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Brownlee v. Casino One Corporation

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

July 7, 2014

NATASHA BROWNLEE, Plaintiff,
v.
CASINO ONE CORPORATION, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

JOHN A. ROSS, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion to Remand (ECF No. 14). This matter is fully briefed and ready for disposition.

LEGAL STANDARD

Removal statutes are strictly construed, and any doubts about the correctness of removal are resolved in favor of state court jurisdiction and remand. See Shamrock Oil & Gas Corp. v. Sheets , 313 U.S. 100, 108-09 (1941); In re Bus. Men's Assurance Co. of Am. , 992 F.2d 181, 183 (8th Cir. 1993); Manning v. Wal-Mart Stores East, Inc. , 304 F.Supp.2d 1146, 1148 (E.D. Mo. 2004) (citing Transit Cas. Co. v. Certain Underwriters at Lloyd's of London , 119 F.3d 619, 625 (8th Cir. 1997)). The party seeking removal and opposing remand has the burden of establishing jurisdiction. Cent. Iowa Power Coop. v. Midwest Indep. Transmission Sys. Operator , 561 F.3d 904, 912 (8th Cir. 2009); City of Univ. City, Missouri v. AT & T Wireless Services, Inc. , 229 F.Supp.2d 927, 929 (E.D. Mo. 2002).

A civil action brought in state court may be removed to the proper district court if the district court has original jurisdiction of the action. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). Federal district courts have original jurisdiction in all civil actions between citizens of different states if the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000.00, exclusive of interest and costs. Manning , 304 F.Supp.2d at 1148 (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1)).

BACKGROUND

On March 25, 2013, Natasha Brownlee ("Brownlee") filed this action in the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis, alleging claims for violation of the Missouri Human Rights Act ("MHRA") for hostile work environment and sexual harassment (Count I), violation of the MHRA based upon sex (Count II), retaliation in violation of the MHRA (Count III), violation of the MHRA for hostile work environment (Count IV), and violation of the MHRA for race discrimination (Count V). (Petition for Damages ("Petition, " ECF No. 5). Brownlee named Casino One, Pinnacle Entertainment, Inc., Michael Bechard ("Bechard"), and John Doe Entity A as defendants in her Petition.

Defendant Casino One Corporation d/b/a Lumiere Place Casino & Hotels ("Casino One") removed this action to this Court on May 5, 2014, asserting diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§1332, 1446. (Notice of Removal, ECF No. 1). Casino One contends that, at the time of the filing of the underlying action, Brownlee was a citizen of Missouri (id., ¶14), Casino One was a resident of Mississippi with its principal place of business in Nevada (id., ¶15), Pinnacle was a resident of Delaware and its principal place of business was in Nevada (id., ¶16), and Bechard was a resident of Missouri (id., ¶17). Casino One maintains that this action is between citizens of different states and the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000, exclusive of interests and costs. Casino One suggests that individual defendant Bechard was fraudulently joined to this suit as a co-defendant and his citizenship should not be considered for purposes of determining diversity jurisdiction. ( Id., ¶17).

DISCUSSION

Defendant Casino One removed this action, asserting diversity jurisdiction. The only issue before the Court is whether complete diversity of the parties exists.

As stated, Casino One claims that there is complete diversity because Bechard is not a necessary party to this action. Casino One claims that Brownlee did not name Bechard as a party or respondent in her Charge of Discrimination with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights ("MCHR") and, therefore, Brownleee did not exhaust her claims against him and he must be dismissed as a party.

In support of her Motion to Remand, Brownlee asserts that she exhausted her administrative remedies against Bechard and he was not fraudulently joined. Brownlee notes that in the "particulars" section of her Charge of Discrimination she states that Bechard was one of the perpetrators of the racial discrimination, sex discrimination and retaliation she suffered. (Plaintiff's Suggestions in Support of her Motion to Remand ("Suggestions"), ECF No. 15 at 2 (citing ECF Nos. 15-1 and 15-2).

In response, Casino One claims that Brownlee was required to name Bechard as a respondent in a Charge of Discrimination in order for him to be named as a defendant in this litigation. (ECF No. 17 at 5 (citing Hill v. Ford Motor Co. , 277 S.W.3d 659, 669 (Mo. 2009)). Casino One claims that Brownlee naming Bechard in a list of others in the "particulars" section of the Charge is insufficient because it resulted in actual prejudice to him. (ECF No. 17 at 6-7). In an affidavit in support of his Motion to Dismiss, Bechard asserts that he was not notified of Brownlee's Charge of Discrimination filed with the MCHR and EEOC and did not participate in the conciliation process with the MCHR or the EEOC. (ECF No. 13-2). He claims that he only learned of Brownlee's claims when she filed the instant litigation. (Id.) Thus, Bechard asserts that he was prejudiced by Brownlee's failure to name him as a respondent in her Charge of Discrimination.

"Fraudulent joinder does not exist where there is arguably a reasonable basis for predicting that the state law might impose liability based upon the facts involved.'" Block v. Toyota Motor Corp. , 665 F.3d 944, 948 (8th Cir.2011) (quoting Junk v. Terminix Int'l Co. , 628 F.3d 439, 446 (8th Cir.2010)). "[I]n situations where the sufficiency of the complaint against the non-diverse defendant is questionable, the better practice is for the federal court not to decide the doubtful question in connection with a motion to remand but simply to remand the case and leave the question ...


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