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Oressey v. Kindercare Education LLC

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

May 18, 2018

EMIL ORESSEY and MARY LOU ORESSEY, Plaintiffs,
v.
KINDERCARE EDUCATION LLC a/k/a d/b/a KINDERCARE LEARNING CENTERS, LLC and ALLIED HEALTH CARE SERVICES, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          A. RICHARD CAPUTO UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Presently before this Court is a Motion to Remand filed by Plaintiffs Emil and Mary Lou Oressey (collectively “Plaintiffs”). (Doc. 5.) This Motion will be denied because this Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1332(a).

         I. Background

         Defendant Allied Health Care Services (“Allied”) owns a property located at 511 Morgan Highway, Scranton, Pennsylvania. This property was leased to Defendant KinderCare Education LLC[1] (“KinderCare”), which allowed for the construction and operation of a daycare center on Allied's property.[2] This lease required KinderCare to “indemnify and save harmless [Allied] from any and all liability . . . arising from injury to persons or property on the demised property.” (Notice of Removal, Ex. D at ¶ 18(a).) The lease also explained that KinderCare was responsible for the maintenance and repair of the property to ensure that “all buildings and improvements on the leased property” were “in good and safe condition.” (Notice of Removal, Ex. D at ¶ 8(a).)

         On January 14, 2016, Plaintiff Emil Oressey attended a school play for a child at KinderCare's daycare center. While exiting the daycare center, Mr. Oressey tripped and fell in the middle of a staircase due to “a defective and broken step.” Mr. Oressey sustained serious injuries because of his fall, which included an injury to his right knee that required surgery.

         Based on these facts, Plaintiffs filed suit against Defendants KinderCare and Allied in the Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas. (Notice of Removal, Ex. A.) Plaintiffs allege that Defendants' negligence caused both Mr. Oressey's physical injuries and Mrs. Oressey's loss of consortium. (Id.) KinderCare filed a Notice of Removal with this Court on February 21, 2018. (Doc. 1.) Plaintiffs oppose removal and have filed a Motion to Remand. (Doc. 5.) That Motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition.

         II. Legal Standard

         A. Motion to Remand

By statute, a defendant has the right to remove a civil action from state court if the case could have been brought originally in federal court. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a); see also 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). “For 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 . . . .” In re Briscoe, 448 F.3d 201, 215 (3d Cir. 2006). Complete diversity requires that every plaintiff be of diverse state citizenship from every defendant. See Grand Union Supermarkets of the Virgin Islands, Inc. v. H.E. Lockhart Mgmt., 316 F.3d 408, 410 (3d Cir. 2003); accord 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). Stated differently, if any plaintiff is a citizen of the same state as any defendant, the action must remain in a state court.

         The doctrine of fraudulent joinder, however, represents an exception to the general rule that removal be predicated solely upon complete diversity. See Boyer v. Snap-on Tools Corp., 913 F.2d 108 (3d Cir. 1990). This means that “[i]n 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 at 216. The application of the fraudulent joinder principle does not require a showing of fraud in the conventional sense. See Cook v. Pep Boys-Mannie, Moe & Jack, Inc., 641 F.Supp. 43 (E.D. Pa. 1985); see also Pennsy Supply, Inc. v. Mumma, No. 10-0451, 2010 WL 1565476, at *3 (M.D. Pa Apr. 19, 2010) (Caputo, J.). Instead, a court w ill find fraudulent joinder “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.” Abels v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 770 F.2d 26, 32 (3d Cir. 1985).

         Federal removal statutes are to be strictly construed against removal, and all doubts should be resolved in favor of remand. The Third Circuit has interpreted all doubts to mean that if there is any doubt as to the propriety of removal, the case should not be removed to federal court. See Brown v. Francis, 75 F.3d 860, 865 (3d Cir. 1996). With respect to the application of the fraudulent joinder principle, this means that “fraudulent joinder should not be found simply because plaintiff has a weak case against a non-diverse defendant.” Nele v. TJX Co., No.11-07643, 2013 WL 3305269, at *3 (E.D. Pa. July 1, 2013). Instead, fraudulent joinder must only be found where a claim against a non-diverse party is “wholly insubstantial and frivolous.” Batoff v. State Farm Ins. Co., 977 F.2d 848, 852 (3d Cir. 1992). Thus, “if there is even a possibility that a state court would find the complaint states a cause of action against any of the resident defendants, the federal court must find that joinder was proper and remand the case to state court.” Boyer, 913 F.2d at 111. The removing party bears the burden of establishing that joinder is fraudulent, and “this burden is a heavy one.” Mumma, 2010 WL 1565476, at *3.

         III. Discussion

         A. Plaintiffs Fraudulently Joined Defendant Allied Health Care Services

         KinderCare argues that removal is proper because Plaintiffs fraudulently joined Allied, a citizen of Pennsylvania. So, while complete diversity does not exist as currently alleged because Plaintiffs and Allied are citizens of Pennsylvania, KinderCare believes that the fraudulent joinder doctrine allows this Court to retain jurisdiction. Plaintiffs disagree and contend that joinder was proper because Allied may ...


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