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Stratford v. Thyssenkrupp Elevator Co.

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Fort Worth Division

November 21, 2019

CARREN STRATFORD, BY NEXT FRIEND JACKSON NYAMWAYA, Plaintiff,
v.
THYSSENKRUPP ELEVATOR CO., ET AL., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          JOHN MCBRYDE UNITED STATES DISTRICX JUDGE

         Came on for consideration the motion of plaintiff, Carren Stratford, by next friend Jackson Nyamwaya, to remand. The court, having considered the motion, the response of defendants, Thyssenkrupp Elevator Co. ("TKE") and Randal J. Mason ("Mason"), the reply, the record, and applicable authorities, finds that the motion should be denied.

         I. Background

         On August 6, 2019, plaintiff filed her first amended petition against defendants in the District Court of Tarrant County, Texas, 17th Judicial District. Doc.[1] 11. Plaintiff, who was seriously injured as the result of an elevator malfunction at the hospital where she worked, alleged that such malfunction occurred due to the negligence of TKE, the company contracted to service the elevator, and Mason, the TKE employee assigned to inspect and maintain the elevator. Id. at 5-6.

         On September 5, 2019, defendants filed their notice of removal, bringing the action before this court. Doc. 1. Defendants assert that removal was appropriate because the court had diversity jurisdiction, id. at 5. The amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000. Id. at 5-6; Doc. 11 at 2. TKE is a citizen of Delaware and Georgia, while plaintiff and Mason are citizens of Texas. Doc. 1 at 6. Defendants argue that Mason's citizenship does not defeat diversity jurisdiction because he has been improperly joined because plaintiff failed to plead that Mason breached an independent duty of care. Id. at 7-8.

         II. Grounds of the Motion

         Plaintiff asserts that joinder of Mason is proper because plaintiff adequately pleaded that Mason breached a duty independent from TKE's and therefore could be found liable in state court. Doc. 8 at 12.

         III. Applicable Legal Principles

         A. Removal

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a), a defendant may remove to federal court any state court action of which the federal district court would have original jurisdiction.[2] "The removing party bears the burden of showing that federal [subject matter] jurisdiction exists and that removal was proper." Manguno v. Prudential Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co., 276 F.3d 720, 723 (5th Cir. 2002) (citations omitted). "Moreover, because the effect of removal is to deprive the state court of an action properly before it, removal raises significant federalism concerns . . . which mandate strict construction of the removal statute." Carpenter v. Wichita Falls Indep. Sen. Dist., 44 F.3d 362, 365-66 (5th Cir. 1995}. Any doubts about whether removal jurisdiction is proper must therefore be resolved against the exercise of federal jurisdiction. Acuna v. Brown & Root Inc., 200 F.3d 335, 339 (5th Cir. 2000).

         B. Fraudulent or Improper Joinder

         To determine whether a party was fraudulently or improperly joined to prevent removal, "the court must analyze whether (1) there is actual fraud in pleading jurisdictional facts or (2) the plaintiff is unable to establish a cause of action against the nondiverse defendant." Campbell v. Stone Ins., Inc., 509 F.3d 665, 669 (5th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted). Because defendants have not alleged actual fraud in the pleadings, the applicable test for improper joinder is:

whether the defendant has demonstrated that there is no possibility of recovery by the plaintiff against an in-state defendant, which stated differently means that there is no reasonable basis for the district court to predict that the plaintiff might be able to recover against an in-state defendant.

Smallwood v. Ill. Cent. R.R., 385 F.3d 568, 573 (5th Cir. 2004). To answer this question, the court may either: (1) conduct a Rule 12(b)(6)-type analysis of the complaint or (2) in rare cases and at the court's discretion, "pierce the pleadings and conduct a summary inquiry" if the plaintiff "has stated a claim, but has misstated or omitted discrete facts ...


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