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Myrick v. Rare Hospitality International, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

January 13, 2020



          M. Hannah Lauck United States District Judge.

         This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff Rachel Myrick's Motion to Remand. (ECF No. 15.) Defendants RARE Hospitality International, Inc. ("RARE"), FCPT Hospitality Properties, LLC ("FCPT"), and Darden Restaurants, Inc. ("Darden") (collectively, the "Restaurant Defendants") responded, (ECF No. 24), and Myrick replied, (ECF No. 25). Myrick's Complaint, (ECF No. 1-2), also brings claims against Southpoint II, LLC ("Southpoint"), W.J. Vakos & Company ("Vakos"), WJ. Vakos Management Company ("Vakos Management") (collectively, the "Developer Defendants"), and Kevin Linton.

         The materials before the Court adequately present the facts and legal contentions, and oral argument would not aid the decisional process. Accordingly, the matter is ripe for disposition. For the reasons stated below, the Court will grant the Motion to Remand.[1]

         I. Standard of Review

         A. Removal Jurisdiction & Remand

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a), [2] a defendant may remove a civil action to a federal district court if the plaintiff could have originally brought the action in federal court. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). Section 1446 delineates the procedure for removal. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1446(a), (d). The state court loses jurisdiction upon the removal of an action to federal court. 28 U.S.C. § 1446(d) ("[T]he State court shall proceed no further unless and until the case is remanded."). The removability of a case "depends upon the state of the pleadings and the record at the time of the application for removal" Ala. Great S. Ry. Co. v. Thompson, 200 U.S. 206, 216 (1906); see also Pullman Co. v. Jenkins, 305 U.S. 534, 537 (1939) ("the right to remove... [is] determined according to the plaintiffs' pleading at the time of the petition for removal."). Under 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c), "[i]f at any time before final judgment it appears that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the case shall be remanded." 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c).

         "The party seeking removal bears the initial burden of establishing federal jurisdiction." Abraham v. Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Inc., No. 3:11cv182, 2011 WL 1790168, at *1 (E.D. Va. May 9, 2011) (citing Mulcahey v. Columbia Organic Chem. Co., 29 F.3d 148, 151 (4th Cir. 1994)). No presumption favoring the existence of federal subject matter jurisdiction exists because federal courts have limited, not general, jurisdiction. Id. (citing Pinkley Inc. v. City of Frederick, 191 F.3d 394, 399 (4th Cir. 1999)). In deference to federalism concerns, courts must strictly construe removal jurisdiction. Id. (citing Mulcahey, 29 F.3d at 151). "If federal jurisdiction is doubtful, a remand is necessary." Id. (quoting Mulcahey, 29 F.3d at 151).

         A federal district court has diversity jurisdiction over "all civil actions where the matter in controversy exceeds... $75, 000... and is between... [c]itizens of different states." 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1). Federal diversity jurisdiction requires complete diversity of citizenship. Abraham, 2011 WL 1790168 at *2 (citing Carden v. Arkoma Assocs., 494 U.S. 185, 187 (1990)); see also 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1). "[T]he 'citizenship of each plaintiff [must be] diverse from the citizenship of each defendant.'" Abraham, 2011 WL 1790168, at *2 (quoting Caterpillar Inc. v. Lewis, 519 U.S. 61, 68 (1996) (second alteration in original)).

         B. The Fraudulent Joinder Doctrine

         The fraudulent joinder doctrine operates as an exception to the complete diversity requirement, permitting a district court to disregard, for jurisdictional purposes, the citizenship of certain nondiverse defendants, assume jurisdiction over a case, and dismiss the nondiverse defendants, thereby retaining jurisdiction. Abraham, 2011 WL 1790168, at *2 (citing Mayes v. Rapoport, 198 F.3d 457, 461 (4th Cir. 1999)). "To show fraudulent joinder, the removing party must demonstrate either 'outright fraud in the plaintiffs pleading of jurisdictional facts' or that 'there is no possibility that the plaintiff would be able to establish a cause of action against the in-state defendant in state court.'" Hartley v. CSX Transp., Inc., 187 F.3d 422, 424 (4th Cir. 1999) (alteration in original) (quoting Marshall v. Manville Sales Corp., 6 F.3d 229, 232 (4th Cir. 1993)). "The party alleging fraudulent joinder bears a heavy burden - it must show that the plaintiff cannot establish a claim even after resolving all issues of law and fact in the plaintiffs favor." Id. "This standard is even more favorable to the plaintiff than the standard for ruling on a motion to dismiss under [Federal Rule of Civil Procedure] 12(b)(6)." Id. "Once the court identifies this glimmer of hope for the plaintiff, the jurisdictional inquiry ends." Id. at 426; see also Allard v. Laroya, 163 F.Supp.3d 309, 311 (E.D. Va. 2016). In making this determination, the Court is not bound by the allegations in the pleadings, but may consider the entire record. Mayes, 198 F.3dat464.

         II. Factual and Procedural Background

         A. Procedural History

         On July 10, 2019, Myrick filed the Complaint in the Circuit Court of the County of Henrico, Virginia (the "Henrico Circuit Court"), seeking damages for personal injuries pursuant to state law negligence claims. Myrick served all Defendants, last serving Darden on July 26, 2019. (Not. Removal. ¶¶ 2-4.) The Defendants filed various responsive in the Henrico Circuit Court. On August 20, 2019, the Restaurant Defendants timely removed this action from the Henrico Circuit Court to this Court, claiming diversity jurisdiction and that the Restaurant Defendants and Linton were fraudulently joined. (ECF No. 1.)

         On September 3, 2019, Myrick filed the instant Motion to Remand, claiming that full diversity does not exist because she, the Developer Defendants, and Linton are citizens of Virginia. On September 17, 2019, the Restaurant Defendants responded in opposition to the Motion to Remand. On September 20, 2019, Myrick replied.

         B. Summary of Allegations in ...

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