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Hotard v. Sam's East, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

June 6, 2019

KATHRYN HOTARD AND ALBERT HOTARD, JR.
v.
SAM'S EAST, INC. AND JOSEPH BALDWIN

          NOTICE AND ORDER

          ERIN WILDER-DOOMES UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This is a civil action involving claims for damages based upon the injuries allegedly sustained by Kathryn Hotard (“Kathryn”) on April 8, 2018 when Kathryn tripped and fell on an uneven area of the parking lot of a Sam's Club store owned and/or operated by Defendant Sam's East, Inc. (“Sam's”) in East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana (the “Accident”).[1] Kathryn alleges that the Accident was caused by the fault and negligence of Sam's, and its store manager, Defendant Joseph Baldwin (“Baldwin”), in failing to maintain the parking lot in a safe condition.[2]

         On or about April 9, 2019, Kathryn and her husband Albert Hotard, Jr. (“Albert”) (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) filed their Petition for Damages (“Petition”) against Sam's and Baldwin in the Nineteenth Judicial District Court for the Parish of East Baton Rouge asserting the foregoing claims and alleging that Sam's and Baldwin are jointly and/or solidarily liable to Plaintiffs.[3] On May 13, 2019, Sam's removed the matter to this Court asserting that this Court has diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332.[4]

         Citizenship

         Proper information regarding the citizenship of all parties, and the amount in controversy, is necessary to establish the Court's diversity jurisdiction, as well as to make the determination required under 28 U.S.C. § 1441 regarding whether the case was properly removed to this Court. The Notice of Removal alleges that Plaintiffs are domiciliaries of Louisiana and that Sam's is an Arkansas corporation with its principal place of business in Arkansas, [5] so these parties appear to be diverse. As set forth in the Petition and the Notice of Removal, however, Baldwin is not diverse from Plaintiffs.[6] Sam's asserts that Baldwin is “alleged to be a natural person of the full age of majority and a domiciliary of the Parish of East Baton Rouge, State of Louisiana. Mr. Baldwin was alleged to be the store manager of the Sam's Club…Mr. Baldwin has not been served and is improperly joined. Therefore his consent is not needed for removal.”[7] Sam's contends that Plaintiffs have not pled any factual allegations against Baldwin personally and have no cause of action against him.[8] For these reasons, Sam's contends that Baldwin was fraudulently and/or improperly joined as a defendant by Plaintiffs in order to defeat diversity jurisdiction, and the “alleged lack of diversity caused by his presence does not bar removal by this Court.”[9] Plaintiffs' Petition asserts:

11.
Defendant, Joseph Baldwin, was at the time of this incident the store manager of Sam's Club store described above where the incident occurred and plaintiffs in this paragraph, plead by reference and reiterate the same allegations against Mr. Baldwin as are alleged against Sam's East, Inc. in paragraphs 8, 9, and 10 of this petition.[10]

         Considering Sam's position that complete diversity exists when the citizenship of Baldwin is not considered, Plaintiffs will be required to file either a motion to remand addressing the joinder of Joseph Baldwin, or an amended complaint deleting all claims against Baldwin if Plaintiffs agree Baldwin is improperly joined.

         Amount in Controversy

         With respect to the amount in controversy, it is not clear from the Notice of Removal or the Petition whether Plaintiffs' claims likely exceed $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs.[11] The Petition alleges Plaintiffs' injuries as follows:

6.
The trauma of this incident has caused serious injuries to plaintiff.
12.
As a direct result of this incident, plaintiff, Kathryn Hotard, suffered significant injuries to her person, and said injuries having caused plaintiff severe, continuing ...

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