and remand the action to the State court.”). The Fifth Circuit has instructed district courts to exercise discretion when considering a proposed amendment adding a non-diverse defendant. See Hensgens v. Deere & Co., 833 F.2d 1179, 1182 (5th Cir. 1987). The district court should scrutinize the proposed amendment more closely than when considering an ordinary amendment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a)(2), which requires a court to “freely give leave to amend when justice so requires.” Id.; Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). When an amendment will defeat jurisdiction, the court must balance the defendant's right in “maintaining the federal forum with the competing interest of not having parallel lawsuits.” Hensgens, 833 F.2d at 1182. Among the factors a court should consider are: (1) the extent to which the purpose of the amendment is to defeat federal jurisdiction; (2) whether the plaintiff has been dilatory in asking for the amendment; (3) whether the plaintiff will be significantly injured if amendment is not allowed; and (4) any other factor bearing on the equities. Id. If the court permits amendment, then it must remand to state court. Id.; see also Priester v. JP Morgan Chase Bank, N.A., 708 F.3d 667, 679 (5th Cir. 2013) (noting that Hensgens is the “correct legal standard” to apply in determining whether joinder of non-diverse parties should be permitted after removal).

         1. The Extent to Which the Purpose of the Amendment is to Defeat Federal Jurisdiction

         The first Hensgens factor a court must consider before allowing an amendment that adds a non-diverse defendant is the extent to which the purpose of the amendment is to defeat federal jurisdiction. Hensgens, 833 F.2d at 1182. Relevant to this factor is whether the proposed amendment asserts a valid cause of action against the non-diverse defendant. Tillman v. CSX Transp., Inc., 929 F.2d 1023, 1029 (5th Cir. 1991) (approving addition of a non-diverse defendant after the trial court found that the principal purpose of the amendment was not to defeat jurisdiction since the amendment stated a valid claim against the non-diverse defendant); Boyce v. CitiMortgage, Inc., 992 F.Supp.2d 709, 720 (W.D. Tex. 2014).

         Here, Plaintiff asserts a valid claim for negligence against San Miguel. Plaintiff's amended complaint would allege that San Miguel “had such control over the grocery carts he was pushing in furtherance of his employment objectives, had a duty to push the grocery cart train in a safe manner to avoid collisions with not only invitees but his fellow employees on his work site. . . .” Docket no. 19-1 at 5-6. Nava and Estrada were improperly joined because Plaintiff did not allege these managers created the dangerous condition or were directly involved in the ...


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