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Kenia v. Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co.

January 25, 2008

ROBERT P. KENIA, JR., PLAINTIFF,
v.
NATIONWIDE MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY, MARIELLEN SOKOLAS, RICHARD FISHER, JOSEPH HANZOOK, KAREN MAZICK, AND MARILYN WOELFL, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Jones

Magistrate Judge Mannion

MEMORANDUM

THE BACKGROUND OF THIS MEMORANDUM IS AS FOLLOWS

Pending before this Court is a Motion to Remand to the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County ("the Motion"), filed by Plaintiff Robert P. Kenia, Jr. ("Plaintiff") on July 9, 2007. (Rec. Doc. 2). On September 27, 2007, the United States Magistrate Judge Malachy E. Mannion ("Magistrate Judge" or "Magistrate Judge Mannion") issued a Report recommending that Plaintiff's Motion be granted. (Rec. Doc. 20). For the reasons that follow, we will adopt the learned Magistrate Judge's Report in its entirety, and, accordingly, grant the Motion.*fn1

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On May 14, 2007, Plaintiff initiated the instant action by filing a Complaint in the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County. (See Rec. Doc. 1, Exhs. A, B). Therein, Plaintiff alleges that he was injured in a motor vehicle accident, and he names as Defendants Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company ("Nationwide"), an Ohio corporation with its principle place of business in Ohio, and several alleged claims representatives of Nationwide, all residents of Pennsylvania (collectively, "Defendants"). More specifically, the Complaint raises seven counts*fn2 against Defendants, all relating to the processing of Plaintiff's claim for underinsured motorist benefits. Id.

On June 12, 2007, Defendants filed a Notice of Removal, contending that this Court has diversity jurisdiction over this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. (Rec. Doc. 1).

Subsequently, Plaintiff filed the instant Motion to Remand (doc. 2), as well as a supporting brief (doc. 3). Following full briefing on the Motion (see docs. 8, 15), Magistrate Judge Mannion issued a Report and Recommendation thereon on September 27, 2007. (Rec. Doc. 20). The Report recommends that Plaintiff's Motion be granted as the Complaint states colorable claims against the non-diverse Defendants, and, therefore, complete diversity jurisdiction does not exist. Defendants' Objections to Magistrate Judge Mannion's Report, and a Brief in Support thereof, were filed on October 3, 2007. (Rec. Doc. 21). On October 15, 2007, Plaintiff filed a submission (doc. 24) opposing Defendants' Objections, and on October 17, 2007, Defendants filed a reply brief (doc. 26) in support of their Objections. Accordingly, this matter is ripe for our disposition.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

When objections are filed to a report of a magistrate judge, we make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge to which there are objections. See United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667 (1980); see also 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Local Rule 72.3l. Furthermore, district judges have wide discretion as to how they treat recommendations of a magistrate judge. See id. Indeed, in providing for a de novo review determination rather than a de novo hearing, Congress intended to permit whatever reliance a district judge, in the exercise of sound discretion, chooses to place on a magistrate judge's proposed findings and recommendations. See id. See also Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 275 (1976); Goney v. Clark, 749 F.2d 5, 7 (3d Cir. 1984).

DISCUSSION

As the Magistrate Judge notes, and the parties recognize, "district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75,000, exclusive of interest and costs, and is between -- (1) Citizens of different States . . . ." 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). Moreover, actions begun in a state court "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 in pending." 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). In the absence of a federal question, removal is limited to those cases in which "none 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). The defendant "bears the burden of proving that jurisdiction exists." Boyer v. Snap-On Tools Corp., 913 F.2d 108, 111 (3d Cir. 1990).

If a non-diverse party has been joined as a defendant, a "removing defendant may avoid remand only by demonstrating that the non-diverse party was fraudulently joined." Batoff v. State Farm Ins. Co., 977 F.2d 848, 851 (3d Cir. 1992). Joinder is fraudulent if there is no "reasonable basis in fact or colorable ground supporting the claim against the joined defendant." Abels v. State Farm Fire and Cas. Co., 770 F.2d. 26, 32 (3d Cir. 1985). However, "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 to the state court." Batoff, 977 F.2d at 851 (citations omitted). In evaluating whether the defendants were fraudulently joined, the court must accept the factual allegations of the complaint and "resolve any uncertainties as to the current state of controlling substantive law in favor of the plaintiff." Id. (quoting Boyer, 913 F.2d at 111).

In support of remand, Plaintiff alleges that counts I, IV, V, and VI present colorable claims against all Defendants, including the non-diverse Nationwide claims representatives, and that all were properly named in the action. (Rec. Docs. 2, 3). In opposition to remand, Defendants argue that Plaintiff has fraudulently joined the non-diverse Defendants so as to defeat federal diversity jurisdiction. (Rec. Doc. 21). More specifically, in their Objections to the Report, Defendants disagree with the Report's conclusion that Plaintiff has alleged a ...


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