United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, St. Joseph Division
ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO REMAND
GREG KAYS, Chief District Judge.
This lawsuit arises out of Plaintiff Stephen Carter's ("Carter") employment with Defendant GE Engine Services, LLC ("GE"). Carter alleges GE and his immediate supervisor there, Kherri Hummer ("Hummer"), violated the Missouri Human Rights Act ("MHRA") by discriminating against him on the basis of his race and skin color and by retaliating against him for reporting this discrimination to authorities. Defendants removed this case from the Circuit Court of Platte County, Missouri, by invoking the Court's diversity jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. §§ 1441 and 1446. They claim Carter fraudulently joined Hummer, a Missouri resident, in an effort to prevent removal.
Now before the Court is Carter's Motion to Remand (Doc. 6). Finding that Carter may be able to maintain his MHRA claim against Hummer, the Court holds Defendants have not carried their substantial burden of proving fraudulent joinder. Consequently, the motion is GRANTED.
Standard of Review
An action may be removed by the defendant where the case falls within the original jurisdiction of the district court. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). If the case is not within the original subject matter jurisdiction of the district court, the court must remand the case to the state court from which it was removed. Id. § 1447(c). To invoke the court's diversity jurisdiction the parties must be citizens of different states and the amount in controversy must exceed $75, 000. Id. § 1332(a). Complete diversity between the parties is required; the presence of a single plaintiff from the same state as a single defendant extinguishes federal jurisdiction. Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Allapattah Servs., Inc., 545 U.S. 546, 553 (2005). Under the no-local-defendant or forum-defendant rule, a suit cannot be removed if one of the defendants who is properly joined and served is a citizen of the state where the lawsuit was filed. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b)(2).
Under the doctrine of fraudulent joinder, however, a "court may disregard the citizenship of a non-diverse defendant who was frivolously joined in an effort to defeat removal." In re Genetically Modified Rice Litig., 618 F.Supp.2d 1047, 1052 (E.D. Mo. 2009). Joinder is fraudulent where the "applicable state precedent precludes the existence of a cause of action against the defendant." Filla v. Norfolk & S. Ry., 336 F.3d 806, 810 (8th Cir. 2003). "However, if there is a colorable cause of action-that is, if the state law might impose liability on the resident defendant under the facts alleged-then there is no fraudulent joinder." Id. at 810-11 (citation omitted) (emphasis added). Thus, "joinder is fraudulent when there exists no reasonable basis in fact and law supporting a claim against the resident defendants.'" Id. at 811 (quoting Wiles v. Capitol Indem. Corp., 280 F.3d 868, 871 (8th Cir. 2002)).
In predicting whether state law might impose liability based upon the facts involved, the district court "should resolve all facts and ambiguities in the current controlling substantive law in the plaintiff's favor." Id. "[T]he court has no responsibility to definitively settle the ambiguous question of state law." Id. "The court must simply determine whether there is a reasonable basis for predicting that the state's law might impose liability against the defendant." Id. "[W]here 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 for the state courts to decide." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). The removing party bears the "substantial" burden of proving the alleged fraud. Dorsey v. Sekisui Am. Corp., 79 F.Supp.2d 1089, 1091 (E.D. Mo. 1999).
Defendant GE operates a business in Kansas City, Missouri disassembling, cleaning, and maintaining traction motor combo wheel sets for locomotives. Plaintiff Carter works for GE as a remanufacturing production technician. Carter is an African-American male who is darker-skinned than his co-workers. Defendant Hummer has been his immediate supervisor from February 2013 until the present.
For purposes of determining diversity jurisdiction, GE is a citizen of New York and Connecticut; Hummer is a Missouri citizen; and Carter is a Kansas citizen.
On September 23, 2013, Carter filed discrimination charges with both the Missouri Commission on Human Rights ("MCHR") and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). The charges listed only GE Transportation as the respondent who allegedly discriminated and retaliated against him. Carter did not name Hummer as a respondent or follow the MHRA's procedures for joining Hummer as an unnamed respondent. As a result, Hummer was never provided a copy of the MHRA charge, never received notice that Carter was asserting a charge against her personally, never had an opportunity to present a written statement of her personal position before the MCHR, and never had notice that he would attempt to hold her personally liable. She was, however, interviewed by the MCHR and gave her account of the events. On or about September 16, 2014, the MCHR issued Carter a right to sue letter.
A few months later, on December 11, 2014, Carter filed this lawsuit in the Circuit Court of Platte County, Missouri. The Petition seeks actual damages, attorneys' fees and costs, and punitive damages, the combined cost of which could exceed $75, 000. Defendants timely removed this case to federal court.
In relevant part, the Petition alleges Hummer demeaned Carter by using stereotypical derogatory language when talking to him and treating him differently than similarly situated white coworkers. Hummer also disciplined Carter for rules violations for which she did not discipline white employees. As a result of Hummer's discriminatory treatment, GE eventually placed Carter on a "final review" status which placed him in danger of being terminated. Hummer's actions caused Carter so much stress that he sought medical treatment.
The Petition does not allege that Carter exhausted his administrative remedies against Hummer, or that Hummer falls within a limited exception to ...