United States District Court for the District of the Virgin Islands, Division of St. Croix, May 25, 2021.
In this action, the plaintiffs, multiple former oil refinery workers, asserted state law tort claims for asbestos-related injuries against Hess Corp. and Hess Oil Virgin Islands Corp. (HOVIC). Hess is a Delaware corporation based in New York. HOVIC is a Virgin Islands corporation with its principal place of business in New York. The action was originally filed in the Superior Court of the Virgin Islands, St. Croix Division.
Following the filing of new cases against Hess and HOVIC, along with other defendants, Hess removed most of these cases to the United States District Court for the District of the Virgin Islands, Division of St. Croix. Hess asserted that diversity jurisdiction existed because HOVIC had merged with Hess. While these cases were pending, additional former refinery workers filed separate actions in the Superior Court against Hess and HOVIC. Hess removed these cases based on diversity jurisdiction and filed Answers in each of the cases on the same date. Nineteen days later, the plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint reasserting the claims against Hess and HOVIC, and adding Virgin Islands Industrial Maintenance Corp. (IMC) as a defendant. The plaintiffs also sought to remand the action to the Superior Court. IMC is a Virgin Islands corporation with its principal place of business in the Virgin Islands.
The plaintiffs assert that the addition of IMC as a defendant resulted in a lack of complete diversity. In opposition, the defendants claim that the plaintiffs’ ability to amend their complaint was limited by 28 U.S.C. § 1447(e), and that the court should reject the Amended Complaint and retain jurisdiction.
The court considered the applicability of two provisions: FED. R. CIV. P. 15(a) and 28 U.S.C. § 1447(e). The court found that the plaintiffs satisfied Rule 15(a) by filing their Amended Complaint within 21 days of Hess filing its Answer. The court then applied § 1447(e) by weighing the Hensgens v. Deere & Co. factors: “(1) the extent to which the purpose of the amendment is to defeat federal jurisdiction; (2) whether plaintiff has been dilatory in asking for amendment; (3) whether plaintiff will be significantly injured if amendment is not allowed; and (4) any other factors bearing on the equities.”
The court found that the first factor weighed in favor of denying joinder and retaining jurisdiction. However, it concluded that the remaining three factors weighed in favor of permitting joinder and remanding to the Superior Court. Finally, the court found that the defendants failed to establish fraudulent joinder. Accordingly, the court granted the plaintiffs’ motion to remand.