United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Florence Division
OPINION AND ORDER
C. COGGINS, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter comes before the Court upon Plaintiffs' Motion to
Remand, ECF No. 14, and Defendants' Motion to Strike
Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint, ECF No. 15. The Motions
have been fully briefed and are ripe for review.
Procedural and Factual History
is a negligence action for injuries sustained by
Plaintiffs-citizens of South Carolina-related to damage of
their cotton crop as a result of alleged improper
fertilization by Defendants. This case began in the Court of
Common Pleas for the County of Darlington, South Carolina
when Plaintiffs filed a Summons and Complaint naming Southern
States Cooperative, Incorporated ("Southern
States") and Jimmy Hudson as Defendants. ECF No.
1-1. The Complaint alleges that Defendant Hudson was the
manager of Defendant Southern States' Darlington County
location. ECF No. 1-1 at 3. Defendants filed a Notice of
Removal, contending that Defendant Hudson-a South Carolina
citizen-was fraudulently joined as a Defendant. ECF No. 1.
Defendants attached an Affidavit of Defendant Hudson, in
which he states that he is a "regional manager" for
Defendant Southern States and that did not have any role in
spreading the fertilizer on Plaintiffs' crops. ECF No.
1-2. Additionally, Defendant Hudson's states that he had
no role in calibrating the spreading equipment; maintaining
the spreading equipment; operating the spreading equipment;
monitoring the spreading equipment; supervising employees in
the calibration, maintenance, or use of the spreading
equipment; or hiring, training, or supervising any employees
involved in the operation of spreading equipment.
Id. at 1-2.
removal, Defendant Hudson filed a Motion to Dismiss, and
Defendant Southern States filed an Answer. ECF Nos. 5, 7. In
response, Plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint, replacing
Defendant Hudson with Defendant Corey Davis. ECF No. 10. The
Amended Complaint states that Defendant Davis was the manager
of Defendant Southern States' Darlington County location.
Id. The Amended Complaint alleges a cause of action
for negligence, including but not limited to the following
acts or omissions: (a) failing to properly calibrate the
spreading equipment; (b) failing to properly maintain the
spreading equipment; (c) failing to properly operate the
spreading equipment; (d) failing to properly monitor the
spreading equipment; (e) failing to properly supervise
employees in the calibration and maintenance and use of the
spreading equipment; (f) hiring an operator that lacked the
necessary training, expertise, equipment, and understanding
with regard to the operation of the spreading equipment; and
(g) failing to exercise the degree of care which a reasonable
and prudent farm supply and spreader service would have
exercised under the same or similar circumstances.
Plaintiffs filed a Motion to Remand, and Defendants filed a
Motion to Strike Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint. ECF Nos.
14, 15. The parties filed Responses in Opposition, and the
Motions are fully briefed and ripe for review. ECF Nos. 16,
courts are courts of limited jurisdiction and, as such, may
only hear and decide cases when they have been given the
authority to do so by the Constitution and by federal
statute. In re Bulldog Trucking, Inc., 147 F.3d 347,
352 (1998). The right to remove a case to federal court
derives solely from 28 U.S.C. § 1441, which provides
that "any civil action brought in a State court of which
the district courts of the United States have original
jurisdiction, may be removed by the defendant or the
defendants, to the district court of the United States for
the district and division embracing the place where such
action is pending." However, "[a] civil action
otherwise removable solely on the basis of [diversity]
jurisdiction under [28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)] may not be
removed if any of the parties in interest properly joined and
served as defendants is a citizen of the State in which such
action is brought." 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b).
fraudulent joinder doctrine will permit a defendant to remove
a case to federal court despite the presence of another
non-diverse defendant. Mayes v. Rapoport, 198 F.3d
457, 461 (4th Cir. 1999). "To establish fraudulent
joinder, the removing party must show either: (1) outright
fraud in the plaintiff's pleading of jurisdictional
facts, or (2) that there is no possibility that the plaintiff
would be able to establish a cause of action against the
in-state defendant in state court." Toney v. LaSalle
Bank Nat. Ass'n, 36 F.Supp.3d 657, 663 (D.S.C. 2014)
(citing Benjamin v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 413
F.Supp.2d 652, 654 (D.S.C. 2006)). "The second means for
establishing fraudulent joinder is even more favorable to a
plaintiff than the standard for ruling on a motion to dismiss
under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Id. (citing Hartley
v. CSX Transp. Inc., 187 F.3d 422, 424 (4th Cir. 1999)).
"A plaintiff does not have to show he will prevail
against the defendant." Id. "He must only
show that he has a slight possibility of succeeding."
Id. (citing Hartley, 187 F.3d at 426). If
the plaintiff can show this glimmer of hope, the defendant is
properly joined." Id. Indeed, "[b]ecause
removal jurisdiction raises significant federalism concerns,
[courts] must strictly construe removal jurisdiction."
Mulcahey v. Columbia Organic Chems. Co., 29 F.3d
148, 151 (4th Cir. 1994) (citation omitted). "If federal
jurisdiction is doubtful, a remand is necessary."
the Court must determine whether to evaluate the Motion to
Remand in the context of the initial state-court Complaint or
the Amended Complaint. To do so requires resolution of
Defendants' Motion to Strike, because permitting the
joinder of Defendant Davis essentially equates to rejecting
Defendants' fraudulent joinder argument.
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.'" Mayes v. Rapoport, 198 F.3d 457,
461-62 (4th Cir. 1999) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 1447(e)).
"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." Id. at 462 (emphasis
added). "[T]he 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 . . .
." Id. (citations omitted). In exercising this
discretion, "the district court [is] entitled to
consider all relevant factors, including: 'the extent to
which the purpose of the amendment is to defeat 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. (quoting
Gum v. Gen. Elec. Co., 5 F.Supp.2d 412, 414 (S.D.
the Court concludes that permitting joinder of Defendant
Davis is an appropriate exercise of discretion in line with
the caselaw governing fraudulent joinder. In the initial
Complaint, Plaintiffs attempted to name the manager of
Defendant Southern States' Darlington County location.
Plaintiff Ricky Galloway has filed an Affidavit stating he
"assumed that Jimmy Hudson was the store manager at the
Southern States Darlington location as he resides in
Darlington, has an office at that location and once the
spreading issue arose, he personally inspected the crop with
me." ECF No. 16-1 at 1. However, Plaintiff
Ricky Galloway also stated that he "primarily dealt with
Corey Davis in the normal course of business and thought he
was the assistant manager." Id. Therefore, the
Court concludes that Plaintiffs have not been dilatory in
naming Defendant Davis.
here that the issues in the Motion to Strike and Motion to
Remand dovetail. The Court must determine whether the purpose
of joining Defendant Davis is to defeat federal jurisdiction.
Having reviewed the Amended Complaint, the Court concludes
that Defendants have not met their burden of proving
fraudulent joinder. While the Amended Complaint could more
directly address the duties owed to Plaintiffs by Defendant
Davis, the Court concludes that there is at least a slight
possibility Plaintiffs can succeed on a claim against
Defendant Davis in state court. Notably, the Amended
Complaint alleges that Defendants failed to supervise
employees and negligently hired and trained employees.
Additionally, the Amended Complaint alleges that Defendants
failed to calibrate, operate, maintain, and monitor ...