United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana
ZAINEY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the Court is a Motion to Remand to State Court (Rec. Doc. 18)
filed by Plaintiffs Angela Haynes, Travis Haynes, and Mary
Netzer. Defendants Jonathan Sipola, Royal Sonesta, Inc. and
Sonesta International Hotels Corp. oppose the Motion. (Rec.
Docs. 26, 30). The Motion, set for submission on June 14,
2017, is before the Court on the briefs without oral
matter arises out of the alleged assault of Plaintiff Angela
Haynes by Defendant Jonathan Sipola at the Hotel Richelieu.
Plaintiff alleges that a Royal Sonesta waiter drugged her
glass of wine, aiding Sipola with her assault. At the time of
the alleged assault, Plaintiffs Angela Haynes and Mary Netzer
were staying in the Royal Sonesta Hotel in New Orleans. Mary
Netzer, Angela Haynes' mother, is also a plaintiff in
this lawsuit alleging mental anguish, negligent and
intentional infliction of emotional distress, and intentional
spoliation of evidence by Defendants Sipola and Royal
Sonesta. Plaintiffs now seek remand of this matter, alleging
that removal was improper. (Rec. Doc. 18).
Angela Haynes and Travis Haynes are domiciled in Indiana, and
Plaintiff Mary Netzer is domiciled in Minnesota. (Rec. Doc.
18-1). Defendant Jonathan Sipola is domiciled in Minnesota,
Defendant Royal Sonesta is a Louisiana corporation, and
Defendant Sonesta International Hotels is a Maryland
corporation. (Rec. Doc. 18-1). Because Plaintiff Mary Netzer
and Defendant Jonathan Sipola are domiciled in Minnesota,
Plaintiffs argue that removal was improper. Additionally,
Plaintiffs argue that removal was improper because Defendant
Royal Sonesta, Inc. is a citizen of Louisiana, the state from
which this matter was removed. (Rec. Doc. 18-1). Defendants
do not contest citizenship, but argue that the citizenship of
Plaintiff Mary Netzer and Defendant Royal Sonesta should be
ignored because Plaintiffs have no cause of action against
Defendant Royal Sonesta, and that Plaintiff Mary Netzer has
no cause of action against any of the Defendants (Rec. Docs.
seek remand of this matter to state court alleging that this
Court does not have subject matter jurisdiction and that the
removal was procedurally defective. Plaintiffs base their
argument on the fact that Mary Netzer and Defendant Sipola
are both Minnesota residents, and the fact that Defendant
Royal Sonesta is a citizen of Louisiana, the state from which
this matter was removed. Plaintiffs further argue that an
allegation of improper joinder places a heavy burden, which
Defendants have not met. Defendants recognize that Plaintiff
Mary Netzer is a Minnesota resident, but allege that her
inclusion in the suit and the inclusion of Royal Sonesta
should be ignored for diversity and removal purposes because
they were fraudulently joined in order to defeat
jurisdiction. Defendants argue that Plaintiff Mary Netzer has
no viable cause of action against any of the Defendants, and
that none of the Plaintiffs have a viable cause of action
against Defendant Royal Sonesta. Plaintiffs' Motion to
Remand turns on whether Royal Sonesta was improperly joined
to this lawsuit and whether Mary Netzer has a viable cause of
action against any of the Defendants.
Improper Joinder of Defendant Royal Sonesta
originally brought this matter to the State Court - Civil
District Court in New Orleans. Given that Royal Sonesta is a
citizen of Louisiana, Plaintiffs argue that this matter
should be remanded because 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b) prohibits
removal to Federal Court if any defendant is a citizen of the
state in which the action was brought. 28 U.S.C. §
1441(b). Defendants argue that this matter should remain in
Federal Court because none of the Plaintiffs have any viable
causes of action against Defendant Royal Sonesta.
the doctrine of improper joinder, or fraudulent joinder
doctrine, “the presence of an improperly
joined non-diverse” or in-state defendant does not
defeat federal diversity jurisdiction. Borden v. Allstate
Ins. Co., 589 F.3d 168, 171 (5th Cir. 2009). Courts must
look at “whether the defendant has demonstrated that
there is no possibility of recovery by the plaintiff against
an in-state or non-diverse defendant.” Salazar v.
Allstate Texas Lloyd's, Inc., 455 F.3d 571 (5th
Circ. 2006) (citing Smallwood v. Ill. Cent. R.R.,
385 F.3d 568 (5th Cir.2004)). The removing party bears the
burden of proof to demonstrate improper joinder, and the
burden “is a heavy one.” Griggs v. State Farm
Lloyds, 181 F.3d 694, 701 (5th Cir. 1999).
order to demonstrate improper joinder, the removing party
“must either show ‘(1) actual fraud in the
pleading of jurisdictional facts, or (2) inability of the
plaintiff to establish a cause of action against'”
the non-diverse or in-state party in state court.
Smallwood v. Illinois Central R. Co., 352 F.3d 220,
222 (5th Cir. 2003) (quoting Smallwood v. Ill. Cent. R.R.
Co., 342 F.3d 400 (5th Cir. 2003)). Defendants do not
allege actual fraud in the pleading of jurisdictional facts,
so only the second prong is at issue. Under this second
prong, Courts look to whether “there is ‘arguably
a reasonable basis for predicting that the state law might
impose liability on the facts involved.'”
Id. If there is no arguable basis for liability,
then the Court must “conclude that the plaintiff's
decision to join the local defendant was fraudulent.”
Angela Haynes alleges that an employee at the Royal Sonesta
Hotel conspired with and aided Defendant Sipola in assaulting
her. The Royal Sonesta Hotel is owned by Defendant Royal
Sonesta, and Plaintiffs assert that as owner, Royal Sonesta
is liable to Plaintiffs based on a failure to warn of the
potential danger, maintain adequate security, properly
inspect the premises, properly train/supervise employees, or
take reasonable precautions when hiring. Plaintiffs argue
because similar assaults had been occurring at the Royal
Sonesta Hotel, the assault of Angela Haynes was foreseeable.
Defendants argue that the Royal Sonesta, simply as owner of
the hotel did not owe a duty to Plaintiffs.
Court finds Defendants have not met their heavy burden of
proving that there is no arguable basis for liability on
Defendant Royal Sonesta to any of the Plaintiffs. Under
Louisiana law, if an “owner or manager became
aware of impending or possibly impending danger, he must warn
his patrons of the potential danger.” Fredericks v.
Daiquiris & Creams of Mandeville, LLC, 906 So.2d
636, 645 (La. Ct. App. 1 Cir. 2005) (emphasis added). The
Louisiana Court of Appeals for the First Circuit considered
the assault of one patron by another a potential danger that
an owner could be liable for if the danger was foreseeable.
Id. Additionally, a “proprietor must exercise
reasonable care to protect his guests from harm at the hands
of an employee, another guest, or a third party.”
Id. (citing Taylor v. Stewart, 672 So.2d
302, 306 (La.App. 1 Cir. 1996)). Thus, Louisiana law imposes
a duty on owners to protect guests from harm at the hand of
employees and other guests. Given the fact that Royal Sonesta
is the owner of the hotel where this assault occurred, the
Court is unconvinced that there lacks an arguable basis ...