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Porter v. Stryker Corp.

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Lafayette Division

August 12, 2019

HAROLD PORTER
v.
STRYKER CORP., ET AL.

          SUMMERHAYS Judge

          MEMORANDUM RULING

          CAROL B. WHITEHURST UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Pending before the undersigned Magistrate Judge is the Motion to Remand [Doc. 8] filed by the plaintiff, Harold Porter (“plaintiff”). The motion is opposed by defendants Stryker Corporation, Mako Surgical Corporation, and Howmedica Osteonics Corporation (collectively, “defendants”) [Doc. 13]. For the reasons explained below, the motion is DENIED.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         On January 10, 2019, the plaintiff filed a petition in the Fifteenth Judicial District Court for the Parish of Lafayette, Louisiana against defendants Stryker, Mako, and Howmedica, as well as Lafayette General Surgical Hospital (“LGSH”), alleging that plaintiff underwent a Mako robotic-assisted knee replacement surgery at LGSH and that following this surgery, the plaintiff allegedly sustained tibial fractures in both knees, which required additional medical treatment. The plaintiff attributes these injuries to an allegedly faulty Mako system utilized during his initial surgery, which was “developed, manufactured, sold, and/or distributed by” Stryker, Mako, and/or Howmedica. With respect to LGSH, the plaintiff alleges that LGSH “failed in its duty owed plaintiff” as the owner and custodian responsible for ensuring the “proper care, maintenance and performance of” the Mako system.

         On March 1, 2019, defendants Stryker, Mako, and Howmedica removed this action on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. These defendants also filed a Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim [Doc. 6], which seeks to dismiss the claims against them as manufacturers of the Mako system on grounds the plaintiff failed to plead sufficient facts to establish the characteristics of the Mako system at issue that rendered it “unreasonably dangerous.” Defendants further contend that plaintiff failed to show that the alleged unspecified defects in the Mako system led to the plaintiff's alleged injuries. On March 29, 2019, plaintiff filed the instant Motion to Remand in which he asserts that this suit was improperly removed because LGSH is a Louisiana citizen, therefore, complete diversity is lacking.

         Analysis

         This suit was removed by the defendants on the basis of diversity. The defendants argue that LGSH, which is not diverse, was improperly joined. Specifically, the defendants contend that there is no possibility of recovery against LGSH because the plaintiff's claims against LGSH arise under the Louisiana Medical Malpractice Act, La. Rev. Stat. §40:1231.1, et al., and the plaintiff has failed to exhaust administrative remedies under the Act. The defendants assert that the claims have not been presented to a medical review panel, which is jurisdictionally necessary before the filing of the claim in federal court. Consequently, this Court must determine whether the plaintiff's claims against LGSH fall under the LMMA. If they do, this Court lacks jurisdiction over LGSH, and the citizenship of LGSH is, therefore, not considered by the Court in determining whether remand is appropriate.

         Federal district courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, possessing only the power authorized by the Constitution and by statute.[1] Accordingly, federal courts have subject-matter jurisdiction over only civil actions presenting a federal question[2] and those in which the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000 and the parties are citizens of different states.[3] For that reason, a suit is presumed to lie outside a federal court's jurisdiction until the party invoking federal-court jurisdiction establishes otherwise.[4] Because “the effect of removal is to deprive the state court of an action properly before it, removal raises significant federalism concerns.”[5] The removal statute must, therefore, be strictly construed, and any doubt about the propriety of removal must be resolved in favor of remand and against federal-court jurisdiction.[6] The party invoking subject-matter jurisdiction in federal court has the burden of establishing the court's jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence.[7] When an action is removed from state court, as this suit was, the removing party bears the burden of proving that federal-court jurisdiction exists.[8] Accordingly, the defendants, as the removing parties, have the burden of establishing that this Court has subject-matter jurisdiction over this action.

         To remove a case based on diversity jurisdiction, a defendant must demonstrate “that all of the prerequisites of diversity jurisdiction contained in 28 U.S.C. § 1332 are satisfied.”[9] Thus, the removing defendant must establish that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000 and that the parties are diverse in citizenship.[10] In this case, the removing defendants contend that these criteria are satisfied when the citizenship of LGSH, the allegedly improperly joined defendant, is disregarded, while the plaintiff argues that complete diversity does not exist because there is no basis for disregarding LGSH's citizenship.

         A. Does the Amount in Controversy Exceed the Statutory Threshold?

         The amount in controversy is the sum claimed by the plaintiff in his complaint if the claim was apparently made in good faith.[11] When the complaint does not state a specific amount of damages, the defendant must establish by a preponderance of the evidence that the amount in controversy exceeds the jurisdictional threshold.[12] This burden can be satisfied either by demonstrating that the amount in controversy is facially apparent from the plaintiff's pleadings or by setting forth the facts in controversy with summary-judgment-type evidence that support a finding of the requisite amount.[13] In this case, the plaintiff alleges that he underwent a Mako robotic-assisted knee replacement surgery at LGSH and that following this surgery, he sustained tibial fractures in both knees, requiring two additional major reconstructive surgeries. Although no specific amount of damages is stated in the Petition, common sense indicates that it is more likely than not that if plaintiff is successful, he would recover damages in excess of $75, 000. Accordingly, the undersigned finds that it is facially apparent that the plaintiff's claims exceed the $75, 000 statutory threshold for jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332.

         B. Are the parties diverse in citizenship?

         The basis upon which jurisdiction depends must be alleged affirmatively and distinctly and cannot be established argumentatively or by inference.[14] Therefore, when jurisdiction depends on citizenship, citizenship must be distinctly and affirmatively alleged.[15]

         The defendants in this lawsuit are corporations. Under 28 U.S.C. §1332(c)(1), a corporation is deemed to be a citizen of any state in which it is incorporated and any state where it has its principal place of business. A party invoking diversity jurisdiction, therefore, must allege both the state of incorporation and the principal place of business of each corporate party.[16]

         In their removal notice, the defendants establish that Mako is a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Florida; Stryker is a Michigan corporation with its principal place of business in Michigan; and Howmedica is a New Jersey corporation with its principal place of business in New Jersey. Defendants further state that LGSH is a Louisiana limited liability company that is domiciled in Lafayette, Louisiana, making it a citizen of Louisiana for diversity purposes. Because the plaintiff is also a Louisiana citizen, defendants concede that LGSH is non-diverse but argue that LGSH was improperly joined and its citizenship should not be considered for jurisdictional purposes.

         At the time of removal, these allegations were sufficient to permit the undersigned to evaluate the citizenship of the parties. If LGSH's citizenship is disregarded, as requested by the defendants, the parties are diverse, and the motion to remand should be denied. If LGSH's citizenship must be considered, however, diversity is destroyed. The undersigned must determine, therefore, whether LGSH was improperly joined.

         C. Was LGSH Improperly Joined?

         To establish the improper joinder of a non-diverse defendant, the removing defendants must demonstrate actual fraud in the pleading of jurisdictional facts, or the inability of the plaintiff to establish a cause of action against the non-diverse party in state court.[17] A defendant who contends that a non-diverse party is improperly joined, however, has a heavy burden of proof.[18]

         In this case, the defendants argue that that LGSH is improperly joined because there is no possibility of recovery by the plaintiff against them. In determining whether there is a reasonable basis for state liability, which requires a reasonable probability of recovery, the court must ordinarily evaluate all of the factual allegations in the plaintiff's state court pleadings in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. The court must then resolve all contested issues of substantive fact in favor of the plaintiff.[19] If the court finds that there is no possibility of recovery ...


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