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Court Finds No Fraudulent Joinder, Plaintiff Successful on Motion to Remand

Court: United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio; April 28, 2023

This asbestos-related action was brought by plaintiff Carolyn Keiser on behalf of herself and as the executor of her husband, decedent David Keiser’s estate. The decedent was diagnosed with mesothelioma, which the plaintiff alleges was caused by his occupational exposure to asbestos from defendants Donald McKay Smith, Inc. (“DMS”), Red Seal Electric Company and Vanderbilt Minerals LLC.

Plaintiff originally brought this action in state court. Defendant Vanderbilt removed it to federal court, claiming diversity jurisdiction. As the only diverse defendant in the case, Vanderbilt argued that plaintiff fraudulently joined non-diverse defendants, DMS and Red Seal, to prevent removal. Plaintiff denied the claim and moved to remand the case back to the state court.

A defendant may remove a civil case to federal court based on diversity jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b)(2). Complete diversity exists when none of the defendants are citizens of the state where the plaintiff is a citizen. 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Even if the parties are not completely diverse, a diverse defendant may still remove a case to federal court if the plaintiff fraudulently joined the non-diverse defendants. Walker v. Philip Morris USA, Inc., 443 F. App’x 946, 951 (6th Cir. 2011).

Fraudulent joinder provides an exception to the complete diversity requirement. Coyne v. Am. Tobacco Co., 183 F.3d 488, 493 (6th Cir. 1999) (quoting Triggs v. John Crump Toyota, Inc., 154 F.3d 1284, 1287 (11th Cir.1998)).

In order to defeat a motion to remand on the allegation of fraudulent joinder, the removing defendant must “present sufficient evidence that a plaintiff could not have established a cause of action against non-diverse defendants under state law. … However, if there is a colorable basis for predicting that a plaintiff may recover against non-diverse defendants, this Court must remand the action to state court.” Coyne, 183 F.3d at 493 (citing Alexander v. Electronic Data Sys. Corp., 13 F.3d 940, 949 (6th Cir.1994)). In evaluating whether fraudulent joinder has occurred, the court’s “inquiry is not whether the complaint states a claim, but whether there remains a possibility of a valid claim being stated against the in-state defendants.” Bertin-Resch v. U.S. Med. Mgt., LLC, No. 4:15CV0090, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 126517, 2015 WL 5595201, at *2 (N.D. Ohio Sept. 22, 2015).

The court here found that defendant Vanderbilt had not shown that the plaintiff had no chance of stating valid claims against the in-state defendants, DMS and Red Seal. The complaint specifically alleged that decedent was exposed to defendants’ “asbestos-containing products and/or asbestos-containing talc,” leaving the door open to possible exposures from all defendants generally, and thus the possibility of a valid claim being asserted against the in-state defendants. Additionally, defendants’ discovery responses provided in the case indicated that both in-state defendants previously sold asbestos-containing products, so there is at least some chance that they sold the asbestos-containing products that came into contact with decedent at his worksite.

Accordingly, the court granted the plaintiff’s motion to remand this matter to state court.

Read the full decision here.