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Gray v. Bank of America, N.A.

United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Atlanta Division

February 10, 2017

SHAERON BURNETTE GRAY, Plaintiff,
v.
BANK OF AMERICA, N.A. and RODICA GRIGORAS, Defendants.

          ORDER

          RICHARD W. STORY United States District Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Shaeron Gray's Motion to Remand [16] and Defendants Bank of America, N.A. and Rodica Grigoras's Motion to Dismiss [18] and Motion to Reconsider or, in the Alternative, to Dismiss Defendant Rodica Grigoras as Improperly Joined [19]. After considering the entire record, the Court enters the following Order.

         Background

         This case arises out of a dispute over the ownership of a joint business checking account between Plaintiff Shaeron Burnette Gray and Defendants Bank of America, N.A. (“BANA”) and Rodica Grigoras. Plaintiff is the sole surviving co-signer of that account. (First Am. Compl., Dkt. [11] ¶ 17.) BANA is a foreign corporation registered to do business in the State of Georgia. (Id. ¶ 1.) Ms. Grigoras is an employee of BANA, and resides in Georgia. (Id. ¶¶ 3, 8.)

         On July 20, 1992, Bobby M. Burnette (“Decedent”), the father of Plaintiff, opened a business account (“Account”) with Bank South, which was later acquired by BANA. (Id. ¶¶ 5-6, 10.) Ms. Grigoras, employed with BANA as a Senior Personal Banker, began working with Decedent on the Account in 2008. (Id. ¶¶ 8-9.) On March 15, 2011, apparently wishing to make Plaintiff a co-owner of the Account, Decedent added Plaintiff to his signature card upon Ms. Grigoras's advice. (Id. ¶¶ 10-13.) The signature card indicated the Account was “governed by . . . the Deposit Agreement and Disclosures, ” among other documents. (2011 Signature Card, Dkt. [11-2].) BANA and Decedent entered into one deposit agreement in 2011 when adding Plaintiff to the signature card, (id.); Plaintiff and BANA entered into another deposit agreement in 2013 when Plaintiff added her husband to the signature card on October 25, 2013.[1] (2013 Signature Card, Dkt. [18-4].)

         Decedent died on September 3, 2013. (First Am. Compl., ¶ 15.) Soon after, Plaintiff notified Ms. Grigoras that her father had died. (Id. ¶ 16.) Ms. Grigoras then informed Plaintiff that Plaintiff was the sole surviving owner of the Account. (Id. ¶ 17.) Assuming sole ownership, Plaintiff withdrew $163, 000 from the Account with Ms. Grigoras's help. (Id. ¶ 19.)

         On April 11, 2014, individuals alleging to be heirs and beneficiaries of Decedent sued Plaintiff in the Superior Court of Gwinnett County seeking to recover funds withdrawn from the Account. (Id. ¶ 21.) Plaintiff then deposed Ms. Grigoras, who gave testimony individually and on behalf of BANA. (Id. ¶¶ 23-26.) On cross motions for summary judgment, the Superior Court of Gwinnett County found that the Account was owned by Decedent's estate, not Plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 28.) As a result, Plaintiff was liable to remit the $163, 000 she withdrew. (Id. ¶ 30.)

         On February 8, 2016, Plaintiff filed suit in the State Court of Fulton County against BANA[2] asserting a single count of negligence and seeking damages caused by Plaintiff's reliance on Ms. Grigoras's advice as to her ownership of the Account. (See generally Compl., Dkt. [1-1].) BANA then removed the case to this Court asserting diversity jurisdiction. (See Notice of Removal, Dkt. [1].)

         Shortly after removal, Plaintiff filed a Motion to Amend Complaint [8]. On April 28, 2016, the Court issued an Order noting that Plaintiff was entitled to amend her Complaint as a matter of course and authorizing her to proceed on the First Amended Complaint. (Apr. 28, 2016 Order, Dkt. [12].) In the First Amended Complaint, Plaintiff asserts negligent misrepresentation and breach of contract against BANA. (First Am. Compl., Dkt. [11] ¶¶ 31-45.) She also adds Ms. Grigoras as a Defendant, and includes her in the negligent misrepresentation claim. (Id. ¶¶ 31-37.)

         On May 10, 2016, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Remand [16] because, with the addition of Ms. Grigoras, complete diversity was destroyed. (Pl.'s Mot. for Remand, Dkt. [16] at 2.) In response, Defendants filed a Motion to Reconsider [19], asking the Court to vacate its April 28, 2016 Order allowing Plaintiff to amend as a matter of course and denying Plaintiff's Motion to Amend [8] as moot. Defendants also filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint [18], arguing that it fails to state a claim.

         Discussion

         I. Defendants' Motion to Reconsider [19]

         In their Motion to Reconsider [19], Defendants seek two separate avenues of relief. First, they ask the Court to vacate its April 28, 2016 Order allowing Plaintiff to add Ms. Grigoras as a Defendant through amendment as a matter of course. Alternatively, Defendants seek the dismissal of Ms. Grigoras under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (“Rule”) 21 for misjoinder. Because the Court ultimately finds that Ms. Grigoras is misjoined, it will only analyze Defendants' Rule 21 argument.

         Rule 21 says that “[m]isjoinder of parties is not a ground for dismissing an action. On motion or on its own, the court may at any time, on just terms, add or drop a party. The court may also sever any claim against a party.” District courts may use Rule 21 to preserve diversity jurisdiction by dismissing a non-diverse party. Barnes v. Tidewater Transit Co., Inc., No. 1:13-cv-00537-JEC, 2014 WL 1092288, at *3 (N.D.Ga. Mar. 18, 2014). Indeed, “it is well settled that Rule 21 invests district courts with authority to allow a dispensable nondiverse party to be dropped at any time, even after judgment has been rendered.” Grupo Dataflux v. Atlas Global Grp., L.P., 541 U.S. 567, 572-73 (2004). The essential inquiry, however, is whether the non-diverse party is indispensable. Id. at 572. That inquiry is guided by Rule 19, which sets out two steps for deciding whether a party must be joined as indispensable. First, the court must decide if the party is “necessary” under Rule 19(a)(1). Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc. v. Dolgencorp, LLC, 746 F.3d 1008, 1039 (11th Cir. 2014). Then, if the party is “necessary, ” “but cannot be joined-i.e., because they are non-diverse-Rule 19(b) provides a list of factors to ‘determine whether, in equity and good conscience, the action should proceed among the existing parties or should be dismissed.'” Molinas Valle Del Cibao, C. por A. v. Lama, 633 F.3d 1330, 1344 (11th Cir. 2011) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 19(b)).

         Assuming that Ms. Girgoras is a “necessary” party, the Court finds that she is not indispensable under Rule 19(b). That Rule says:

If a person who is required to be joined if feasible cannot be joined, the court must determine whether, in equity and good conscience, the action should proceed among the existing parties or should be ...

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