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Decostro v. Baby Cache, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

May 6, 2015

DEBORAH DECOSTRO, ESQ., in her capacity as Administratix of the Estate of Ryeley E. Beatty, deceased and in her capacity as Administratix of the Estate of Brooklyn N. Beatty, deceased, Plaintiffs,
v.
BABY CACHE, INC., a corporation, TOYS

MEMORANDUM OPINION [1]

CYNTHIA REED EDDY, Magistrate Judge.

Pending before the Court is Plaintiffs' motion to remand pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). (ECF No. 8). For the reasons that follow, said motion will be granted.[2]

I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The above-captioned matter was originally initiated in the Court of Common Pleas of Beaver County, Pennsylvania. Plaintiffs seek damages in connection with the asphyxiation deaths of two year old Brooklyn Beatty and three year old Ryeley Beatty ("Decedents"), which occurred when a dresser manufactured and/or sold by the above Defendants tipped over on the Decedents.

On February 26, 2015, Defendants Toys "R" Us, Babies "R" Us, and Blain filed a notice of removal to this court. (ECF No. 1). Although Plaintiffs and Defendant Blain are both alleged to be citizens of Pennsylvania, Defendants nonetheless assert that the court has diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Defendants claim that Blain's inclusion in this lawsuit constitutes a fraudulent joinder, solely for purposes of defeating diversity jurisdiction, and that absent Blain's inclusion, the parties have complete diversity of citizenship. The claims asserted against Blain are pursuant to Pennsylvania's Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law ("UTPCPL"), 73 P.S. § 201-1 et. seq. Defendants contend that Plaintiff DeCostro has no standing to bring such claims against Blain because Decostro was not the purchaser of the dresser and the general allegations in the complaint do not state a colorable claim under the UTPCPL.

Plaintiffs filed the present motion to remand for lack of subject matter jurisdiction on March 17, 2015, (ECF No. 8), contending that Blain is a proper party to this action and was not fraudulently joined for purposes of defeating diversity jurisdiction. Defendants have responded to said motion. (ECF Nos. 20-23, 27). On April 9, 2015, Plaintiff filed a reply brief. (ECF No. 24). Accordingly, the motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a), "[a] civil action brought in state court may be removed by the defendant to federal district court if the federal court would have had original jurisdiction over the claim. Johnson v. SmithKline Beecham Corp., 724 F.3d 337, 346 (3d Cir. 2013). District courts have original jurisdiction when diversity of citizenship is present. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). For diversity jurisdiction to exist, no plaintiff may be a citizen of the same state as any of the defendants. Grand Union Supermarkets of the Virgin Islands, Inc. v. H.E. Lockhart Mgmt., Inc., 316 F.3d 408, 410 (3d Cir. 2003) (quoting Carden v. Arkoma Assocs., 494 U.S. 185, 187 (1990)). When the matter is removed from state court to federal court, the removing party generally must establish that diversity jurisdiction existed both when the complaint was filed and at the time of removal. Johnson, 724 F.3d at 346.

However, "[t]he doctrine of fraudulent joinder represents an exception to the requirement that removal be predicated solely upon complete diversity." In re Briscoe, 448 F.3d 201, 215-216 (3d Cir. 2006). "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." Id. at 216. But if the district court determines that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction because the joinder was not fraudulent, the matter must be remanded to state court. Id.; 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). "Upon a motion to remand, it is the removing party's burden to establish the existence of federal jurisdiction, and all doubts must be resolved in favor of remand." Miller v. Liberty Mut. Group, 97 F.Supp.2d 672, 674 (W.D.Pa. 2000) (citing Batoff v. State Farm Ins. Co., 977 F.2d 848, 851 (3d Cir. 1992)). Given this standard, 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).

III. DISCUSSION

In Batoff, the court of appeals provided the following analysis with respect to fraudulent joinder:

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 defendants or seek a joint judgment. But, if there is even a possibility that a state court would find that the complaint states a cause of action against any one of the resident defendants, the federal court must find that joinder was proper and remand the case to state court. Furthermore, we recently have held that 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 851-852 (internal citations and marks/punctuation omitted). In other words, the court need only assess whether the plaintiff's claims are "wholly insubstantial or frivolous." Id. at 852; see also Horne v. Progressive Advanced Ins.Co., 2015 WL 1875970, *1 (E.D. Pa. April 24, 2015).

Defendants here have failed to meet their heavy burden of persuasion in establishing that joinder of Defendant Blain was fraudulent. In their notice of removal, Defendants assert that Plaintiff DeCostro does not have standing to pursue the claims against Blain under the UTPCPL because DeCostro was not a "purchaser" of the dresser. (ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 13-14). Defendants also contend that Plaintiff's general allegations fail to ...


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