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Young v. Hy-Vee, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division

January 3, 2020

BRENDA YOUNG, Plaintiff,
HY-VEE, INC., et al., Defendants.



         This lawsuit arises from Plaintiff Brenda Young's allegations that Defendant Hy-Vee, Inc. and a security officer the store hired, Defendant Gayla Faelske, discriminated and retaliated against her race, in violation of the Missouri Human Rights Act (“MHRA”), Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 213.065, 213.070. Defendants removed this case from the Circuit Court of Jackson County, Missouri, by invoking the Court's diversity jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. §§ 1441 and 1446. Hy-Vee claims Plaintiff fraudulently joined Faelske, a Missouri resident, to prevent removal.

         Now before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion to Remand (Doc. 6). Because the Court holds Defendants have carried their substantial burden of proving fraudulent joinder, the motion to remand is DENIED.


         A defendant may remove to federal court when 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). Where a party removes based on the court's diversity jurisdiction, the removing party bears the burden of proving the parties are citizens of different states and the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000. Id. § 1332(a). Under the no-local-defendant or forum-defendant rule, a suit cannot be removed if a properly joined and served defendant 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, 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 fraudulent joinder. Dorsey v. Sekisui Am. Corp., 79 F.Supp.2d 1089, 1091 (E.D. Mo. 1999).

         Factual Background

         Plaintiff is an African-American female. Defendant Faelske is a Caucasian female who works for a security company hired by Hy-Vee to patrol its stores. Defendant Hy-Vee operates a grocery store in Independence, Missouri.

         In late July 2017, Plaintiff visited Hy-Vee to purchase two items: eggrolls and a cooked sausage. After checking out, she walked to her car, eating the sausage. While walking, she checked her receipt and noticed she was only charged for the eggrolls, so she turned around and walked back into the store to pay for the sausage. She returned with her half-eaten sausage and receipt and reentered the cashier's line.

         After waiting in line for some time, Plaintiff heard what she believed to be her car's alarm going off in the parking lot. Concerned someone may have been trying to steal her car, Plaintiff stepped out of line to check on it. But before she reached the store exit, Faelske stopped her and accused her of stealing. Faelske took Plaintiff to a small room with several employees, all of whom were Caucasian and hostile to Plaintiff. When police arrived, Faelske insisted on filing a complaint against Plaintiff, despite Plaintiff's insistence that there had been a misunderstanding, which security footage would later verify. Municipal charges were brought against Plaintiff for the incident.

         On January 24, 2018, Plaintiff filed discrimination charges with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights (“MCHR”) and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). In the “particulars” section of the MHRA charge, Plaintiff uses the word “Respondents, ” implying that there may be more than one actor who engaged in the discrimination (Doc. 1-2 at 19). Plaintiff, however, only specifically identifies Hy-Vee; she never named Faelske as a respondent nor followed the MHRA's procedures for joining Faelske as an unnamed respondent. In fact, the only reference to Faelske in the MCHR charge was to the conduct of a “Caucasian manager at the store” (Doc 1-2 at 20). The record is unclear if the MCHR interviewed Faelske during the administrative process.

         On May 28, 2019, after conducting its investigation, the MCHR issued Plaintiff a right-to-sue letter. Plaintiff timely filed this lawsuit in the Circuit Court of Jackson County, Missouri, on July 4, 2019. The Petition alleges Faelske was “employed” by Hy-Vee (Doc 1-2 at 10), and that since the charge was against “Respondents, ” the MCHR charge was against “multiple defendants, ” including Faelske (Doc 1-2 at 11). The Petition ...

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