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Groh v. Monestero

United States District Court, Third Circuit

April 29, 2013

THERESA LYNN GROH, and as Administratrix of the ESTATE OF BARRY ROY GROH, a/k/a BARRY R. GROH, a/k/a BARRY GROH, Deceased, Plaintiff,


MICHAEL M. BAYLSON, Chief District Judge.

Plaintiff in this wrongful death action moves to remand the case to the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas, where she contends related cases are underway vis-§-vis defendants who are jointly and severally liable, along with Defendant here, for her husband's death. Plaintiff contends remand is appropriate because joinder of the defendants from the related state-court actions would destroy diversity, thus depriving this Court of subject matter jurisdiction. For the reasons below, Plaintiff's motion to remand is GRANTED.

I. Facts and Procedural History

This action arises out of a hunting accident that occurred on November 29, 2010, in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Barry Groh, Plaintiff's deceased husband, was deer-hunting in the area of 1155 California Road, located in Bucks County. David Manilla, who lives at 1155 California Road, was also deer-hunting on his property that day. Groh was joined by two companions, Michael Marino and Robert Monestero. At some time between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 pm, Manilla accidentally shot and killed Groh, believing he was a deer. Manilla pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter on July 8, 2011. (Complaint § 35 & Ex. A) (ECF 4).

Mrs. Groh initiated a wrongful death suit against David Manilla in the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas on January 10, 2011. (Id.).[1] She alleged Manilla had acted carelessly and recklessly in failing to regard the safety of her husband, in failing to make reasonable precautions to avoid shooting her husband, in riding and driving an ATV with loaded weapons on his property, and in failing to notify the police of the accident until thirty minutes after discovering her husband was shot. (Id. § 36).

Plaintiff initiated several other civil actions in the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas over the subsequent months. On November 2, 2011, she filed a Complaint in Trespass against Michael Marino, the second member of Manilla's hunting party; on March 14, 2012, she filed a Complaint for Declaratory Judgment against Allstate Insurance Company, Allstate Property and Casualty Insurance Company, and David and Vivian Manilla; and on May 29, 2012, she filed a Complaint in Trespass against Barbara Fletcher, David Manilla's paramour. The Bucks County Court of Common Pleas issued an Order on September 13, 2012, consolidating the actions against Manilla, Marino, and Fletcher for the purposes of pre-trial discovery and trial, and also consolidating the action against Allstate et al. for the purpose of discovery. (Def. Br. in Opp. Remand at 2-3 & Ex. G) (ECF 10). The court issued a Case Management Order on December 28, 2012, setting a deadline of April 30, 2013 for the close of factual discovery which was recently extended to August 1, 2013.

Plaintiff then initiated suit against Robert Monestero, the third member of the hunting party and the Defendant in this case, in the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas. Plaintiff filed a Writ of Summons upon Monestero on November 27, 2012. (Id. Ex. E). On February 8, 2013, Plaintiff requested that Monestero appear for a deposition in the consolidated action against 3 Manilla, Marino and Fletcher. (Id. Ex. M). Monestero's counsel responded that his client would not appear until he knew of the specific claim against him (id. Exs. N & S), and Monestero filed a motion in Bucks County court that same day, requesting that the prothonotary "issue a rule upon Plaintiff to file a Complaint in the above matter." (Id. Ex. J). On March 4, 2013, Plaintiff filed a Complaint in Trespass against Monestero in the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas. (Id. Ex. F). Defendant concedes that by filing the Writ of Summons on November 27, 2012, Plaintiff complied with the two-year statute of limitations for wrongful death actions under 42 Pa. Consol. Stat. § 5524, given that Groh's death occurred on November 29, 2010. (Def. Br. in Opp. Remand at 11) (ECF 10).[2]

On March 6, 2013, Monestero filed a Notice of Removal in this Court. (ECF 1). On March 15, 2013, Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss. (ECF 2). Plaintiff, in response, filed an Amended Complaint on April 5, 2013 (ECF 7) and a Motion for Remand to the Court of Common Pleas of Bucks County on April 3, 2013 (ECF 4). Defendant filed a Response to the remand motion on April 17, 2013 (ECF 10), and Plaintiff filed a Reply on April 26, 2013 (ECF 14). For the reasons below, the Court finds remand the appropriate disposition for this case.

II. The Parties' Arguments

a. Plaintiff's Arguments in Favor of Remand

The federal statute governing remand, 28 U.S.C. § 1447(e), provides that "if after removal the plaintiff seeks to join additional defendants whose joiner would destroyed subject matter jurisdiction, the court may deny joinder, or permit joinder and remand the action to State Court." Although Plaintiff has not made a formal motion for joinder of additional defendants here, she contends Section 1447(e) counsels for remand because if she did seek to join the defendants from the consolidated, Bucks County action against Manilla, Marino, and Fletcher, diversity would be defeated and this Court's subject matter jurisdiction would be lost. (See Pl. Motion for Remand at 7) ("Plaintiff seeks to remand this case to state court so that it, too, can be consolidated in the Bucks County action. Because all of the defendants in the Bucks County Action are Pennsylvania residents, their joinder would destroy diversity. Thus, the Court of Common Pleas of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, is the only forum where the cases can be tried together."). Plaintiff contends that without remand, "the case against Mr. Monestero will proceed separately from the Bucks County Action, necessitating duplicative discovery, depositions, and, of course, trials." (Id.). This would lead to a "waste of judicial and legal resources" and potentially inconsistent results. (Id.). Additionally, Plaintiff points out, the Bucks County Action is already quite far along, with Judge Robert Mellon having conducted numerous conferences and issued several orders. Judge Mellon is thus "well-positioned to consider [the present action] after remand and consolidation, " Plaintiff claims. (Id. at 8).

As support for her Motion for Remand, Plaintiff cites Morze v. Southland Corp. , 816 F.Supp. 369, 371 (E.D. Pa. 1993), another case involving remand in light of a pending state court action. In Morze, the plaintiff initiated a tort suit in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas against a defendant after sustaining an injury on his property. The defendant removed to federal court. During discovery, the plaintiff realized the franchisee of the property was also potentially liable for breaching a duty to fix unsafe conditions, and she commenced an action against the franchisee in state court. The plaintiff then moved for remand of the federal case, arguing "the joinder of [the franchisee] as a party defendant in this action would destroy diversity." The court granted the plaintiff's request. It held the "elements and facts relevant to each cause of action overlap" and "Ms. Morze's attempt to remand the case does not appear to be an attempt to forum shop, ' but rather an attempt to promote judicial economy and prevent duplicative litigation." Id. at 371. Plaintiff cites additional supportive cases from this District as well. Carter v. Dover Corp., Rotary Lift Div. , 753 F.Supp. 577, 580 (E.D. Pa. 1991) (granting plaintiff's motion for remand because the "most logical, economical and equitable approach is to determine the respective rights and liabilities of all relevant parties inter se in one proceeding"); Ziczuk v. Bell Supply Co., 1991 WL 240206, at *2 (E.D. Pa. Nov. 12, 1991) (granting the motion for remand because"[o]nly in the state court may all of the Plaintiff's state law claims for damages against all defendants be consolidated into one civil action").

Plaintiff also notes that because the defendants she seeks to join are joint-tortfeasors, they are not indispensable parties under Rule 19. Plaintiff contends this does not change the remand analysis and the Court agrees. In numerous cases, courts have granted remand despite the fact that the parties sought to be added were joint tortfeasors rather than indispensable parties. See also City Line-Hamilton Builders LLC v. Cincinnati Ins. ...

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