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Villafuerte v. Decker Truck Line, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana

February 26, 2015

ARACELI VILLAFUERTE, individually and as parent and natural guardian of M.C., a minor, Plaintiff,
v.
DECKER TRUCK LINE, INC., CHRISTOPHER DANIELS and CITY OF WHITING, INDIANA, Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

THERESA L. SPRINGMANN, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on the Plaintiff's Motion to Remand to State Court [ECF No. 29], filed by the Plaintiff on December 4, 2014. Defendant City of Whiting, Indiana, also filed a Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim [ECF No. 36] on December 30, 2014; and the Plaintiff filed a Motion to Strike [ECF No. 37] the Motion to Dismiss on January 9, 2015. For the reasons stated in this Opinion and Order, the Court will grant the Plaintiff's Motion to Remand and deny as moot the remaining motions.

BACKGROUND

On May 1, 2014, the Plaintiff, Araceli Villafuerte, individually and as a parent and natural guardian of Michael Calzada, a minor, filed a Complaint [ECF No. 4] in the Lake Circuit Court, Lake County, Indiana, against the Defendant Decker Truck Line, Inc. ("Decker"); and on May 8, 2014, filed an Amended Complaint [ECF No. 13] against the Defendant Christopher Daniels ("Daniels").[1] The Plaintiff alleges, in part, that Daniels negligently operated a semitrailer truck, resulting in the death of Angel Villafuerte, a minor, who was crossing a public street as a pedestrian. The Plaintiff claims that Daniels and his employer, Decker, are liable for damages under Indiana Code § 34-23-2-1 for the wrongful death or injury of a child.

On May 27, 2014, the Defendants filed a Notice of Removal [ECF No. 1], premising this Court's subject matter jurisdiction on diversity pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. The Notice of Removal states that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000, that the Plaintiff is a resident of Indiana, and that Decker is an Iowa corporation with its principal place of business in Iowa. The Amended Complaint also states that Daniels is a resident of Iowa.

On June 24, 2014, the Defendants filed an Answer [ECF No. 16] to the Amended Complaint; and on September 30, 2014, filed an Amended Answer [ECF No. 25], which names the City of Whiting as a non-party in the suit. According to the Defendants, depositions taken on September 8, 2014, "revealed, for the first time, that [the] [P]laintiff's damages may have been caused, in whole or in part, by the City of Whiting and/or the City of Whiting Police Department" [ECF No. 22]. Consequently, on November 1, 2014, the Plaintiff filed a Motion for Leave to File a Second Amended Complaint [ECF No. 26] to add the City of Whiting as a defendant, to which the Defendants did not file a response. On November 24, 2014, the Magistrate Judge granted the Plaintiff's Motion, and the Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint [ECF No. 28] on November 25, 2014. The Amended Complaint states that the "City of Whiting, Indiana owed a duty of care to Angel Villafuerte" and that "by and through its employees [the City of Whiting] breached its duty of care that it owed in reference to Angel being able to safely cross [the] street."

On December 4, 2014, the Plaintiff filed a Motion to Remand to State Court [ECF No. 29], asserting that complete diversity under 28 U.S.C. § 1332 is lacking because the Plaintiff and the Defendant City of Whiting are both citizens of Indiana. Defendants Decker and Daniels filed a Response [ECF No. 31] on December 13, 2014, and the Plaintiff filed a Reply [ECF No. 33] on December 18, 2014. The Motion to Remand is now ripe for ruling.

DISCUSSION

To invoke diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332, complete diversity is required, meaning that no plaintiff may be a citizen of the same state as any defendant. Hart v. FedEx Ground Package Sys., Inc., 457 F.3d 675, 676 (7th Cir. 2006). None of the parties dispute that the Defendant City of Whiting, for purposes of diversity jurisdiction, is a citizen of Indiana. See Creek v. Vill. of Westhaven, 80 F.3d 186, 193 (7th Cir. 1996) (municipalities are treated by law as if they were persons under 28 U.S.C. § 1332); Illinois v. Kerr-McGee Chem. Corp., 677 F.2d 571, 578 n.13 (7th Cir. 1982) ("a municipal corporation is a citizen of the state which creates it"). And none of the parties dispute that, because the Plaintiff is a citizen of Indiana, diversity jurisdiction is destroyed if the City of Whiting is joined as a defendant.

Joinder of non-diverse parties after an action has been removed to federal court is governed by 28 U.S.C. § 1447(e), which states that "[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." The Seventh Circuit has instructed that a court, when faced with a request to join non-diverse parties who would destroy subject matter jurisdiction, has two options under § 1447(e): it may deny the motion to join; or it may grant the motion and remand. Schur v. L.A. Weight Loss Ctrs., Inc., 577 F.3d 752, 759 (7th Cir. 2009). Nonetheless, the Court operates under a presumption in favor of remand, Jones v. Gen. Tire & Rubber Co., 541 F.2d 660, 664 (7th Cir. 1976), which necessarily includes a "presum[ption] that the plaintiff may choose his or her forum." Doe v. Allied-Signal, Inc., 985 F.2d 908, 911 (7th Cir. 1993).

In this case, however, the Magistrate Judge previously granted-by way of a Minute Order-the Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to File a Second Amended Complaint, which joined the City of Whiting as a defendant. Prior to the Magistrate Judge's Order, the Defendants did not file a response to the Plaintiff's Motion. The Plaintiff argues that, because the Defendants failed to object, the Court is required to grant the Motion to Remand because it is "too late to reverse" joinder. (Pl's Reply 4.)

Indeed, "[i]f no party objects to [a] magistrate judge's action, the district court may simply accept it." Schur, 577 F.3d at 760. However, a court "may reconsider sua sponte any matter determined by a magistrate judge." Id. As such, even if no party objects, a court is permitted to review a magistrate judge's order permitting joinder of a non-diverse party. Id. at 760-61 ("True, [the defendant] should have... objected; by failing to do so, it lost its right to request that the district judge reconsider the order. But that did not prevent the district judge from addressing the issue on his own accord."). For the sake of promoting a complete record, the Court will exercise its discretion to review the Magistrate Judge's Order to determine whether it was "clearly erroneous or is contrary to law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a).

A. Joinder Analysis

When determining whether post-removal joinder of a non-diverse party is appropriate, the Court must consider the following factors: "(1) the plaintiff's motive for seeking joinder, particularly whether the purpose is to defeat federal jurisdiction; (2) the timeliness of the request to amend; (3) whether the plaintiff will be significantly injured if joinder is not allowed; and (4) any other relevant equitable considerations." Schur, 577 F.3d at 759. The Defendants' objection to the Plaintiff's Motion to Remand pertains solely to the ...


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