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Humane Society of Lackawanna County v. Metso Paper USA

March 31, 2006

THE HUMANE SOCIETY OF LACKAWANNA COUNTY, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
METSO PAPER USA, INC., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.
PECK, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
METSO PAPER USA, INC., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.
GINADER, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
METSO PAPER USA, INC., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Caputo

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court are three cases: The Humane Society of Lackawanna County, et al., v. Metso Paper USA, Inc., et al., No. 3:06-CV-0008; Peck, et al., v. Metso Paper USA, Inc., et al., No. 3:06-CV-0009; and Ginader, et al., v. Metso Paper USA, Inc., et al., No. 3:06-CV-0019. Defendants have removed each case from state court alleging that this Court has original jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332, and Plaintiffs have filed motions to remand. (No. 3:06-CV-0008, Pet. for Removal, Doc. 1, Mot. for Remand, Doc. 19; No. 3:06-CV-0009, Pet. for Removal, Doc. 1, Mot. for Remand, Doc. 19; No. 3:06-CV-0019, Pet. for Removal, Doc. 1, Mot. for Remand, Doc. 19.) For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiffs' motions for remand will be granted.

BACKGROUND

According to the facts as alleged in Plaintiffs' First Amended Complaint filed in the Court of Common Pleas of Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania*fn1 In or about August, 2005, Plaintiffs discovered that the groundwater beneath their properties and the water supplied by their wells had been contaminated with trichloroethylene ("TCE"), perchloroethylene ("PCE"), and/or other toxic chemicals. (Doc. 1, Ex. 1, ¶ 29.) Plaintiffs allege that the contaminants emanated from and/or were released or discharged from several industrial facilities owned, operated or controlled by Defendants Metso Paper USA, Inc., Sandvik, Inc., ("Sandvik"), Sandvik Extruded Tube, Inc., ("Sandvik Tube"), SMI Extruded Tube, Inc. ("SMI"), and Larry Snell. (Doc. 1, Ex. 1, ¶ 39.) Further, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants Sandvik, Sandvik Tube, SMI and Larry Snell utilized a number of storage tanks and storage tank facilities as defined within the Pennsylvania Storage Tank and Spill Prevention Act, 35 P.S. § 6021.101, et seq., ("STSPA"). (Doc. 1, Ex. 1, ¶ 69.) Plaintiffs assert that a material amount of the contaminants at issue leaked, emanated, or were discharged from these tanks and tank facilities. (Doc. 1, Ex. 1, ¶ 70.) In addition, Plaintiffs allege that the leak, discharge, or escape of these contaminants violated the Pennsylvania Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act ("HSCA"), 35 P.S. § 6020.101, et seq.,and that Defendants are "responsible persons" as defined by the HSCA. (Doc. 1, Ex. 1, ¶¶ 63-64.)

At all times material hereto, Defendant Larry Snell was the plant manager responsible for environmental practices at the facilities owned, operated and controlled by Defendants Sandvik, Sandvik Tube and SMI. (Doc. 1, Ex. 1, ¶ 28.) Plaintiffs allege both that Defendant Snell actively participated in the negligent conduct of Sandvik, Sandvik Tube and SMI (Doc. 1, Ex. 1, ¶ 48); and that Defendant Snell is independently liable because he "hid[ ] sources of contamination from various regulatory agencies", "provided false and misleading information", and "failed to ensure that the facility was operated in accordance with all applicable regulations." (Doc. 1, Ex. 1, ¶ 47.) In addition, Plaintiffs allege that Defendant Snell is an "owner" or "operator" as defined in the HSCA and the STSPA, and that he is also a "responsible person" within the meaning of the Acts. (Doc. 1, Ex. 1, ¶¶ 28, 63, 69.)

Plaintiff filed complaints in the Court of Common Pleas of Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania. Defendants removed the cases to federal court, on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. Plaintiffs now move to remand.

DISCUSSION

While defendants may remove a casefrom state court to federal court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441, the case shall be remanded "[i]f at any time before final judgment it appears that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction. . . ."28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). Removal statutes "are to be strictly construed against removal and all doubts should be resolved in favor of remand." Batoff v. State Farm Ins. Co., 977 F.2d 848, 851 (1992) (quoting Steel Valley Auth. v. Union Switch & Signal Div., 809 F.2d 1006, 1010 (3d Cir. 1987). Defendants bear the burden of establishing removal jurisdiction and demonstrating compliance with all pertinent procedural requirements. Boyer v. Snap-On Tools Corp., 913 F.2d 108, 111 (3d Cir. 1991).

District courts have original jurisdiction over civil actions where the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000 and the controversy is between citizens of different states. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). Section 1332 has been interpreted to require "complete diversity" between the parties. Ruhrgas Ag v. Marathon Oil Co., 526 U.S. 574, 580 n.2 (1999) (citing Strawbridge v. Curtiss, 7 U.S. 267 (1806)).

In the present case, Plaintiffs are citizens of Pennsylvania. Defendants concede that Defendant Snell is a citizen of Pennsylvania, but argue that Defendant Snell was fraudulently joined as a defendant and should be disregarded for purposes of determining diversity of citizenship.

1. Fraudulent Joinder

Joinder is fraudulent "where there is no reasonable basis in fact or colorable ground supporting the claim against the joined defendant, or no real intention in good faith to prosecute the action against the defendants or seek a joint judgment." Boyer, 913 F.2d at 111. "Because a party who urges jurisdiction on a federal court bears the burden of proving that jurisdiction exists, a removing party who charges that a plaintiff has fraudulently joined a party to destroy diversity jurisdiction has a 'heavy burden of persuasion'" Boyer, 913 F.2d at 111 (quoting Steel Valley, 809 F.2d at 1012 n.6).

Further, the Court is compelled to "resolve all contested issues of substantive fact in favor of the plaintiff and must resolve any uncertainties as to the current state of controlling substantive law in favor of the plaintiff." Boyer, 913 F.2d at 111. "If there is even a possibility that a state court would find that the complaint states a cause of action against any one of the resident defendants, the federal court must find that joinder was proper and remand the case to state court.'" Id. (quoting Coker v. Amoco Oil Co., 709 F.2d 1433, 1440-41 (11th Cir. 1983)).

While adjudicating a claim of fraudulent joinder, the Court must not convert its jurisdictional inquiry into a determination of the underlying merits of the claim. Batoff, 977 F.2d at 852. That is to say, the Court's inquiry as to whether a party has been fraudulently joined is less searching than that required when resolving a motion to dismiss. Id. "[T]he court may not find that the non-diverse parties were fraudulently joined based on its view of the merits of those ...


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