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Lincoln v. Watcon, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Western Division

February 16, 2018

Karen Lincoln, et al., Plaintiffs
Watcon, Inc., et al., Defendants


          Jeffrey J. Helmick United States District Judge.

         I. Brief Background

         In June of 2015, Karen Lincoln, Renee Thomas, Margaret Thornewell, Kimberly Orzechowski, Joseph Printke, Chris Ann Stuchel, and Isaac Jordan were employed by the Lucas County Job and Family Services. They worked in a building located at 3210 Monroe Street, Toledo, Ohio. The building is heated by a water circulation system in addition to the use of heat pumps, a cooling tower, and an air recovery unit which circulates air throughout the building. The water for the building's circulation system is provided by the City of Toledo. These employees allege exposure to mist or vapor containing Legionella bacteria, through use of outside water, led to their injuries.

         On December 20, 2016, Plaintiffs[1] filed suit in the Lucas County Court of Common Pleas against Watcon, Inc., Baltimore Aircoil Company, Sarmento Mechanical Sales, Inc., the City of Toledo's Division of Water Treatment, the Lucas County Department of Job and Family Services, the Lucas County Board of Commissioners, and John Does 1-10.

         On January 26, 2017, this action was removed by Defendants to the district court. In their Joint Notice of Removal (Doc. No. 1), Defendants contend there is no diversity of citizenship because “Sarmento[2] and the Government Defendants[3]” have been fraudulently joined as parties. (Id. at ¶ 13). Twenty-one days later, Defendant, City of Toledo, filed a motion to dismiss. (Doc. No. 17). With leave of the Court, Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint[4] on February 21, 2017. Several of the Defendants filed a motion to stay discovery (Doc. No. 24) and moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim (Doc. No. 25) on February 28, 2017. On April 4, 2017, Plaintiffs filed a motion to remand. (Doc. No. 36).

         As all of the issues have been fully briefed by the parties, I first turn to the motion to remand.

         II. The Applicable Legal Standard

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a), a defendant may remove any civil action from state to federal court only if the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction, both at the time of the original action and when the petition for removal is filed. Metro Life Ins. Co. v. Taylor, 481 U.S. 58, 63 (1987); Fed.R.Civ.P. 19(a). Following removal to the district court, a plaintiff may seek remand of the action to state court within thirty days after the notice of removal is filed. 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). If the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, remand is proper. Id.

         Original jurisdiction exists when the dispute involves a federal question or when the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000 and, at issue in this case, there is diversity of citizenship. 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Diversity requires complete diversity between plaintiff's and as to each defendant named in the complaint. Newman-Green, Inc. v. Alfonzo-Larrain, 490 U.S. 826, 829 (1989), citing Strawbridge v. Curtiss, 7 U.S. 267 (3 Cranch)(1806). Federal court subject matter jurisdiction is determined at the time of removal. Pullman Co. v. Jenkins, 305 U.S. 534, 537 (1939). The removing party bears the burden of establishing subject matter jurisdiction.

         Under the doctrine of fraudulent joinder, a federal district court may disregard the status of a non-diverse party joined for the purposes of diversity jurisdiction. In Casias v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., the Sixth Circuit set forth the legal standard to be applied in such an analysis:

Fraudulent joinder is “a judicially created doctrine that provides an exception to the requirement of complete diversity.” Coyne, 183 F.3d at 493 (quoting Triggs v. John Crump Toyota, Inc., 154 F.3d 1284, 1287 (11th Cir.1998) (alteration in original)). A defendant is fraudulently joined if it is “clear that there can be no recovery under the law of the state on the cause alleged or on the facts in view of the law ...” Alexander v. Elec. Data Sys. Corp., 13 F.3d 940, 949 (6th Cir.1994) (citation omitted). The relevant inquiry is whether there is “a colorable basis for predicting that a plaintiff may recover against [a defendant].” Coyne, 183 F.3d at 493. “The removing party bears the burden of demonstrating fraudulent joinder.” Alexander, 13 F.3d at 949 (citation omitted).
When deciding a motion to remand, including fraudulent joinder allegations, we apply a test similar to, but more lenient than, the analysis applicable to a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. See Walker v. Philip Morris USA, Inc., 443 Fed.Appx. 946, 952-54 (6th Cir.2011). As appropriate, we may “pierce the pleading” and consider summary judgment evidence, such as affidavits presented by the parties. Id. The court may look to material outside the pleadings for the limited purpose of determining whether there are “undisputed facts that negate the claim.” Id. at 955-56.

695 F.3d 428, 432-33 (6th Cir. 2012).

         A plaintiff's motive in joining a defendant is immaterial to this determination. Jerome-Duncan, Inc. v. Auto-By-Tel, L.L.C., 176 F.3d 904, 907 (6th Cir 1999).

         In light of federalism and comity concerns, federal courts must strictly construe removal jurisdiction and resolve all doubts in favor of remand. Shamrock Oil & Gas Corp. v. Sheets, 313 U.S. 100, 109-09 (1941); Alexander v. Electronic Data Sys. Corp., 13 F.3d 940, 949 (6th Cir. 1994).

         III. Motion to Remand

         A. Positions of the Parties

         Plaintiffs seek remand of this action contending there is no diversity of citizenship between the parties under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Plaintiffs state they have alleged viable claims against both the Government Defendants and the Defendant supplier, Sarmento. In contrast, the Defendants contend there is immunity from liability as to the Governmental ...

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