United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
JOHN W. ELLIOTT, STARLA S. ELLIOTT, Plaintiffs,
CHR. HANSEN INC., CITRUS & ALLIED ESSENCES, LTD., EVONIK INDUSTRIES, AG, GIVAUDAN f/k/a TASTEMAKER, FRIES & FRIES, MALLINCKRODT, GOLD MEDALPRODUCTS COMPANY, H.B. TAYLOR COMPANY, INTERNATIONAL BAKER'S SERVICES, INC., INTERNATIONAL FLAVORS & FRAGRANCES, INC., KERRY FLAVOR SYSTEMS US, LLC, SENSIENT FLAVORS INTERNATIONAL, INC., SYMRISE, INC., Defendants.
ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO REMAND
Patrick Hanlon United States District Judge
John and Starla Elliot filed a lawsuit against Defendants in
the Marion County Superior Court seeking redress for injuries
and damages allegedly caused by John Elliot's
occupational exposure to chemicals. International Flavors
& Fragrances, Inc. removed the case to this Court based
on diversity jurisdiction, dkt. 1, and Plaintiffs
filed a Motion to Remand in October 2018 followed by a Second
Motion to Remand in December. For the reasons stated below,
Plaintiffs' Second Motion is GRANTED.
Factual and Procedural History
Elliot, a Florida citizen, worked at the Weaver Popcorn
Company production plant in Van Buren, Indiana for
twenty-three years. Dkt. 1-1 at 24. He suffers from
lung disease that he alleges was caused by his exposure to
various chemicals used in the Weaver Plant to flavor the
popcorn (“toxic flavorings”). Id. at 24.
For these injuries, he and his wife sued eleven different
companies for civil conspiracy, product liability, and
fraudulent concealment. Id. at 25-48. Each of these
companies allegedly manufactures or distributes the
flavorings that are alleged to have caused Plaintiff's
injuries. Id. at 25-28. Most of these companies
operate outside of Indiana, but two of them- International
Baker's Services, Inc. and Sensient Flavors
International, Inc. (“Indiana Defendants”)-are
Flavors & Fragrances, Inc. removed the case to this Court
based on diversity jurisdiction. Dkt. 69.
Recognizing that the Indiana Defendants are Indiana citizens
under the forum-defendant rule, International Flavors argues
that the Indiana Defendants' citizenship should not be
considered for diversity jurisdiction purposes because
“there is no possibility that Plaintiffs can establish
a cause of action” against them. Id. ¶ 5.
According to International Flavors, the Indiana Defendants
never sold or distributed any products to the Weaver Plant
where Plaintiff worked, so they could not possibly have
caused Plaintiff's injuries. The Indiana Defendants,
therefore, have been “fraudulently joined” as
defendants in this case, so their citizenship can be safely
December 10, 2018, Plaintiffs filed a Second Motion to Remand
arguing that the Indiana Defendants were not fraudulently
joined and that International Flavor's removal did not
properly allege the Court's jurisdiction. Dkt.
127. The Motion to Remand has been fully briefed and is
now ripe for the Court's consideration.
district courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. Exxon
Mobil Corp. v. Allapattah Servs., Inc., 545
U.S. 546, 552 (2005). A district court cannot hear a case
without a clear statutory basis for its jurisdiction.
Id.The removing party bears the burden of
establishing this basis. Tri-State Water
Treatment, Inc. v. Bauer, 845 F.3d 350, 352 (7th
Cir. 2017). Here, Plaintiffs argue that International
Flavor's Notice of Removal fails to establish the
Court's jurisdiction because some of the jurisdictional
allegations are based on “information and belief”
and the Indiana Defendants were not fraudulently joined. The
Court will address each of these arguments in turn.
Removal Based on Information and Belief
Court may exercise diversity jurisdiction only if the parties
are diverse and the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000
exclusive of costs and fees. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). When
removing a case, a “naked declaration that there is
diversity of citizenship is never sufficient.”
Thomas v. Guardsmark, LLC, 487 F.3d 531,
533 (7th Cir. 2007). Rather, the removing party must allege
jurisdiction based on personal knowledge-not just on its
information and belief-to invoke the subject-matter
jurisdiction of a federal court. See
America's Best Inns, Inc. v. Best Inns of Abilene,
L.P., 980 F.2d 1072, 1074 (7th Cir. 1992).
Plaintiffs claim that the Court should remand the case
because International Flavors alleged the parties'
citizenship based on its “information and belief”
rather than its personal knowledge. Dkt. 127 at 8-9.
The Court disagrees and finds that International Flavors has
sufficiently alleged jurisdiction based on personal
knowledge. International Flavors has alleged the
citizenship of each party without using the phrase
“information and belief.” Dkt. 69
¶¶ 6-18. These jurisdictional allegations are
supported by an affidavit based on “personal knowledge,
” dkt. 69-5, and documents from
Defendants' Secretary of State Offices confirming their
citizenship, dkts. 65-6-65-18. This is enough to establish
the parties' citizenship, and the Court will not remand
the case on this ground.
Court to have diversity jurisdiction, the suit must involve
“citizens of different States.” 28 U.S.C. §
1332(a)(1). Under the “forum defendant rule, ”
however, a civil action that is removable based on diversity
jurisdiction “may not be removed if any of the parties
in interest properly joined and served as defendants is a
citizen of the State in which such action is brought.”
28 U.S.C. § 1441(b)(2). Here, the Indiana Defendants are
citizens of the state in which this action was brought, so
removal is prohibited under the forum-defendant rule.
implicitly acknowledging that the forum-defendant rule
applies here, International Flavors argues that the Court
should not consider the Indiana Defendants' citizenship
because they have been fraudulently joined. Under the
fraudulent joinder doctrine, the Court can ignore
parties' citizenship if “there is no possibility
that a plaintiff can state a cause of action against
nondiverse defendants in state court.” Gottlieb v.
Westin Hotel Co., 990 F.2d 323, 327 (7th Cir. 1993).