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Moore v. Draughn

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Aiken Division

September 6, 2017

Darnell G. Moore, Plaintiff,
v.
David Tyre Draughn, Central States MFG., Inc., and South Carolina Department of Transportation, Defendants.

          ORDER AND OPINION

         This matter is before the court pursuant to Defendant South Carolina Department of Transportation's (“SCDOT”) Motion to Dismiss and/or Remand to state court, (ECF No. 10), SCDOT's Supplemental Motion in Support thereof, (ECF No. 13), and Plaintiff Darnell G. Moore's Motion to Remand to state court, (ECF No. 11). For the following reasons, the court GRANTS SCDOT's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 10), thereby denying its Motion to Remand, and DENIES Plaintiff's Motion to Remand. (ECF No. 11.)

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         This action arises from a motor vehicle accident that occurred in Allendale County, South Carolina, on May 7, 2014. (ECF No.1 at 1.) This case was originally commenced in the Court of Common Pleas for the Fourteenth Judicial Circuit. See id. On November 16, 2016, Defendants David Tyre Draughn and Central States MFG., Inc. (“Central States”), filed a notice of removal to this court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. See id. Though Plaintiff is a South Carolina resident and SCDOT is a South Carolina state agency, thus defeating complete diversity, Draughn and Central States seek this court's dismissal of SCDOT from this action on the theory that Plaintiff improperly and fraudulently joined SCDOT in order to defeat diversity jurisdiction. See id. According to Draughn and Central States, Plaintiff has no valid claim against SCDOT and thus SCDOT is not a valid party in this action, thereby making the parties completely diverse and conferring subject matter jurisdiction on this court. Id.

         On December 2, 2016, SCDOT filed a motion with this court seeking either its dismissal pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), (2), and (6), or a remand of any claim against SCDOT to state court. (ECF No. 10 at 1.)

         Plaintiff then filed a motion to remand to state court on December 8, 2016, asserting that this court has no jurisdiction over SCDOT, SCDOT has not consented to removal to federal court, and this court lacks subject matter jurisdiction. (ECF No. 11 at 1.) SCDOT then filed a supplemental motion on December 12, 2016, which essentially supplemented its original motion to dismiss and/or remand with certain jurisdictional arguments made by Plaintiff in his motion to remand.[1] (ECF No. 13 at 1.) Defendants Draughn and Central States have responded to each motion, asserting that, under the “fraudulent joinder doctrine, ” federal courts may dismiss a non-diverse party against which a plaintiff has no valid claim and thus retain complete diversity among the parties. (ECF Nos. 16, 17, & 18.)

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         A party seeking to remove a civil lawsuit from state to federal court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1446 may do so when there is diversity of citizenship between the parties. Diversity of citizenship exists “where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs, and is between citizens of different states . . . .” 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). Moreover, “diversity jurisdiction does not exist unless each defendant is a citizen of a different State from each plaintiff.” Owen Equip. & Erection Co. v. Kroger, 427 U.S. 365, 373 (1978) (emphasis in the original); see also Mayes v. Rapoport, 198 F.3d 457, 461 (4th Cir. 1999) (“[T]he ‘complete diversity' rule clarifies that the statute authorizing diversity jurisdiction over civil actions between a citizen of a state where the suit is brought and a citizen of another state permits jurisdiction only when no party shares common citizenship with any party on the other side.”). Thus, absent rare circumstances involving patents, federal courts will have no jurisdiction to hear cases where there is no federal question presented nor complete diversity between the parties, and the court must either dismiss the action or remand it to state court.

         However, a party may not add a nondiverse opposing party for the sole purpose of protecting itself against removal to federal court, when the adding party has no valid claim against it. In order to protect against such procedural chess moves, the judiciary has created what is known as the “fraudulent joinder” doctrine. “This doctrine effectively permits 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.” Mayes, 198 F.3d at 461. A party seeking to remove under the fraudulent joinder doctrine bears the heavy burden of “demonstrate[ing] either outright fraud in the plaintiff's pleading of jurisdictional facts or that there is no possibility the plaintiff would be able to establish a cause of action against the in-state defendant in state court.” Hartley v. CSX Transp., 187 F.3d 422, 424 (4th Cir. 1999). A court may only find that there is no possibility of recovery “after resolving all issues of law and fact in the plaintiff's favor.” Id.

         “In order to determine whether an attempted joinder is fraudulent, the court is not bound by the allegations of the pleadings, but may instead consider the entire record, and determine the basis of joinder by any means available.” AIDS Counseling & Testing Ctrs. v. Grp. W Television, Inc., 903 F.2d 1000, 1004 (4th Cir. 1990).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Both Plaintiff and SCDOT have moved to remand this case to state court. Both parties have argued that there is incomplete diversity among the parties. There is no federal question at issue, and there is a South Carolina party on each side. Thus, the only method for this court to hear the case is under the fraudulent joinder doctrine.

         Central States and Draughn allege that “both fraudulent joinder tests have been met” - that there is “no possibility the plaintiff would be able to establish a cause of action against the in-state defendant in state court, ” and that there is “outright fraud in the plaintiff's pleading of jurisdictional facts.” (ECF No. 15 at 2.) Thus, they argue that SCDOT has been fraudulently joined and that this court has jurisdiction to decide the claims. The non-moving defendants argue that Plaintiff could not establish a cause of action in state court against SCDOT because the statute of limitations has expired on any claim against it. Id.

         Plaintiff's claims against SCDOT are governed by The South Carolina Tort Claims Act (“Act”), which “is the exclusive and sole remedy for any tort committed by an employee of a governmental entity while acting within the scope of the employee's official duty.” S.C. Code Ann. § 15-78-200 (Supp. 1999). The Act contains a two-year statute of limitations. Section 15-78-110 declares:

Except as provided for in Section 15-3-40, any action brought pursuant to this chapter is forever barred unless an action is commenced within two years after the date the loss was or should have been ...

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