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Walters v. Sensient Colors, LLC

United States District Court, Eastern District of Missouri, Eastern Division

February 17, 2015

RONNIE WALTERS, Plaintiff,
v.
SENSIENT COLORS, LLC., et al., Defendants.

OPINION, MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

HENRY EDWARD AUTREY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion to Remand, [Doc. No. 10]. Defendant Sensient Colors, LLC opposes the motion. For the following reasons, the Court concludes that federal diversity jurisdiction does not exist, and Plaintiff’s motion to remand must be granted.

Facts and Background

Plaintiff filed this action in the Circuit Court for the City of St. Louis, Missouri alleging employment discrimination under the Missouri Human Rights Act (“MHRA”). Plaintiff names as defendants Sensient Colors, Steve Barnhart and John Epperson. Complete diversity is lacking on the face of the petition because plaintiff, Barnhart and Epperson are all alleged to be citizens of the State of Missouri. Sensient avers in its notice of removal that it is a limited liability company whose sole shareholder, Sensient Technologies Corporation, Inc., is a Wisconsin corporation, and is therefore a citizen of Wisconsin. Sensient removed the case to federal court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1), claiming that Barnhart and Epperson were fraudulently joined to defeat diversity and, therefore, their citizenship should be disregarded for purposes of diversity jurisdiction. The company argues that Barnhart and Epperson were fraudulently joined in that Plaintiff cannot state employment discrimination claims against them, and because Plaintiff did not name them in his charges of discrimination.

Shortly after the filing of the Notice of Removal, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss. Plaintiff did not oppose the motion to dismiss but filed this motion to remand, which is presently before the Court. The motion to remand asserts that complete diversity of citizenship does not exist because Plaintiff and defendants Barnhart and Epperson share Missouri citizenship. Plaintiff argues that he has claims against these individual defendants, and the fact he did not name them as his employer in his charges of discrimination does not preclude him from bringing claims against them under the MHRA. Defendants oppose remand for the reasons stated in the notice of removal.

For the following reasons, the Court concludes that Barnhart and Epperson were not fraudulently joined because it is arguable that Missouri state law might impose liability against them under the MHRA, even though they were not named as Plaintiff's employer in his charges of discrimination. The Court further concludes that complete diversity of citizenship does not exist, and therefore it does not have subject matter jurisdiction over this action. Plaintiff's motion to remand will be granted.

Plaintiff alleges that he was employed by Sensient Colors from April 2, 2012 until December 13, 2013 as a maintenance mechanic in the Maintenance Department of Sensient Colors. According to Plaintiff’s petition, Defendants Barnhart and Epperson were his supervisors. Plaintiff was allegedly the victim of an accident that occurred in a chemical reactor tank. Plaintiff reported the incident to Barnhart and was informed by Barnhart that if he reported the accident, Plaintiff would not be employed at Sensient any longer.

Plaintiff’s work cart was hidden by a co-worker in April, 2013. Plaintiff complained to Epperson and Barnhart about the actions of his co-worker. Plaintiff also complained to the manager of the Maintenance Department. Plaintiff received disciplinary action in the form of a write up in response to his complaints.

On July 14, 2013, Plaintiff had an accident at work. Epperson directed Plaintiff to see a doctor and have a drug test. Bauer had had an accident, but was not directed to see a doctor or have a drug test. Bauer is Caucasian; Plaintiff is African-American.

In December, 2013, Plaintiff alleges Caucasian co-workers filed a false complaint against Plaintiff alleging he had threatened them. Plaintiff protested the complaint.

January 23, 2014, Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination in which he alleged that he was discrimination against based on his race. Plaintiff named as his employer “Sensient Colors, LLC.”

The Missouri Commission on Human Rights (“MCHR”) issued a right to sue notice on February 25, 2014. On December 18, 2013, plaintiff filed suit in the Circuit Court of St. Louis City against Defendants. Plaintiff brings the following five counts against defendants: MHRA, race discrimination (Counts I, II and III); MHRA Retaliation (Count IV); and wrongful termination (Count V).

Legal Standard

For diversity jurisdiction to exist under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1) there must be complete diversity of citizenship between plaintiffs and defendants. Buckley v. Control Data Corp., 923 F.2d 96, 97, n.6 (8th Cir.1991). “It is settled, of course, that absent complete diversity a case is not removable because the district court would lack original jurisdiction.” Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Allapattah Servs., Inc., 545 U.S. 546, 564 (2005) (cited case omitted). Where complete diversity of citizenship does not ...


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