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Quattlebaum v. Federal Express Corporation

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Southern Division

June 18, 2019

PEGGY QUATTLEBAUM and JAMES QUATTLEBAUM, Plaintiff,
v.
FEDERAL EXPRESS CORPORATION AND FICTITIOUS DEFENDANTS A THROUGH F, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          ANDREW L. BRASHER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter comes before the court on Plaintiffs Peggy and James Quattlebaum's Motion for Leave to Amend and to Remand. (Doc. 10). Upon consideration, the motion is GRANTED, and it is ORDERED that this action be remanded to the Circuit Court of Houston County, Alabama.

         BACKGROUND

         Peggy Quattlebaum alleges that she seriously injured her arm while manually closing the doors of the FedEx Ship Center in Dothan, Alabama. (Doc. 10-1 ¶21). Defendant FedEx had contracted with STR International, LLC to remodel the Dothan center's lobby. (Doc. 14-1 at 15). On the day before the accident, STR cut off the power to the doors to perform some electrical work. (Id.) Because STR did not complete its work that first day, the power remained off on the day of the accident, requiring the doors to be manually opened and closed. (Id.) Quattlebaum alleges that when she arrived, she saw a sign on the door that the door had to be manually opened and closed. (Doc. 1-3 at 10). Quattlebaum alleges that when she tried to leave, the doors suddenly closed on her arm. (Id. at 11). Quattlebaum then filed suit in the Circuit Court of Houston County. (Id. at 9). The exact timeline of ensuing procedural events is key to the motion for leave to amend and to remand, so it is included below:

Complaint Filed (Id. at 9)

January 25, 2019

Quattlebaum Admits Amount in Controversy (Doc. 1-4 at 2)

March 5, 2019

FedEx Identifies Taylor and Jackson (Doc. 1-3 at 126, 128)

March 20, 2019

FedEx files Notice of Removal (Doc. 1)

March 22, 2019

Leave to Amend (Doc. 10)

May 14, 2019

         STANDARD

         Rule 15(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure states that “a party may amend its pleading only with the opposing party's written consent or the court's leave, ” which the “court should freely give … when justice so requires.”[1] But if an amendment would add nondiverse defendants, destroying the court's subject-matter jurisdiction, the court applies the standard in 28 U.S.C. §1447(e). Ingram v. CSX Transp., Inc., 146 F.3d 858, 862 (11th Cir. 1998). Per Section 1447(e), “[i]f after removal the plaintiff seeks to join additional defendants whose joinder would destroy subject matter jurisdiction, the court may deny joinder, or permit joinder and remand the action to the State court.”

         DISCUSSION

         The issue before the court is whether Quattlebaum should be allowed to add nondiverse defendants, which would necessitate remand, after discovery has begun. The court has jurisdiction to decide civil actions between diverse parties so long as more than $75, 000 is in dispute. 28 U.S.C. §1332. The parties concede that subject matter jurisdiction exists, and that remand would be required if either Taylor or Jackson is joined. Instead, FedEx alleges that Quattlebaum only seeks leave to join Taylor and Jackson to engage in forum-shopping. (Doc. 14 at 12).

         While the court should freely give leave to amend when justice so requires, “a district court must scrutinize more closely an amended pleading that would name a new nondiverse defendant in a removed case because justice requires that the district court also balance the defendant's interests in maintaining the federal forum.” Dever v. Family Dollar Stores of Georgia, LLC, 755 Fed.Appx. 866, 869 (11th Cir. 2018) (per curiam). This close scrutiny when applying Section 1447(e) requires the court to analyze four factors: (1) “the extent to which the purpose of the amendment is to defeat federal jurisdiction, ” (2) “whether [the] plaintiff has been dilatory in asking for amendment, ” (3) “whether [the] plaintiff will be significantly injured if amendment is not allowed, ” and (4) “any other factors bearing on the equities.” Id. (quoting Hensgens v. Deere & Co., 833 F.2d 1179, 1182 (5th Cir. 1987)). The court “has broad discretion in weighing these factors to decide whether to permit or deny an amendment.” Id.

         I. Whether Purpose is to Avoid Federal Jurisdiction

         The first factor the court analyzes is the extent to which the purpose of the amendment is to defeat federal jurisdiction. In her initial complaint, Quattlebaum sued those responsible for “maintaining the door in a safe, operable condition” as well as those “repairing the door.” (Doc. 1-1 ¶¶6-7). Quattlebaum had tried unsuccessfully to determine who the manager and employee were at the time of her injury, but she did not learn their identities until after FedEx removed the case to federal court. (Id.; Doc. 15 at 2). So, it makes sense that Quattlebaum would not seek to join Taylor and Jackson until after removal because she only learned their identities the day before FedEx filed notice of removal. Once Quattlebaum knew Taylor and Jackson's identities, Quattlebaum asked leave to amend only two months after receiving notice of removal.

         The Eleventh Circuit recently addressed this issue for the first time in an unpublished opinion in Dever v. Family Dollar Stores, 755 Fed.Appx. 866 (11th Cir. 2018) (per curiam). The plaintiff in Dever attempted to sue a nondiverse defendant- the store manager on duty during her fall-before the defendant removed the case. Id. at 867. Once the plaintiff realized her mistake, she asked leave to amend to add the correct store manager, who was also a nondiverse defendant. Id. But the district court denied the plaintiff's request. Id. at 867-68.

         On review, the Eleventh Circuit noted that it had “not previously addressed how a district court should decide whether to permit or deny joinder of a nondiverse defendant after removal.” Id. at 869. Ultimately, the Eleventh Circuit remanded the case to the district court, which had erred in failing to note that the plaintiff had already tried to add a nondiverse defendant before removal. Id. at 868. On remand, the district court weighed the Hensgens factors and granted the plaintiff leave to amend. Dever v. Family Dollar Stores of Georgia, LLC, No. 2:17-cv-19, 2018 WL 6323078, at *4 (S.D. Ga. Dec. 3, 2018). ...


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