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Gaynor v. Marriott Hotel Services, Inc.

United States District Court, Third Circuit

August 13, 2013

LINDA GAYNOR
v.
MARRIOTT HOTEL SERVICES, INC. d/b/a RESIDENCE INN BY MARRIOTT, LLC and WILLIAM WALSH

MEMORANDUM

JOHN R. PADOVA, District Judge.

On June 1, 2012, Plaintiff Linda Gaynor, a Pennsylvania citizen, tripped and fell on a sidewalk adjacent to a Marriott Residence Inn in Philadelphia. Plaintiff subsequently filed a Complaint in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, naming as defendants Marriott Hotel Services, Inc. d/b/a Residence Inn by Marriott, LLC ("Marriott"), a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Maryland, and William Walsh, a citizen of Pennsylvania who was the general manager of the Marriott Residence Inn at the time of Plaintiff's fall. Defendants timely removed the action to this Court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction, contending in their Notice of Removal that Plaintiff had fraudulently joined Walsh in order to destroy diversity of citizenship.

Presently before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion to Remand, which contests Defendants' assertion of fraudulent joinder, and seeks attorney's fees and costs associated with the removal of the case to federal court. For the following reasons, we grant Plaintiff's Motion to Remand insofar as it seeks remand, but deny the Motion insofar as it seeks attorney's fees and costs.

I. BACKGROUND

The Complaint alleges that, on June 1, 2012, Plaintiff was walking on a sidewalk adjacent to the Marriott Residence Inn at 1201 Market Street in Philadelphia, when she tripped on a sidewalk defect and fell to the ground. (Compl. ¶ 12.) As a result of her fall, Plaintiff sustained injuries, including a fractured left humerus. (Id. ¶ 17.) Under the terms of a management service contract, Marriott maintained and managed the sidewalk on which Plaintiff fell. (Id. ¶ 9.) Marriott, as a corporation, acted through its agents, employees, and representatives, which at the time included the then-general manager of the hotel, William Walsh. (Id. at ¶¶ 3, 10, 23.) According to the Complaint, Marriott and Walsh failed in their duties to maintain and repair the sidewalk and/or to warn of the sidewalk's unsafe condition. (Id. ¶¶ 11, 25.)

Plaintiff commenced this action by way of writ of summons in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas on December 26, 2012. The writ of summons identified only "The Marriott Down Town" as a defendant. At the same time that she filed her writ of summons, Plaintiff also filed a Motion for Pre-Complaint Discovery, which the Court of Common Pleas granted on February 14, 2013. (See Ex. J to Notice of Removal.) In her pre-Complaint interrogatories, Plaintiff inquired as to the name and address of the general manager of the hotel on the accident date. (See Ex. O to Notice of Removal, at 3.) Marriott responded that Walsh was the General Manager and stated that he could be contacted through defense counsel. (See Marriott's Resp. to Pl.'s Mot. to Remand, at 8.) Plaintiff subsequently sent a three-page letter to Marriott in which she addressed Marriott's numerous objections to her pre-Complaint requests and asked, among other things, that Marriott supplement its answers with the state in which Walsh resided. (See Ex. P to Notice of Removal, at 2.) Marriott responded that Walsh was a resident of Pennsylvania. (See Ex. Q to Notice of Removal, at 2.) On May 23, 2013, Plaintiff filed her Complaint in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, naming both Marriott and Walsh as defendants and asserting negligence claims against both parties.

On June 24, 2013, Defendants filed a Notice of Removal based on diversity jurisdiction, asserting in the Notice both that Plaintiff had demanded $250, 000 to settle the matter, thereby establishing an amount in controversy greater than $75, 000, and that Walsh had been fraudulently joined in the action in order to destroy diversity of citizenship. On July 1, 2013, Walsh filed a Motion to Dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted and for insufficient service of process. Plaintiff filed her Motion to Remand on July 3, 2013, and filed an Amended Complaint on July 18, 2013. Marriott filed a response to the Motion to Remand on July 22, 2013. On August 9, 2013, Marriott and Walsh together filed a Motion to Dismiss the First Amended Complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

"In a suit with named defendants who are not of diverse citizenship from the plaintiff, the diverse defendant may still remove the action if it can establish that the non-diverse defendants were fraudulently' named or joined solely to defeat diversity jurisdiction." In re Briscoe , 448 F.3d 201, 216 (3d Cir. 2006). However, "the removing party carries a heavy burden of persuasion" in establishing fraudulent joinder. Batoff v. State Farm Ins. Co. , 977 F.2d 848, 851 (3d Cir. 1992) (quotation and citation omitted). "Joinder is fraudulent where 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." Id . (quotation omitted).

"In evaluating the alleged fraud, the district court must focus on the plaintiff's complaint at the time the petition for removal was filed" and "must assume as true all factual allegations of the complaint." Id . at 851-52 (quotation omitted). The court must also "resolve any uncertainties as to the current state of controlling substantive law in favor of the plaintiff." Id . at 852 (quotation omitted). Significantly, the court's inquiry into the validity of a complaint when faced with an assertion of fraudulent joinder is less searching than that triggered upon the filing of a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Id . Thus, we will not find a defendant's joinder to be fraudulent "[s]imply because we come to believe that, at the end of the day, a state court would dismiss the allegations against a defendant for failure to state a cause of action." Lyall v. Airtran Airlines, Inc. , 109 F.Supp.2d 365, 367-68 (E.D. Pa. 2000) (citation omitted). Rather, we will only find fraudulent joinder where the plaintiff's claims are "wholly insubstantial and frivolous.'" Batoff , 977 F.2d at 852 (quoting Lunderstadt v. Colafella , 885 F.2d 66, 70 (3d Cir. 1989)). "In other words, a finding of fraudulent joinder is usually reserved for situations where recovery from the nondiverse defendant is a clear legal impossibility." West v. Marriott Hotel Servs., Inc., Civ. A. No. 10-4130, 2010 WL 4343540, *3 (E.D. Pa. Nov. 2, 2010). "Fraudulent joinder should not be found simply because plaintiff has a weak case against a non-diverse defendant." Id . (citing Boyer v. Snap-on Tools Corp. , 913 F.2d 108, 111 (3d Cir. 1990)).

If we determine that a defendant's joinder was fraudulent, we can "disregard, for jurisdictional purposes, the citizenship of [the] nondiverse defendant[], assume jurisdiction over [the] case, dismiss the nondiverse defendant[], and thereby retain jurisdiction." Briscoe , 448 F.3d at 216 (quoting Mayes v. Rapoport , 198 F.3d 457, 461 (4th Cir. 1999)). On the other hand, if we determine that we do not have subject matter jurisdiction over the action, because joinder of the non-diverse defendant was not fraudulent, we must remand the case to state court. Id . (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c)). Upon remanding a case, we "may require payment of just costs and any actual expenses, including attorney fees, incurred as a result of the removal.'" Id . (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c)).

III. DISCUSSION

Plaintiff argues in her Motion to Remand that Defendants' assertion of fraudulent joinder is baseless, because she has adequately alleged a colorable negligence claim against Walsh, as the general manager of the hotel property. She therefore contends that we should find that we have no federal jurisdiction over the matter and remand the case to the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. Marriott counters that we should deny Plaintiff's Motion to Remand and assume jurisdiction over the matter, because Plaintiff has no colorable claim or reasonable basis in fact for her claim against Walsh and because Plaintiff's pre-Complaint discovery request establish that Plaintiff has ...


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