United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, Pikeville
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER
GREGORY F. VAN TATENHOVE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the Court are Defendant Christopher Taylor's Motion to
Dismiss, and Plaintiff Debra Seals's Motion to Remand.
[R. 4; R. 7.] These motions are interrelated: Mr. Taylor
moves to dismiss on the grounds that he was fraudulently
joined after the applicable statute of limitations had
already run in order to defeat diversity jurisdiction and
prevent removal to federal court. Ms. Seals argues that
remand is appropriate, as Mr. Taylor was not fraudulently
joined because the claim against him relates back to the time
the initial pleading was filed. For the following reasons,
Mr. Taylor's Motion to Dismiss will be GRANTED, and Ms.
Seals's Motion to Remand will be DENIED.
facts of this case begin in a Wal-Mart parking lot. Plaintiff
Debra Seals alleges that, on or around December 13, 2016, she
purchased a fire place from a Wal-Mart store in Letcher
County, Kentucky. [R. 1-3 at 32.] When Defendant Christopher
Taylor, a Wal-Mart employee at that location, attempted to
load the fireplace into Ms. Seals's vehicle, he dropped
it on her and she was injured. [R. 1-3 at 118-23.] Ms.
Seals's daughter witnessed the incident. [R. 4-2.]
shy of a year later, Ms. Seals initiated a lawsuit against
Wal-Mart in Letcher County Circuit Court for her injuries.
[R. 1-3 at 3.] The original complaint named Wal-Mart as the
sole defendant and stipulated that the amount in controversy
was less than $75, 000. [R. 1-3 at 12.] Ms. Seals moved to
amend her complaint on August 6, 2018 in order to add claims
against Mr. Taylor as the employee whose negligence allegedly
injured her. [R. 1-3 at 29.] The Amended complaint also
sought to remove the limit on the amount of damages sought.
[R. 1-3 at 31-35; R. 5.] Wal-Mart opposed that motion. At a
hearing in Letcher County Circuit Court and by brief,
Wal-Mart argued-and still argues-that the claim against Mr.
Taylor was time-barred, and that Ms. Seals fraudulently
joined Mr. Taylor to the lawsuit in order to defeat diversity
and avoid removal to federal court. Mr. Taylor argues for
dismissal for the same reasons. To be clear, Mr. Taylor does
not dispute that he was the employee who assisted Mr. Seals
in loading the fireplace into her car. His sole argument for
dismissal- as well as Wal-Mart's argument for fraudulent
joinder-is that the claim against him is time barred.
Kentucky, personal injury claims such as Ms. Seals's are
subject to a one-year statute of limitations. Ky. Rev. Stat.
Ann. § 413.140(1)(a) (“The following actions shall
be commenced within one (1) year after the cause of action
accrued: (a) An action for an injury to the person of the
plaintiff[.]”). It is undisputed that Ms. Seals filed
her complaint against Wal-Mart before the one-year statute of
limitations expired. It is also undisputed that Ms. Seals
moved to amend her complaint to add Mr. Taylor as a party in
August, 2018, almost eight months after the one year had
elapsed. Thus, the crux of both pending motions is whether
the claim against Mr. Taylor relates back to the date of the
filing of the initial complaint. If the claim relates back,
then Mr. Taylor was not fraudulently joined, the Motion to
Dismiss must be denied, and the Motion to Remand must be
granted. If the claim does not relate back, then the opposite
motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) tests the
sufficiency of a plaintiff's complaint. In reviewing a
Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court “construe[s] the
complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff,
accept[s] its allegations as true, and draw[s] all inferences
in favor of the plaintiff.” DirecTV, Inc. v.
Treesh, 487 F.3d 471, 476 (6th Cir. 2007) (citation
omitted). The Court, however, “need not accept as true
legal conclusions or unwarranted factual inferences.”
Id. (quoting Gregory v. Shelby County, 220
F.3d 433, 446 (6th Cir. 2000)). The Supreme Court explained
that in order “[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a
complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as
true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on
its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct.
1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). See also Courier
v. Alcoa Wheel & Forged Products, 577 F.3d 625, 629
(6th Cir. 2009).
defendant may remove a civil action brought in state court to
federal court only if the action is one over which the
federal court could have exercised original jurisdiction.
See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1441, 1446. This Court
has original “diversity” jurisdiction over all
civil actions when “the matter in controversy exceeds
the sum or value of $75, 000, exclusive of interest and
costs, and the dispute is between” those who are
“citizens of different states.” 28 U.S.C. §
1332(a)(1). In making this assessment, the Court considers
whether federal jurisdiction existed at the time of removal.
See Everett v. Verizon Wireless, Inc., 460 F.3d 818,
822 (6th Cir. 2006). Because federal courts are courts of
limited jurisdiction, “the removal statute should be
strictly construed, ” and any doubts should be resolved
in favor of remanding the case to state court. Eastman v.
Marine Mech. Corp., 438 F.3d 544, 549 (6th Cir. 2006);
see also Cole, 728 F.Supp. at 1307 (citations
joinder is a “judicially created doctrine that provides
an exception to the requirement of complete diversity.”
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)). This doctrine is used
by courts “when the non-removing party joins a party
against whom there is no colorable cause of action.”
Saginaw Housing Comm'n v. Bannum, Inc., 576 F.3d
620, 624 (6th Cir. 2009) (citing Jerome-Duncan Inc. v.
Auto-By-Tel, LLC, 176 F.3d 904, 907 (6th Cir. 1999)).
This doctrine was created to prevent plaintiffs from
asserting claims against nondiverse defendants “for the
sole purpose of preventing removal.” McLeod v.
Cities Serv. Gas Co., 233 F.2d 242, 246 (10th Cir.
1956). If Ms. Seals's claim against Mr. Taylor has no
hope of success, then the “fraudulent joinder of
non-diverse defendants will not defeat removal on diversity
grounds.” Saginaw Housing Com'n, 579 F.3d
at 624 (quoting Coyne v. Am. Tobacco Co., 183 F.3d
488, 493 (6th Cir. 1999)).
Seals argues that this court should refuse to find fraudulent
joinder under the law of the case doctrine. According to Ms.
Seals, the Letcher Circuit Court has already considered, and
rejected, Wal-Mart's arguments about relation back when
it granted her Motion to Amend her complaint. “Under
the law of the case doctrine, a court is ordinarily precluded
from reexamining an issue previously decided by the same
court, or a higher court in the same case.” Pacific
Emplrs. Ins. Co. v. Sav-A-Lot, 291 F.3d 392, 398 (6th
Cir. 2002). The doctrine also applies to rulings made by
state courts prior to removal. Id. However, for the
law of the case doctrine to apply, there must actually be
some such ruling. It is true that the Letcher Circuit Court
granted Ms. Seals's Motion to Amend, but it did so
without any analysis of Wal-Mart's arguments. [R. 1-3 at
118.] In fact, in granting the motion the presiding Judge
stated, on the record, “those statute of limitations. .
. they might be ripe for another day.” [R. 5.] This is
not a decision on the merits of an ...