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Sanders v. QuikTrip Corp.

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

October 24, 2017

YVETTE ADELLE SANDERS, Individually and as Surviving Parent, and YVETTE ADELLE SANDERS, as Administratrix for the Estate of Andrew Thomas Spencer, deceased, Plaintiffs,
v.
QUIKTRIP CORPORATION, and BJS QT, LLC, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          WILLIAM S. DUFFEY, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on two motions related to the Court's subject matter jurisdiction: (i) Defendants QuikTrip Corporation (“QuikTrip”) and BJS QT, LLC's (“BJS, ” collectively, the “Defendants”) Brief in Support of Motion to Dismiss BJS from this action pursuant to Rule 21 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (the “Motion to Dismiss”) [10] and (ii) Plaintiff's motion to remand this action to the State Court of DeKalb County (the “Motion to Remand”) [12].

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Facts

         Plaintiff Yvette Adelle Sanders (“Plaintiff”) originally filed this wrongful death action on May 24, 2017, in the State Court of DeKalb County, Georgia, on behalf of herself individually and as the administratrix of the estate of Andrew Thomas Spencer, her deceased son who was shot and killed outside of the QuikTrip gas station located at 4050 Buford Highway in Atlanta, Georgia. (Compl. [1.1]).

         Plaintiff alleges several acts of negligence against both Defendants, including violations of Georgia's premises liability statute, O.C.G.A. § 51-3-1, which imposes a duty on owners and occupiers of land to exercise ordinary care to keep the premises safe. (Id. ¶ 29). Plaintiff further alleges that Defendants were negligent in failing to inspect and maintain the QuikTrip gas station where Plaintiff's son was killed, failing to provide adequate lighting in the parking lot, and failing to employ other appropriate security measures. (Id.).

         BJS states that on the date of the shooting, it was the owner and landlord/lessor of the premises and that QuikTrip was the tenant/lessee. (Affidavit of BJS QT, LLC [10.2] ¶ 7 (the “BJS Affidavit”)).[1] BJS further states that Defendant QuikTrip fully occupied the premises, (Id.) and that BJS did not retain any right of possession or maintenance responsibilities on that date. (Id. ¶ 8). BJS did not have any employees. (Id. ¶ 10).

         B. Procedural History

         On June 22, 2017, Defendant QuikTrip timely filed its Notice of and Petition for Removal [1] (“Notice of Removal”). The Notice of Removal asserts that this Court has diversity jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. ([1] ¶ 7). BJS filed its Consent to Removal on July 6, 2017. ([5]).

         On July 12, 2017, QuikTrip filed its Amended and Supplemented Notice of and Petition for Removal. ([7]). QuikTrip set forth the citizenship of Plaintiff and both Defendants for the purpose of invoking the Court's subject matter jurisdiction. (Id. ¶¶ 3-9). QuikTrip asserted that Plaintiff Yevette Sanders is a citizen of Michigan. (Id. ¶ 3). In her capacity as administratrix of her son's estate, Plaintiff is deemed a citizen of Georgia, the state of her decedent. (Id.; see also 28 U.S.C. § 1332(c)(2)). Defendant QuikTrip is a citizen of Oklahoma because its state of incorporation and principal place of business are in Oklahoma. ([7] ¶ 4).

         Defendant BJS's citizenship is more complex. BJS is a limited liability company and QuikTrip states that the members include the California State Teachers' Retirement System (“CSTRS”). ([7] ¶ 9). QuikTrip argued that CSTRS is a citizen of California and not an alter ego of the state of California. (Id.).[2]

         On July 14, 2017, two days after the Amended Notice of Removal was filed, Defendants filed their Motion to Dismiss [10], arguing that BJS was fraudulently joined as a defendant in this action to destroy diversity jurisdiction. Defendants argue that BJS is an out-of-possession landlord of the premises, cannot be held liable for any claims in this action under Georgia law, and thus was fraudulently joined as a Defendant. Defendants repeated their claim that CSTRS should be deemed a citizen of California and for the first time also stated that CSTRS may be a citizen of all states where its members are citizens. They stated further that “Defendants acknowledge that at this time, all members of this entity are unknown but also acknowledges [sic] the possibility or potential that one such member is a citizen of Georgia or Michigan, which would destroy diversity jurisdiction.” ([10] at 4). QuikTrip argued that even if a member of CSTRS defeated jurisdiction, BJS was fraudulently joined and should be dismissed from this action.

         On July 21, 2017, Plaintiff filed her Motion to Remand [12] the action to state court following Defendants' equivocation on whether CSTRS was or was not a citizen of Georgia or Michigan. Plaintiff argued that Defendants did not meet their burden on removal of invoking the Court's subject matter jurisdiction.

         II. ...


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