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Montalvo v. Doe

October 5, 2010

ROGELIO MONTALVO
v.
JOHN DOE I AND JOHN DOE II AND AMERICAN AIRLINES, INC.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: O'neill, J.

MEMORANDUM

Plaintiff filed a negligence action against defendants in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas. Defendant American Airlines removed to this Court on June 1, 2010 on the basis of diversity of citizenship. Plaintiff now moves to amend his complaint and replace the John Doe defendants with individuals. I have before me plaintiff's motion and defendant's response. For the reasons that follow, I will grant plaintiff's motion and remand the case to state court.*fn1

BACKGROUND

On September 23, 2009, plaintiff was a passenger on American Airlines Flight 1738 S from San Juan, Puerto Rico to Philadelphia. After the plane had landed and as plaintiff was disembarking from the plane "he was caused to trip and fall by reason of a dangerous condition of the jet bridge." Compl. ¶ 9. On May 11, 2010, plaintiff filed a negligence action against American and two unnamed ramp agents, identified in his complaint as John Doe I and John Doe II, in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas. Plaintiff's complaint alleged American and the unnamed ramp agents: failed to attach the jet bridge to the body of the aircraft properly; allowed unsafe gaps to exist between the jet bridge and the aircraft; failed to lock the jet bridge into place; failed to ensure that the jet bridge was level with the aircraft; failed to ensure that the auto leveling device on the jet bridge was in proper working order; failed to ensure that the auto leveling device on the jet bridge was turned on prior to allowing plaintiff to depart from the aircraft; failed to monitor the functions of the jet bridge and its component systems; failed to inspect the jet bridge; and failed to warn plaintiff of the existence of a gap between the jet bridge and the aircraft. Compl. ¶ 17.

On June 1, 2010, American removed the case to this Court on the basis of diversity of citizenship.*fn2 On August 11, 2010, plaintiff received Rule 26 disclosures from American and learned the names of the two unnamed ramp agents as Beth Etling and Susan Myers.*fn3 On August 25, 2010, Plaintiff filed a motion to amend his complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a) and substitute Etling and Myers for the John Doe defendants. As both Etling and Myers are citizens of Pennsylvania, their substitution would destroy diversity and result in a remand of this action to state court. 28 U.S.C. § 1447.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Amendments to pleadings are ordinarily governed by Rule 15. However, when the proposed amendment would join a non-diverse defendant, 28 U.S.C. § 1447(e) applies. Section 1447(e) provides "[i]f 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." 28 U.S.C. § 1447(e). District Courts possess substantial discretion in deciding whether to join non-diverse defendants after removal. Doe No. 4 v. Soc'y for Creative Anachronism, Inc., No. 07-1439, 2007 WL 2155553, at *3 (E.D. Pa. July 25, 2007). However, the removal statutes are strictly construed against removal. Boyer v. Snap-On Tools Corp., 913 F.2d 108, 111 (3d Cir. 1990). Accordingly, all doubts are resolved in favor of remand. Id.

ANALYSIS

Plaintiff argues his motion to amend is proper because (1) he intended to bring claims against Etling and Myers at the time he filed his complaint in state court but their identities were still unknown to him at the time; and (2) he would suffer significant injury if forced to continue his suit against American only. See Pl.'s Br. at 5-6.

For its part, American contends the amendments were brought solely to destroy diversity and force the case to be remanded to state court. American further argues plaintiff would not be injured by a denial of its amendment because American's insurance coverage is sufficient to cover any potential verdict. See Def.'s Br. at 4.

I. Fraudulent Joinder

As a preliminary matter, I will address the issue of fraudulent joinder.*fn4 The plaintiff may choose whom to sue. However, the plaintiff may not fraudulently join a party for the sole purpose of destroying diversity. Boyer, 913 F.2d at 111. In a case involving fraudulent joinder, the court may exercise its discretion to retain jurisdiction despite a lack of complete diversity by dismissing those defendants whom the court finds were fraudulently joined. In re Briscoe, 448 F.3d 201, 216 (3d Cir. 2006). However, if the court finds the non-diverse defendants were not fraudulently joined, it must relinquish jurisdiction and remand the case back to state court. Id.

Courts in this District have applied two tests in determining whether joinder was fraudulent --one subjective and one objective. Each test is independently sufficient. With respect to the objective test, joinder is fraudulent "where there is no reasonable basis in fact or colorable ground supporting the claim against the joined defendant." Boyer, 913 F.2d at 111. A claim lacking any colorable basis will be one that is "wholly insubstantial and frivolous." Batoff v. State Farm Ins. Co., 977 F.2d 848, 852 (3d Cir. 1992). The ...


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