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David Rubino v. Genuardi's Inc.

January 31, 2011

DAVID RUBINO
v.
GENUARDI'S INC., ET AL.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Baylson, J.

MEMORANDUM RE: MOTION TO REMAND

I. Introduction

Plaintiff David Rubino, a Pennsylvania citizen, filed this premises liability civil action in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, seeking to recover damages for injuries he allegedly suffered as a result of a "slip and fall" accident in a supermarket aisle. Plaintiff named as Defendants Genuardi's Inc., Genuardi's Family Markets, Safeway, Inc., and store manager Joanne Baverle (collectively, "Defendants"). After the state court denied and dismissed with prejudice the claims against Defendant Baverle, a Pennsylvania citizen, the remaining Defendants removed this action to federal court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. Currently before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion to Remand, on the ground that removal was untimely because Defendants could have removed earlier in the litigation pursuant to the doctrine of fraudulent joinder. (ECF No. 3). The Court holds that removal was not untimely. However, the Court will grant the motion to remand because removal subsequent to the state court dismissal of the non-diverse defendant is available only when the non-diverse defendant is dropped pursuant to voluntary action by the plaintiff; this is known as the voluntary-involuntary rule.

II. Factual and Procedural Background

Plaintiff alleges that on July 29, 2009, he slipped and fell on a wet floor near a leaking refrigeration/freezer unit in the Genuardi's supermarket located at 1055 Bustleton Pike, Feasterville, Pennsylvania. Compl. ¶¶ 9-11 (ECF No. 1, Ex. A). As a result, Plaintiff suffered serious and possibly permanent physical injuries to his neck, trapezius, back, groin, and leg, severe shock, inability to work, and significant past and prospective financial loss due to the cost of treating these injuries. Compl. ¶¶ 14-19. Plaintiff asserts that his injuries resulted from Defendants' negligence, including their failure to maintain the store premises in a safe and reasonable condition, and failure to warn customers of the hazard. Compl. ¶¶ 13-14. Plaintiff's Complaint seeks recovery in excess of the compulsory arbitration limits.*fn1 Compl. ¶ 19.

Plaintiff, a Pennsylvania resident, filed the Complaint in state court on July 8, 2010 against Genuardi's Inc., Genuardi's Family Markets, Safeway, Inc., and Baverle, who was the manager of the store in which the incident occurred and a Pennsylvania resident. Compl. ¶¶ 1-4. Defendants were served on July 21, 2010. (ECF No. 3, Ex. B). On October 13, 2010, the Court of Common Pleas granted the Defendants' Preliminary Objections, and denied and dismissed with prejudice all claims against Defendant Baverle. (ECF No. 1, Ex. C).

On November 5, 2010, less than thirty days after the dismissal of the claims against Defendant Baverle, Defendants filed a Notice of Removal in this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441. (ECF No. 1). Defendants removed the case to federal court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Notice of Removal ¶ 6. Defendants averred that Safeway Inc. is a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business located in California, and Genuardi's Family Markets, L.P., the properly titled corporate entity, is a partnership comprised of partners who are not Pennsylvania citizens.*fn2 Notice of Removal ¶ 5. Defendants further averred that by way of information and belief, Plaintiff seeks to recover an amount in excess of $75,000. Notice of Removal ¶ 3.

On November 19, 2010, Plaintiff moved to remand the action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1447.

III. The Parties' Contentions

In a creative argument, Plaintiff contends that removal was untimely as a result of his own improper or fraudulent pleading. Plaintiff asserts that Defendants knew or should have known when they were served with the Complaint that Defendant Baverle was not involved with the underlying incident at Genuardi's. Pl.'s Mot. Remand ¶¶ 12-13. If Defendant Baverle, the only non-diverse defendant, was fraudulently joined, then the thirty-day window to file a notice of removal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b) began when the Defendants were served on July 21, 2010, and expired before the removal notice was filed on November 5, 2010. Pl.'s Mot. Remand ¶¶ 6, 13-14; Pl.'s Mem. of Law in Support of Remand 1-2 (ECF No. 3-1). Plaintiff, arguing that removal was untimely and that the case should be remanded, provides no Third Circuit case law in support of his position.*fn3 Pl.'s Mot. Remand ¶¶ 10, 16; Pl.'s Mem. of Law in Support of Remand 1-2.

Defendants respond that they could not have met the heavy burden to establish fraudulent joinder and remove at an earlier stage of the litigation. Defs.' Resp. to Pl.'s Mot. Remand ¶¶ 11-12, 14; Defs.' Mem. of Law 3-5. Defendants contend that they timely filed the Notice of Removal within thirty days of when diversity jurisdiction first became apparent, after the state court denied and dismissed the claims against the non-diverse defendant. Defs.' Mem. of Law 5.

IV. Legal Standard

A. Motion for Remand

A defendant may remove a civil action filed in state court if the federal district court to which it is removed would have had original jurisdiction over the action. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). After removal, the federal court must remand the case "[i]f at any time before final judgment it appears that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction." 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). The Third Circuit strictly construes the removal statutes against removal and resolves all doubts in favor of remand. Steel Valley Auth. v. Union Switch & Signal Div., 809 F.2d 1006, 1010 (3d Cir. 1987). Thus, the defendant advocating removal bears the "heavy ...


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