United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division
ORDER AND OPINION
RICHARD MARK GERGEL UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.
matter is before the Court on Plaintiffs motion to amend the
complaint and to remand to state court. For the reasons set
forth below, the Court grants the motion.
was a school bus driver. On March 27, 2013, she was driving a
school bus manufactured by Defendant when a drunk driver
caused another vehicle to collide with the school bus.
Plaintiff alleges she struck her head on the steering wheel
during the collision because of a defect in the driver's
seatbelt. Plaintiff filed suit in the Charleston County Court
of Common Pleas on March 25, 2016, and Defendant removed to
this Court based on diversity jurisdiction. Discovery is now
complete. Plaintiff asserts that through discovery she
learned that the South Carolina Department of Education had
replaced the originally installed seatbelt with a replacement
seatbelt sold by non-party Shield Restraint Systems to
Daimler Trucks North America, the parent corporation of
Defendant, which through authorized dealer Interstate
Transportation Equipment provided the replacement seatbelt to
the Department of Education, which installed the seatbelt,
without involving Defendant. Plaintiff moves to amend the
complaint to name Shield Restraint Systems, Interstate
Transportation Equipment, and Daimler Trucks North America as
Defendants and to dismiss Thomas Built Buses as a Defendant.
Defendant opposes the motion.
Interstate Transportation Equipment is a South Carolina
company, its joinder would destroy complete diversity and
deprive the Court of subject-matter jurisdiction. Plaintiff
therefore additionally moves to remand this matter to the
Charleston County Court of Common Pleas.
a plaintiff seeks to join a nondiverse defendant after the
case has been removed, the district court's analysis
begins with 28 U.S.C. § 1447(e), which provides the
district court with two options: '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.' These are the only two options for a district
court faced with a post-removal attempt to join a nondiverse
defendant; the statute does not allow a district court to
retain jurisdiction once it permits a nondiverse defendant to
be joined in the case." Mayes v. Rapoport, 198
F.3d 457, 461-62 (4th Cir. 1999) (footnotes omitted).
"Under Section 1447(e), the actual decision on whether
or not to permit joinder of a defendant under these
circumstances is committed to the sound discretion of the
district court; thus, this decision is not controlled by a
Rule 19 analysis." Id. at 462. "In
exercising its discretion under Section 1447(e), the district
court" considers: "the extent to which the purpose
of the amendment is to defeat federal jurisdiction, whether
the plaintiff has been dilatory in asking for amendment,
whether the plaintiff will be significantly injured if
amendment is not allowed, and any other factors bearing on
the equities." Id. To the extent § 1447(e)
conflicts with Rule 15 of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure, § 1447(e) controls. See Id. at 462
Mayes factors weigh in favor of permitting the
proposed amendment in this case. First, it does not
appear-and Defendant does not assert-that the purpose of the
amendment is to defeat federal jurisdiction. It is reasonable
to join the merchant who sold the allegedly defective
seatbelt to the end user. Second, Plaintiffs motion is not
dilatory. Defendant represents it informed Plaintiff that the
seatbelt at issue was a replacement seatbelt in January 2017,
but Plaintiff represents (and Defendant does not dispute)
that Defendant did not produce documents showing it was not
the source of the replacement seatbelt until August 25, 2017.
Plaintiff then engaged in third-party discovery to identify
the source of the replacement seatbelt, and moved to amend in
a reasonable time thereafter. Third, Plaintiff will be
severely injured if the amendment is not allowed. Indeed,
failure to permit the amendment would be a dismissal of
Plaintiff s claims, as Plaintiff admits the only currently
named Defendant was not involved in the alleged tort. Third,
the equities favor amendment. It would be inequitable to bar
a product liability claim simply because the plaintiff
learned through discovery that the product at issue was
actually supplied by the defendant's parent company.
argues the proposed amended complaint is futile.
Defendant's argument misapprehends the controlling legal
standard. Futility is not in itself a part of the §
1447(e) analysis. The Court does not conduct a merits
analysis for claims over which it lacks subject-matter
jurisdiction. Instead, the Court looks to the fraudulent
joinder standard,  which applies where "there is no
possibility that the plaintiff would be able to establish a
cause of action against the instate defendant in state
court." Marshall v. Manville Sales Corp., 6
F.3d 229, 232 (4th Cir. 1993) (internal quotation marks
omitted). If the amended complaint inarguably fails to state
a claim against the nondiverse proposed defendant, that would
weigh with dispositional weight when considering whether the
proposed amendment is to defeat jurisdiction, whether denial
of the amendment would injure the plaintiff, or when
considering the equities.
the Court cannot find that "there is no
possibility" that Plaintiff would be able to state a
product defect claim against the merchant who sold the
allegedly defective product. Defendant itself does not make
that assertion. Instead, Defendant raises summary judgment
arguments that rely on evidence obtained in discovery.
Defendant argues Plaintiff cannot show the seatbelt was in
substantially similar condition on the date of the accident
as when it left the hands of the proposed new defendants.
Defendant also argues Plaintiff assumed the risk of her
injuries because she used the seatbelt despite actual
knowledge of its defect. Both arguments rely on deposition
testimony taken during discovery. Summary judgment arguments
based on record evidence should be addressed by a court with
jurisdiction over the subject-matter ruling on the merits.
foregoing reasons, the Court GRANTS
Plaintiffs motion to amend the complaint and to remand to
state court (Dkt. No. 39).