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Richardson v. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles FCA US, LLC

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Valdosta Division

August 26, 2019

WILLIAM RICHARDSON, individually and on behalf of SEANESSE RICHARDSON, as his legal guardian and parent, and SEANESSE RICHARDSON, Plaintiffs,
v.
FIAT CHRYSLER AUTOMOBILES FCA US, LLC, DAIMLERCHRYSLER AG, CHRYSLER, LLC, CHRYSLER GROUP, LLC, KIMBERLY RICHARDSON, and JOHN DOE, Defendants.

          ORDER

          HUGH LAWSON, SENIOR JUDGE

         This case is before the Court on Plaintiffs' Motion to Remand. (Doc. 9). After considering the parties' briefs and with the benefit of oral argument on May 1, 2019, the Court DENIES Plaintiffs' Motion to Remand.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case arises out of an incident that occurred on December 12, 2016, in which sixteen-year-old Plaintiff Seanesse Richardson was injured while attempting to change a tire on his parents' Dodge Grand Caravan. While changing the tire, Plaintiff reached under the vehicle as it was sitting on car jacks to grab the spare tire when the vehicle moved off of the jack and fell on top of him. As a result, Plaintiff was prevented from breathing for an extended period of time and suffered a severe anoxic brain injury that has left him permanently disabled with extremely limited motor and verbal functions. (Doc. 1-1, ¶¶ 11-12).

         Plaintiffs Seanesse Richardson and William Richardson, individually and on behalf of Seanesse Richardson as his legal guardian and parent, initially filed this action against Defendants in the Superior Court of Lanier County on December 11, 2018. Plaintiffs' complaint includes allegations of strict product liability, failure to warn, and negligence against Defendant Fiat Chrysler Automobiles US, LLC (“FCA US, LLC” or “FCA US”). Daimler Chrysler AG, Chrysler, LLC, and Chrysler Group, LLC, and claims of negligence against Plaintiff's mother, Kimberly Richardson for her role in alleged negligent supervision of Plaintiff.

         Defendant FCA U.S. removed the case to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1441 and 1446 on January 22, 2018, asserting that this Court has jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1). (Doc. 1). Defendant FCA U.S. contends that Plaintiffs fraudulently joined co-Defendant Kimberly Richardson, Plaintiff's Seanesse Richardson's mother, as a defendant in this action. Plaintiffs now move the Court to remand the case to the Superior Court of Lanier County, contending Defendant's Notice of Removal is improper.

         II. DISCUSSION

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a), a party may remove “any civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction . . . to the district court of the United States for the district and division embracing the place where such action is pending.” 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). The “place” is “the site of the state court in which the action is pending at the time the notice of removal is filed.” Cogdell v. Wyeth, 366 F.3d 1245, 1248 n.7 (11th Cir. 2004).

         Defendant FCA U.S. removed this case on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Defendant argues that co-Defendant Kimberly Richardson was fraudulently joined in this matter to defeat complete diversity of the parties. First, Defendant FCA U.S. contends that Plaintiffs' negligence claim against Kimberly Richardson is barred by the doctrine of parental immunity. Second, the crux of Plaintiffs' claim against Defendant Kimberly Richardson is that she was negligent in supervising, or “provid[ing] instruction and oversight” to Plaintiff as he attempted to change the tire on the vehicle. Defendant FCA U.S. contends that there is no statute or common law principle imposing a legal duty upon a parent to avoid negligence in overseeing or providing instruction to his or her own minor child. (Doc. 1, p. 8).

         Plaintiffs do not challenge Defendant's assertion that the amount in controversy in this case exceeds $75, 000. Rather, Plaintiffs argue that the claims brought against Defendant Kimberly Richardson are proper as Plaintiff Seanessee Richardson was at the age of majority at the time the action was filed, and that Georgia courts permit a child to sue his parent under a theory of general negligence. (Doc. 9, pp. 8-9).

         A. Fraudulent Joinder

         The judicially created doctrine of fraudulent joinder provides an exception to the general rule requiring complete diversity of citizenship between the plaintiffs and the defendants in a diversity case. Triggs v. John Crump Toyota, Inc., 154 F.3d 1284, 1287 (11th Cir. 1998). When a plaintiff fraudulently joins a non-diverse defendant solely to defeat diversity jurisdiction, the district court must ignore the presence of the non-diverse defendant and deny any motion to remand. Henderson v. Wash. Nat'l Ins. Co., 454 F.3d 1278, 1281 (11th Cir. 2006).

         The burden on a removing defendant to prove fraudulent joinder is a “heavy one.” Crowe v. Coleman, 113 F.3d 1536, 1538 (11th Cir. 1997) (quoting B, Inc. v. Miller Brewing Co., 663 F.2d 545, 549 (5th Cir. Unit A 1981)). In assessing a claim of fraudulent joinder, “the district court must evaluate the factual allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and must resolve any uncertainties about state substantive law in favor of the plaintiff.” Id. (citation omitted). Fraudulent joinder must be established by clear and convincing evidence. Henderson, 454 F.3d at 1281 (citation omitted). Joinder is deemed fraudulent “when there is no possibility that the plaintiff can prove a cause of action against the resident (non-diverse) defendant.” Triggs, 154 F.3d at 1287 (citations omitted). Thus, “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 the joinder was proper and remand the case to the state court.” Id. (quoting Coker v. Amoco Oil Co., 709 F.2d 1433, 1440-41 (11th Cir. 1983) (emphasis in original)).

         In determining whether Defendant Kimberly Richardson was fraudulently joined, the Court must look to “the plaintiff's pleadings at the time of removal, supplemented by any affidavits and deposition transcripts submitted by the parties.” Shannon v. Albertelli Firm, P.C., 610 Fed.Appx. 866, 871 (11th Cir. 2015) (per curiam) (quoting Legg v. Wyeth, 428 F.3d 1317, 1322 (11th Cir. 2005)) (emphasis omitted). “In broad terms, the proceeding appropriate for resolving a claim of fraudulent joinder is similar to that used for summary judgment.” Id. “All questions of fact are resolved in the plaintiff's favor.” ...


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