United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Northern Division
OPINION, MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
EDWARD AUTREY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
initiated this suit in Ralls County Circuit Court, asserting
claims under the Missouri Human Rights Act
(“MHRA”) against Defendants. Defendants removed
the suit contending that jurisdiction exists under 28 U.S.C.
§ 1332 because (1) more than $75, 000 is in controversy,
(2) Plaintiff and Defendant General Mills, Inc. are of
diverse citizenship, and (3) while Defendants Harrison and
Giltner (like Plaintiff) are citizens of Missouri, their
citizenship can be disregarded because they have been
fraudulently joined. Plaintiff filed a Motion to Remand,
contending that diversity of citizenship is lacking because
Harrison and Giltner were not fraudulently joined. After
considering the parties' arguments the Court concludes
that it lacks jurisdiction in this case because Harrison and
Giltner have not been fraudulently joined. Therefore, the
Motion to Remand, [Doc. No. 13], is GRANTED
and the case is REMANDED to state court.
See 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c).
initiated this case in state court on August 24, 2017. At
that time, she had not received a Right to Sue Letter from
the Missouri Commission on Human Rights,
(“MCHR”). MCHR issued a Right to Sue Letter on
October 25, 2017.
Missouri Legislature amended the MHRA, altering the
definitions establishing who could be sued in a manner that
would preclude claims against individuals (such as
Plaintiff's claim against Harrison and Giltner). The
amendments went into effect on August 28, 2017 - after
Plaintiff filed suit, but before she received her Right to
Notice of Removal contends that Harrison and Giltner's
citizenship can be ignored for purposes of ascertaining the
Court's jurisdiction because they have been fraudulently
joined. Defendants relied in part on the amendment to the
MHRA precluding suits against individuals.
have the burden of demonstrating that jurisdiction exists
because they removed the case to federal court. In re.
Business Men's Assurance Co. of Am., 992 F.2d 181,
183 (8th Cir. 1995) (per curiam). In fulfilling this
obligation, Defendants correctly contend that the citizenship
of fraudulently joined defendants is disregarded when
determining whether diversity of citizenship exists.
Murphy v. Aurora Loan Servs., LLC, 699 F.3d 1027,
1031 (8th Cir. 2012). The Eighth Circuit has articulated the
fraudulent joinder standard as follows:
Where applicable state precedent precludes the existence of a
cause of action against a defendant, joinder is fraudulent.
“[I]t is well established that 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.” Iowa Pub. Serv. Co. v. Med.
Bow Coal Co., 556 F.2d 400, 406 (8th Cir. 1977)
(emphasis added). 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
Filla v. Norfolk S. Ry. Co., 336 F.3d 806, 810 (8th
Cir. 2003) (internal footnote omitted) (emphasis in
original). In conducting this inquiry, the Court must
“resolve all facts and ambiguities in the current
controlling substantive law in the plaintiff's favor,
” and the Court has “no responsibility to
definitively settle the ambiguous question of state
law.” Id. at 811 (emphasis in original).
Court concludes that there is a reasonable basis for
believing that Plaintiff's claims against Harrison and
Giltner are valid. There is no dispute that an MHRA claim
against individuals was permitted (1) when the events giving
rise to Plaintiff's claims occurred and (2) when the suit
was filed. The fact that Plaintiff did not have a Right to
Sue Letter at the time she filed the suit does not mean her
claims were invalid. Defendants insist that the lack of a
Right to Sue Letter is a jurisdictional defect that renders
the claim invalid, but cites no Missouri cases to support the
proposition. And, to the contrary, several courts have held
that the failure to obtain a Right to Sue Letter before
filing suit can be cured or waived - signifying that the lack
of a Right to Sue Letter does not affect the claim's
validity. E.g., Kerr v. Missouri Veterans
Comm'n, 2017 WL 4890797, at *5 (Mo.Ct.App. 2017);
King v. Conti Elec., Inc., 2006 WL 1153800, at *1
(E.D. Mo. 2006); Vankempen v. McDonnell Douglas
Corp., 923 F.Supp. 146, 149 (E.D. Mo. 1996).
Missouri law did not clearly preclude Plaintiff from filing
suit before receiving a Right to Sue Letter (and before the
amendments to the MHRA went into effect), and Plaintiff has a
reasonable basis for believing that she could do so. Missouri
law also does not clearly establish that the amendments apply
in this case. Plaintiff has viable arguments that the
amendments do not apply retrospectively to (1) suits that
were filed before the amendments' effective date or (2)
claims that accrued before the effective date. Defendants
have viable arguments to the contrary. But the Missouri
courts have not addressed this issue yet, and under
Filla the Court's role is not to definitively
resolve this issue. The Court's role under Filla
is to determine whether state law clearly precludes
Plaintiff's cause of action, or if there is a reasonable
basis for Plaintiff's claim against Harrison and Giltner.
Given the lack of authoritative decisions from the Missouri
courts, and construing the law in Plaintiff's favor, this
Court cannot conclude that the amendments to the MHRA clearly
foreclose Plaintiff's claim against them. Therefore,
Defendants Harrison and Giltner have not been fraudulently
joined, and the Court lacks jurisdiction because there is not
complete diversity of citizenship between the Plaintiff and
diversity of citizenship is lacking, therefore, the Court
does not have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § ...