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Jones v. Old Dominion Freight Line, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

April 3, 2018

OLD DOMINION FREIGHT LINE, INC., et al., Defendants.

          Michael H. Watson Judge.



         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion to Remand to State Court (Doc. 7) and Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to Conduct Limited Jurisdictional Discovery Related to Plaintiff's Motion to Remand (Doc. 17). For the reasons that follow, it is RECOMMENDED that Plaintiff's Motion to Remand be GRANTED, but Plaintiff's request for attorney's fees is DENIED. Further, Plaintiff's Motion to Conduct Limited Jurisdiction Discovery is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff initiated this action on November 17, 2017, in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas against his former employer, Old Dominion Freight Line, Inc. (“Old Dominion”) and his former terminal manager John Zielinksi, after Plaintiff was terminated from his employment as a truck driver. (Doc. 3 at 1). Plaintiff alleges that following rotator cuff surgery, he took twelve weeks of leave under the Family Medical Leave Act and then requested unpaid leave, but instead was fired. (Id. at 2). According to Plaintiff, he was “one of the oldest employees at his terminal.” (Id.). Based upon these allegations, Plaintiff brought six claims against Defendants under Ohio Revised Code Chapter 4112, stemming from alleged (1) discrimination on account of Plaintiff's disability, perceived disability, and age; (2) a failure to accommodate Plaintiff's disability; and (3) a failure to engage in the interactive process. (Id. at 5-11).

         Defendants removed the case to this Court, asserting diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. (Doc. 1). Defendants represent that Plaintiff is a citizen of the State of Ohio and Defendant Old Dominion is a citizen of both Virginia and North Carolina. (Id. at 2-3). Defendants acknowledge that Defendant Zielinksi, like Plaintiff, is also a citizen of the State of Ohio. However, Defendants assert that his citizenship “should be disregarded for purposes of determining jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1441….” (Id. at 3). Specifically, Defendants argue that the Court should ignore Defendant Zielinksi's citizenship because the Complaint presents no colorable claim against him and Plaintiff fraudulently joined him in an apparent effort to defeat this Court's jurisdiction. (Id.).

         The following week, Defendants moved to dismiss the claims against Defendant Zielinksi, arguing that Plaintiff failed to plead facts sufficient to establish Defendant Zielinski's individual liability. (Doc. 4). Then, on January 5, 2018, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint, alleging the same causes of action but bolstering the allegations as to Defendant Zielinksi. (Doc. 6). That same day, Plaintiff filed a Motion to Remand, requesting that this Court remand the case back to the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas (hereinafter, “the State Court”) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. (Doc. 7). The Court subsequently stayed the briefing on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss in order to address the Motion to Remand first. (Doc. 9).

         Defendants filed their Response in Opposition to the Motion to Remand (Doc. 14), but rather that filing a Reply (even after seeking an extension to do so), Plaintiff filed a Motion for Leave to Conduct Limited Jurisdictional Discovery Related to Plaintiff's Motion to Remand (Doc. 17). In that Motion, Plaintiff requested that his deadline to file a Reply to the Motion to Remand be stayed (id.), which the Court granted. (Doc. 18). After the Court expedited briefing on jurisdictional discovery (Doc. 18), Defendants filed their Response in Opposition (Doc. 19), and Plaintiff filed his Reply (Doc. 20). The Court now considers both Motions.[1]


         “[A] defendant may remove a state court case to federal court only if it could have been brought there in the first place; that is, if the federal court would have original jurisdiction over the case.” Strong v. Telectronics Pacing Sys., Inc., 78 F.3d 256, 259 (6th Cir. 1996). Relevant to this case, district courts have federal jurisdiction based on diversity citizenship in actions “where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000” and where the controversy is between “citizens of different States.” 28 U.S.C. § 1332; see also 3LI Consultant Grp. v. Catholic Health Partners, No. 1:15-cv-455, 2016 WL 246202, at *1 (S.D. Ohio Jan. 21, 2016). The statute requires “complete” diversity of citizenship, meaning no plaintiff resides in the same state as any defendant. Myers Indus., Inc. v. Young, No. 5:13-CV-01278, 2013 WL 4431250, at *1 (N.D. Ohio Aug. 16, 2013) (citing Lincoln Prop. Co. v. Roche, 546 U.S. 81, 84 (2005)). If complete diversity of citizenship exists, defendants may remove an action filed by a plaintiff in state court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441. Id.

         If, however, it appears that the federal district court to which a case was removed lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the case must be remanded. See, e.g., Woodworth v. Time Warner Cable, Inc., No. 1:15 CV 1685, 2015 WL 6742085, at *1 (N.D. Ohio Nov. 2, 2015) (“Under 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c), cases originally filed in a state court must be remanded if, at any time before trial, it appears that the federal district court to which they were removed lacks subject matter jurisdiction.”). “However, the ‘fraudulent joinder of non-diverse defendants will not defeat removal on diversity grounds.'” Id. (quoting Coyne v. The Am. Tobacco Co., 183 F.3d 488, 493 (6th Cir. 1999)). Thus, if a non-diverse party has been joined as a defendant-and in the absence of a federal question-the removing defendant may avoid remand by demonstrating that the non-diverse party was fraudulently joined. Murray Energy Holdings Co. v. Bloomberg, L.P., No. 2:15-CV-2845, 2016 WL 3355456, at *2 (S.D. Ohio June 17, 2016). Put another way, “fraudulent joinder is a judicially created doctrine that provides an exception to the requirement of complete diversity.” Coyne, 183 F.3d at 493 (citation and internal quotes omitted).

         To determine whether a defendant is fraudulently joined, a court must ask whether “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.'” Murray Energy Holdings Co., 2016 WL 3355456, at *2 (quoting Alexander v. Elec. Data Sys. Corp., 13 F.3d 940, 949 (6th Cir. 1994)). In other words, “the question is whether a colorable cause of action exists against the non-diverse defendant.” Markins v. Sw. Airlines Co., No. 5:17 CV 793, 2017 WL 4050195, at *2 (N.D. Ohio Sept. 13, 2017) (citing Jerome-Duncan, Inc. v. Auto-By-Tel, L.L.C., 176 F.3d 904, 907 (1994)). Importantly, a court does not probe a plaintiff's motive for joining a non-diverse defendant to the lawsuit because motive is immaterial to the analysis. See, e.g., Jerome-Duncan, Inc., 176 F.3d at 907; see also Kovacic v. Clark Retail Ent., Inc., No. 1:08CV1921, 2008 WL 11381423, at *2 (N.D. Ohio Nov. 19, 2008) (“The court examines the legal sufficiency of the claim, not [a plaintiff's] actual motive for joining the non-diverse defendants.”) (listing cases).

         Ultimately, the removing party bears the burden of demonstrating that no colorable cause of action exists under state law. Murray Energy Holdings Co., 2016 WL 3355456, at *2. Courts have described this burden as “an uphill struggle in persuading the Court that not only does the complaint fail to state a claim against the non-diverse defendant, but that there is not even a colorable argument that it does.” Eckhart v. Depuy Orthopaedics, Inc., No. 203-CV-1063, 2004 WL 524916, at *2 (S.D. Ohio Mar. 3, 2004); see also Walker v. Philip Morris USA, Inc., 443 F. App'x 946, 952 (6th Cir. 2011) (“The burden of persuasion on those who claim fraudulent joinder is a heavy one.”).

         Courts have explained the fraudulent joinder inquiry as similar to one under a “motion to dismiss under Fed. R. Civ. P 12(b)(6), but as even more deferential” to a plaintiff. Markins, 2017 WL 4050195, at *2; see also Casias v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 695 F.3d 428, 433 (6th Cir. 2012) (“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.”). Further, as is the case over any dispute regarding whether removal is proper, all doubts must be resolved in favor of remand. See, e.g., Kovacic, 2008 WL 11381423, at *2 (“Any disputed questions of fact or ambiguities of state law are resolved in favor of the non-removing party.”); Long v. Bando Mfg. Co. of Am., Inc., 201 ...

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