United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Florence Division
Joseph L. Griggs, Plaintiff,
Dollar General Corporation d/b/a Dolgencorp, LLC; Dolgencorp, LLC d/b/a Dollar General Store No. 14128; and Rachael Fann, Defendants.
R. Bryan Harwell United States District Judge.
This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Joseph L. Griggs’s motion to remand. See ECF No. 8. For the reasons explained below, the Court grants Plaintiff’s motion.
Plaintiff, a South Carolina citizen, has brought this action against Defendants Dollar General Corporation d/b/a Dolgencorp, LLC; Dolgencorp, LLC d/b/a Dollar General Store No. 14128; and Rachael Fann (collectively, “Defendants”). See Complaint, ECF No. 1-1. Of these three defendants, Fann is the only one who is a citizen of South Carolina. See Complaint at ¶¶ 2-5.
Plaintiff initiated this personal injury action by filing a complaint in the Court of Common Pleas for Darlington County, South Carolina, on October 27, 2015, alleging he slipped and fell on a wet floor inside a Dollar General store and severely injured his back. See ECF No. 1-1. Plaintiff asserted negligence claims against Defendants, including Fann-who allegedly was the acting manager in control of the store premises at the time of Plaintiff’s fall. Complaint at ¶¶ 5, 7. On November 13, 2015, Defendants removed the action to this Court based on diversity of citizenship, asserting Plaintiff had fraudulently joined Fann, a South Carolina citizen, to defeat federal diversity jurisdiction. See Notice of Removal, ECF No. 1. On November 16, 2015, Plaintiff filed the instant motion to remand, in which he maintains Fann is a properly joined party because valid negligence claims exist against her. See Motion to Remand, ECF Nos. 8 & 8-1. Defendants filed a timely response in opposition,  and Plaintiff filed a timely reply. See ECF Nos. 19 & 20.
Standard of Review and Applicable Law
The party seeking to remove a case to federal court has the burden of establishing federal jurisdiction. Mulcahey v. Columbia Organic Chemicals Co., 29 F.3d 148, 151 (4th Cir. 1994). Thus, Defendants bear the burden to establish federal jurisdiction is proper in this case. “Because removal jurisdiction raises significant federalism concerns, ” the Court “must strictly construe removal jurisdiction. If federal jurisdiction is doubtful, a remand is necessary.” Id. (internal citation omitted).
Title 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1) grants district courts original jurisdiction of any civil action for which the matter in controversy exceeds $75, 000 and is between or among citizens of different states. This statute requires complete diversity of citizenship, meaning the plaintiff cannot be a citizen of the same state as any defendant. Carden v. Arkoma Associates, 494 U.S. 185, 187 (1990). Thus, diversity jurisdiction exists “so long as any two adverse parties are not co-citizens.” Caterpillar Inc. v. Lewis, 519 U.S. 61, 68 n.3 (1996). State court defendants may remove a civil action to federal district court if the district court has original subject matter jurisdiction over the action. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). If the district court determines at any time before entering final judgment that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction over a removed action, it must remand the action to state court. 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). “A motion to remand the case on the basis of any defect other than lack of subject matter jurisdiction must be made within 30 days after the filing of the notice of removal under [28 U.S.C. § 1446(a)].” Id.
Although complete diversity is necessary for a federal court to exercise diversity jurisdiction, the fraudulent joinder doctrine prohibits a plaintiff from automatically defeating diversity jurisdiction by naming non-diverse defendants. Weidman v. Exxon Mobil Corp., 776 F.3d 214, 218 (4th Cir. 2015). The fraudulent joinder doctrine enables a district court to “‘disregard, for jurisdictional purposes, the citizenship of certain nondiverse defendants, assume jurisdiction over a case, dismiss the nondiverse defendants, and thereby retain jurisdiction.’” Johnson v. Am. Towers, LLC, 781 F.3d 693, 704 (4th Cir. 2015) (quoting Mayes v. Rapoport, 198 F.3d 457, 461 (4th Cir. 1999)).
‘Fraudulent joinder’ is a term of art, it does not reflect on the integrity of [the] plaintiff or counsel, but is merely the rubric applied when a court finds either that no cause of action is stated against the nondiverse defendant, or in fact no cause of action exists. In other words, a joinder is fraudulent if there [is] no real intention to get a joint judgment, and . . . there [is] no colorable ground for so claiming.
AIDS Counseling & Testing Centers v. Grp. W Television, Inc., 903 F.2d 1000, 1003 (4th Cir. 1990) (alterations and omission in original) (internal quotation marks omitted).
“The party alleging fraudulent joinder bears a heavy burden-it must show that the plaintiff cannot establish a claim even after resolving all issues of law and fact in the plaintiff’s favor.” Hartley v. CSX Transp., Inc., 187 F.3d 422, 424 (4th Cir. 1999). “This standard is even more favorable to the plaintiff than the standard for ruling on a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).” Id. The Fourth Circuit has recognized two methods by which a defendant may show fraudulent joinder: (1) there is “outright fraud in the plaintiff’s pleading of jurisdictional facts”; or (2) “there is no possibility that the plaintiff would be able to establish a cause of action against the in-state defendant in state court.” Johnson, 781 F.3d at 704. “To defeat an allegation of fraudulent joinder, the plaintiff need establish ‘only a slight possibility of a right to relief.’” Hughes v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 617 F. App’x 261, 264 (4th Cir. 2015) (quoting Mayes, 198 F.3d at 464). In evaluating whether an attempted joinder is fraudulent, a court is not bound by the allegations of the complaint but can “consider the entire record, and determine the basis of joinder by any means available.” Mayes, 198 F.3d at 464.
In the instant case, Defendants do not allege that there was any “outright fraud” in Plaintiff’s pleading of jurisdictional facts. See Johnson, 781 F.3d at 704. They instead argue there is “no possibility” that Plaintiff could maintain a claim against Fann-the in-state defendant-in state court. See Id. Defendants’ position heavily favors Plaintiff, who ...