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Kershaw-Wood v. Titanium Metals Corp.

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

October 25, 2017

TRACEY KERSHAW-WOOD Plaintiff,
v.
TITANIUM METALS CORPORATION & DAVID HARBISON Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          STEPHEN N. LIMBAUGH, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on plaintiff Tracey Kershaw-Wood's motion for remand (#13) and defendant David Harbison's motion to dismiss (#6). The matters are fully briefed. Because this Court finds that Harbison was not fraudulently joined as a defendant, Kershaw-Wood's motion for remand will be granted.

         I. Background

         Back in 2015, Kershaw-Wood worked for Titanium M s Corporation (“Titanium”). In March of that year, she complained to management-including Harbison-about a coworker who was sexually harassing her. Nothing was done. The next month, Kershaw-Wood complained again, and she was told that nothing could be done. Kershaw-Wood then filed a restraining order against the coworker. When management found out about the restraining order, Kershaw-Wood was sent home for the day. Next, Harbison suspended Kershaw-Wood from work until after the court date for the restraining order. A week later, Kershaw-Wood was fired.

         Kershaw-Wood filed a Charge of Discrimination (“Charge”) with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights (the “MCHR”). She listed Titanium as the employer that discriminated against her. Under the “Particulars” section of the Charge, she wrote:

I reported the [harassment] to my employer who said there was nothing they could do. After filing a restraining order on April 21, 2015, I was sent home from work, I then returned on April 23, 2015 and was suspended and told the suspension was in effect until the [sic] after the court date on the restraining order. I was terminated on April 30, 2015. I believe I was terminated in retaliation for reporting and objecting to the harassment.

         (#7-1). Kershaw-Wood did not mention Harbison anywhere in the Charge. There was no effort to resolve the claim through conciliation, and the MCHR issued a Notice of Right to Sue.[1]

         Kershaw-Wood then sued Titanium and Harbison in state court. She alleged counts of gender discrimination and retaliation against both defendants. Although Kershaw-Wood and Harbison are both allegedly citizens of Missouri, Titanium removed the case to this Court under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1). Harbison claims he was fraudulently joined because Kershaw-Wood did not exhaust her administrative remedies against him because she failed to name Harbison in the administrative Charge. Harbison then moved to dismiss the claims against him (#7). Kershaw-Wood claims that Harbison was not fraudulently joined and moved for remand (#13).

         II. Legal Standard

         Diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1) requires complete diversity of citizenship between plaintiffs and defendants. Buckley v. Control Data Corp., 923 F.2d 96, 97 n.6 (8th Cir. 1991). When there is not complete diversity, district courts must remand the case under 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c).

         Fraudulent joinder is an exception to the requirement that complete diversity must exist both when the state petition is filed and when the petition for removal is filed. Knudson v. Sys. Painters, Inc., 634 F.3d 968, 976 (8th Cir. 2011). “[A] plaintiff cannot defeat a defendant's ‘right of removal' by fraudulently joining a defendant who has ‘no real connection with the controversy.'” Id. (quoting Chesapeake & Ohio Ry. Co. v. Cockrell, 232 U.S. 146, 152 (1914)). “[T]o prove that a plaintiff fraudulently joined a diversity-destroying defendant, [the Eighth Circuit has] required a defendant seeking removal to prove that the plaintiff's claim against the diversity-destroying defendant has ‘no reasonable basis in fact and law.'” Id. at 977 (quoting Filla v. Norfolk S. Ry. Co., 336 F.3d 806, 810 (8th Cir. 2003)).

         “Under this standard, ‘if it is clear under governing state law that the complaint does not state a cause of action against the non-diverse defendant, the joinder is fraudulent and federal jurisdiction of the case should be retained.'” Id. at 980 (quoting Filla, 336 F.3d at 810). But “joinder is not fraudulent where ‘there is arguably a reasonable basis for predicting that the state law might impose liability based upon the facts involved.'” Id. (footnote omitted) (quoting Filla, 336 F.3d at 811). In making this prediction, the district court resolves all facts and ambiguities in the law in the plaintiff's favor. Filla, 336 F.3d at 811. The defendant must “do more than merely prove that the plaintiff's claim should be dismissed pursuant to a Rule 12(b)(6) motion.” Knudson, 634 F.3d at 980.

         “In deciding whether joinder is fraudulent, the court may not step from the threshold jurisdictional issue into a decision on the merits.” Walters v. Sensient Colors, LLC, No. 4:14-CV-1241-HEA, 2015 WL 667986, at *3 (E.D. Mo. Feb. 17, 2015). If “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 . . . but simply to remand the case and leave the question for the state courts to decide.'” Filla, 336 F.3d at 811 (quoting Iowa Pub. Serv. Co. v. Med. Bow Coal Co., 556 F.2d 400, 406 (8th Cir. 1977)).

         III. ...


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