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Jones v. Ringer

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

November 6, 2017

April Jones, Plaintiff,
Tim Ringer, individually and as employee/agent of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. d/b/a Wal-Mart Store #630; and Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., Defendants.


          R. Bryan Harwell United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff April Jones' motion to remand. See ECF No. 6. The Court grants the motion for the reasons herein.[1]


         Plaintiff originally filed this action in state court, alleging she stepped on a rusty nail in Wal-Mart and eventually lost part of her right leg due to multiple surgical amputations. See Complaint [ECF No. 1-1]. Plaintiff is a South Carolina citizen, and she named Tim Ringer and Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. as the two defendants (collectively, “Defendants”). Id. Ringer is a South Carolina citizen and a manager of the Wal-Mart store in question, while Wal-Mart is a citizen of Delaware and Arkansas.[2]Id.; Notice of Removal [ECF No. 1].

         Defendants removed the action to this Court based on federal diversity jurisdiction, asserting Plaintiff fraudulently joined Ringer to defeat diversity. See ECF No. 1. Plaintiff filed the instant motion to remand, and Defendants filed a response in opposition. See ECF Nos. 6 & 9. Plaintiff did not file a reply.

         Legal Standards

         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).

         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.


         Plaintiff moves to remand this case to state court, arguing (1) there is not complete diversity because she and Ringer are both South Carolina citizens and (2) Ringer is a proper defendant because South Carolina recognizes joint and several liability. See ECF No. 6. Meanwhile, Defendants argue Ringer-the store manager for Wal-Mart-has been fraudulently joined as a sham defendant to defeat diversity jurisdiction. See ECF ...

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