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Albert Gibboni v. Hyatt Corporation

March 22, 2011

ALBERT GIBBONI, PLAINTIFF,
v.
HYATT CORPORATION, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

OPINION

I. INTRODUCTION

Before the Court is Plaintiff Albert Gibboni's Motion to Remand (Doc. No. 4). On June 2, 2009, Plaintiff commenced this action in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, against Defendants Hyatt Corporation, Global Hyatt Corporation (collectively "Hyatt Defendants"), and Bernadette Gibboni, alleging claims of negligence for injuries sustained when he slipped and fell. (Doc. No. 1, Ex. A.) On June 2, 2010, Hyatt Defendants filed a Notice of Removal (Doc. No. 1). After removal, Plaintiff filed a Motion to Remand to State Court (Doc. No. 4). Hyatt Defendants then filed a response in opposition to the Motion to Remand (Doc. No. 7). Defendant Gibboni also filed a response to the Motion to Remand (Doc. No. 9). Subsequently, Plaintiff filed a reply to Hyatt Defendants' response (Doc. No. 12).

In Count I of the Second Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleges negligence against Hyatt Defendants. (Doc. No. 1, Ex. C ¶¶ 35-40.) In Count II, Plaintiff alleges negligence against Defendant Gibboni. (Id. ¶¶ 41-46.) Hyatt Defendants removed the action to this Court based on diversity of citizenship jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332, claiming that Defendant Bernadette Gibboni is a nominal party who has been named solely to defeat diversity of citizenship jurisdiction and that under the Doctrine of Fraudulent Joinder, she should be disregarded for purposes of determining diversity jurisdiction. (Doc. No. 1 ¶¶ 19-21.) For reasons that follow, the Court will grant the Motion to Remand the case to the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County.

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Albert Gibboni and his wife, Defendant Bernadette Gibboni, were celebrating their wedding anniversary in Cancun, Mexico. (Doc. No. 1, Ex. C ¶ 15.) On July 5, 2008, upon arrival at the Hyatt Cancun, the couple was led to their room by a hotel employee. (Id. ¶ 32.) Prior to entering the room, Plaintiff slipped and fell on a slippery surface and sustained severe injuries. (Id. ¶ 33.) He suffered injuries to his neck, back, spine, and cervical vertebrae, and as a result Plaintiff has undergone physical pain, aches, mental anxiety, inconveniences, loss of life's pleasures, lost wages and impairment of future earning capacity. (Id. ¶¶ 37-40.) The Second Amended Complaint alleges that his injuries were jointly and/or severally caused by the conduct of Hyatt Defendants for, among other things, creating a dangerous slip and fall condition, failing to prevent and/or eliminate the dangerous condition, and failing to warn Plaintiff of a dangerous condition. The same Complaint also states that Defendant Bernadette Gibboni jointly and/or severally caused injuries to Plaintiff when she obscured his view of the slippery condition, and further failed to alert him to the dangerous condition. (Id. ¶ 42.)

Plaintiff is a citizen of Pennsylvania, Hyatt Defendants are incorporated in Delaware with their principal place of business in Illinois, and Defendant Gibboni is a citizen of Pennsylvania. (Id. ¶¶ 1-5.) On June 2, 2010, despite lack of diversity of citizenship among Plaintiff and every Defendant, Hyatt Defendants filed a Notice of Removal based on the allegation that Defendant Gibboni was fraudulently joined and should be disregarded for diversity jurisdiction purposes. (Doc. No. 1 ¶ 21.) Specifically, Hyatt Defendants submit that the facts do not give rise to any colorable claim against Defendant Gibboni, and that Plaintiff has no real intention to pursue the case against her. (Doc. No. 1 ¶¶ 15-17.)

III. LEGAL STANDARD

A defendant may remove a civil action from state court if the case could have been originally brought in federal court. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). "For a removal predicated upon diversity of citizenship, a proper exercise of federal jurisdiction requires satisfaction of the amount in controversy requirement as well as complete diversity between the parties, that is, every plaintiff must be of diverse state citizenship from every defendant." In re Briscoe, 448 F.3d 201,215 (3d. Cir. 2006). A case removed to federal court may be remanded to state court if "at any time before final judgment it appears that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction . . . ." 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). Removal statutes should be strictly construed "against removal and all doubts should be resolved in favor of remand." Batoff v. State Farm Insurance Co., 977 F.2d 848, 851 (3d Cir. 1992) (quoting Steel Valley Author. v. Union Switch & Signal Div., 809 F.2d 1006, 1010 (3d Cir. 1987)).

IV. DISCUSSION

Hyatt Defendants removed this action based upon diversity of citizenship jurisdiction. However, Plaintiff and Defendant Gibboni are both citizens of Pennsylvania. Hyatt Defendants recognize this fact and contend that Defendant Gibboni has been fraudulently joined in this action and should be disregarded for purposes of determining diversity jurisdiction. In the Motion to Remand, Plaintiff contends that Defendant Gibboni is not fraudulently joined and the matter should be remanded to state court.

"In the absence of a substantial federal question[,] the removing defendant may avoid remand only by demonstrating that the non-diverse party was fraudulently joined." Briscoe, 448 F.3d at 217 (quoting Batoff v. State Farm Insurance Co., 977 F.2d 848, 851 (3d Cir. 1992)). If the court finds that the non-diverse defendant was fraudulently joined, "the court can disregard, for jurisdictional purposes, the citizenship of certain [non-diverse] defendants, assume jurisdiction over a case, dismiss the [non-diverse] defendants, and thereby retain jurisdiction.'" Briscoe, 448 F.3d at 216 (quoting Mayes v. Rapoport, 198 F.3d 457, 461 (4th Cir. 1999)). If, however, the court determines the joinder was not fraudulent, the removed action must be remanded to state court. Briscoe, 448 F.3d at 216 (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1447c).

A defendant is fraudulently joined "if '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 defendant or seek a joint judgment.'" Briscoe, 448 F.3d at 216 (quoting Abels v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Co., 770 F.2d 26, 32 (3d Cir. 1985)). However, in seeking to demonstrate fraudulent joinder of the non-diverse defendant, the removing defendant "carries a heavy burden of persuasion." Batoff, 977 F.2d at 851. "'[I]f there is even a possibility that a state court would find that the complaint states a cause of action against any one of the [non-diverse] defendants, the federal court must find that joinder was proper and remand the case to state court.'" Id. (quoting Boyer v. Snap-On Tools Corp., 913 F.2d 108, 111 (3d Cir. 1990)). "Where there are colorable claims or defenses asserted against or by diverse and non-diverse defendants alike, the court may not find that the non-diverse parties were fraudulently joined based on its view of the merits of those claims or defenses." Batoff, 977 F.2d at 851 (internal citation and quotation marks omitted).

In evaluating whether a defendant was fraudulently joined, the court: must focus on the plaintiff's complaint at the time the petition for removal was filed. In so ruling, the district court must assume as true all factual allegations of the complaint. It also must resolve any ...


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