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Dever v. Family Dollar Stores of Georgia, LLC

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Brunswick Division

December 3, 2018

PATRICIA D. DEVER, Plaintiff,
v.
FAMILY DOLLAR STORES OF GEORGIA, LLC and DARRYL MARTIN, individually and as Agent of Family Dollar Stores of Georgia, LLC, Defendants.

          ORDER

          HON. LISA GODBEY WOOD, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT.

         Pending before the Court on remand from the Eleventh Circuit is Plaintiff Patricia Dever's ("Plaintiff") Motion to Substitute and Remand (Dkt. No. 15). For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's Motion (Dkt. No. 15) is hereby GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND

         I. Factual Background

         Plaintiff alleges that she slipped and fell at Defendant Family Dollar Stores of Georgia, LLC's ("Family Dollar") Brunswick, Georgia, facility as a result of Defendant Darryl Martin's ("Martin") failure to keep the store safe. Dkt. No. 1. Plaintiff seeks to substitute a party and remand this action back to state court for lack of diversity. Dkt. No. 5. Specifically, Plaintiff seeks to substitute Martin for store-manager Deon Manning ("Manning"). Id. Plaintiff asserts that she mistakenly named Martin rather than Manning, in that Martin did not work at Family Dollar at the time of the incident.

         II. Procedural History

         On November 2, 2018, the Eleventh Circuit vacated this Court's previous order denying Dever's Motion to Substitute and Remand and this Court's order granting summary judgment for Family Dollar in this case. Dkt. No. 42. The Eleventh Circuit remanded this case back to this Court for further proceedings consistent with the circuit court's opinion. Id. Specifically, the Eleventh Circuit remanded this case so that this Court may "consider whether to allow Dever to substitute Manning as a party defendant in light of the fact that she sought to bring a claim against the store manager in her original complaint but was mistaken as to his identity." Id. at 9. Therefore, this Court has reviewed the parties' briefs in support of and in opposition to this motion again in light of the Eleventh Circuit's ruling and has made a new decision in consideration of that ruling. Upon reconsideration on Plaintiff's motion, this Court will grant the motion to add Manning as a substituted party in this case.

         DISCUSSION

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a), a defendant in a case originally filed in state court may remove the case to federal district court if the district court could have exercised original jurisdiction. Under 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c), however, the case must be remanded to state court "[i]f at any time before final judgment it appears that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction."

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1447(e), "[i]f after removal the plaintiff seeks to join additional defendants whose joinder would destroy subject matter jurisdiction, the court may deny joinder, or permit joinder and remand the action to the State court." 28 U.S.C. § 1447(e); see also Ingram v. CSX Transp., Inc., 146 F.3d 858, 862 (11th Cir. 1998). The decision is committed to the sound discretion of the district court. Mayes v. Rapoport, 198 F.3d 457, 462 (4th Cir. 1999); Hensgens v. Deere & Co., 833 F.2d 1179, 1182 (5th Cir. 1987). "[T]he addition of a non-diverse party should not be permitted without consideration of the original defendant's interest in the choice of the federal forum." Osgood v. Discount Auto Parts, LLC, 955 F.Supp.2d 1352, 1355 (S.D. Fla. 2013).

         Here, jurisdiction is based upon diversity, and allowing Plaintiff to substitute a non-diverse party would ultimately require remand. For this reason, her motion to amend should be scrutinized "more closely than a motion to amend under Rule 15," - and the Court "should deny leave to amend unless strong equities support the amendment." Jarriel v. Gen. Mot. Corp., 835 F.Supp. 639, 640-41 (N.D.Ga. 1993) (citing Hensgens, 833 F.2d at 1182); see also Holiday Isle, LLC, v. Clarion Mortg. Capital, Inc., Civ. A. No. 07-00798, 2008 WL 1756369, at *2 (S.D. Ala. April 11, 2008); Sexton v. G & K Serv., Inc., 51 F.Supp.2d 1311, 1313 (M.D. Ala. 1999) ("In balancing the equities, the parties do not start out on an equal footing. This is because of the diverse defendant's right to choose between a state or federal forum."). The court should balance the danger of parallel federal/state proceedings against the defendant's interest in retaining the federal forum by considering the following factors:

the extent to which the purpose of the amendment is to defeat federal jurisdiction, whether the plaintiff has been dilatory in asking for the amendment, whether the plaintiff will be significantly injured if the amendment is not allowed, and any other factors bearing on the equities.

Hensgens, 833 F.2d at 1182. The Eleventh Circuit adopted these factors in its unpublished opinion in this case. Dkt. No. 42 at 7; Dever v. Family Dollar Stores of Georgia, LLC, No. 18-10129, 2018 WL 5778189, at *3 (11th Cir. Nov. 2, 2018).

         The first factor in this analysis requires the Court to discern the purpose of the amendment and to determine the extent to which that purpose is to defeat federal jurisdiction. On the one hand, other district courts in this circuit have held that where a plaintiff seeks to add a non-diverse defendant immediately after removal but before discovery, such action suggests that the "specific purpose" of the amendment is to destroy diversity jurisdiction. Ibis Villas at Miami Gardens Condo Ass'n, Inc. v. Aspen Specialty Ins. Co., 799 F.Supp.2d 1333, 1335 (S.D. Fla. 2011) (citing Mayes, 198 F.3d at 463 ("We emphasize that the district court was correct to carefully scrutinize Mayes's attempt to add a nondiverse defendant after removal. Especially where, as here, a plaintiff seeks to add a nondiverse defendant immediately after removal but before any additional discovery has taken place, district courts should be wary that the amendment sought is for the specific purpose of avoiding federal jurisdiction.")); see also Vazquez v. Lowe's Home Ctr., Inc., No. 8:06-CV-1885, 2007 WL 128823, at *1 (M.D. Fla. 2007) ("The fact that Plaintiffs seek to add the non-diverse defendants only after [the Defendant] removed the case to federal court 'strongly ...


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