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Handshoe v. Depuy Synthes Sales, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, Pikeville

August 27, 2019

BILLY HANDSHOE, Plaintiff,
v.
DEPUY SYNTHES SALES, INC., et al., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          ROBERT E. WIER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Billy Handshoe filed suit in Floyd Circuit Court, alleging damages as a result of the supposed failure of the Attune Knee System, a device used during Handshoe's knee replacement surgery. DE 1-1 Complaint ¶ 5. Handshoe asserts claims against DePuy Synthes Sales, Inc. d/b/a DePuy Synthes Joint Reconstruction and other related entities associated with the design, manufacture, marketing, sale, or distribution of the device (collectively, Device Defendants); the hospital where Handshoe's knee replacement took place, Highlands Hospital Corporation d/b/a Highlands Regional Medical Center; and a DePuy sales representative for the device, Dan Hopewell, LLC and Dan Hopewell (collectively, Hopewell). Id. ¶¶ 6-36 & Counts I-XII.

         Handshoe is a Kentucky citizen. Id. ¶ 5. Device Defendants are citizens of Delaware, Indiana, Massachusetts, New Jersey, the United Kingdom, and Ireland. DE 1 ¶¶ 6-13. Highlands is a Kentucky citizen. Complaint ¶ 204. Citizenship of Dan Hopewell, LLC, follows the citizenship of its sole member, [1] Dan Hopewell, who Device Defendants allege is a Kentucky resident. DE 1 ¶ 13. In short, Handshoe and Device Defendants are diverse, but Handshoe, Highlands, and (likely) Hopewell share Kentucky citizenship.[2]

         I. Posture

         Device Defendants filed a notice of removal. DE 1. The Court then ordered Device Defendants to show cause why the case should not be remanded for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. DE 6. Device Defendants (DE 22) and Handshoe (DE 38) responded. Device Defendants replied. DE 40.

         Based on lack of diversity, Handshoe moves to remand this case to Floyd Circuit Court. DE 23. Device Defendants opposed. DE 39. Handshoe replied. DE 41. The show-cause and motion filings fully cover the relevant issues.

         II. Discussion

         The subject-matter jurisdiction of federal courts is limited. Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 114 S.Ct. 1673, 1675 (1994). There is a presumption against federal subject-matter jurisdiction, which the party seeking to proceed in federal court must overcome. Id.

         As relevant to this matter, a federal court may exercise subject-matter jurisdiction based on diversity of citizenship. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1). Diversity must be complete- that is, no plaintiff may share state citizenship with any defendant. Jerome-Duncan, Inc. v. Auto-By-Tel, L.L.C., 176 F.3d 904, 907 (6th Cir. 1999).

         The federal removal statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1441, authorizes removal of cases from state courts to federal courts that would have had original jurisdiction over the action. § 1441(a)-(b). “The party seeking removal bears the burden of demonstrating that the district court has original jurisdiction.” Eastman v. Marine Mech. Corp., 438 F.3d 544, 549-50 (6th Cir. 2006). The Court must resolve all doubts about the propriety of contested removal in favor of remand and strictly construe removal statutes. Id.; Coyne ex rel. Ohio v. Am. Tobacco Co., 183 F.3d 488, 493 (6th Cir. 1999).

         Here, as the removing party invoking federal jurisdiction, Device Defendants must demonstrate a jurisdictional basis. Despite the presence of three non-diverse defendants, Device Defendants argue that the Court has diversity-based subject-matter jurisdiction. Device Defendants ask the Court to disregard Highlands's citizenship because Handshoe fraudulently misjoined his hospital-negligence claim with the products-liability and other claims against Device Defendants.[3] Device Defendants further contend that Hopewell's citizenship is irrelevant because Handshoe fraudulently joined Hopewell, against whom Handshoe asserts negligence and negligent misrepresentation claims. Device Defendants also argue that such fraudulent joinder renders irrelevant the procedural issue of Hopewell's failure to join in or consent to removal.

         Device Defendants thus raise two distinct joinder issues: fraudulent misjoinder and fraudulent joinder. Both doctrines relate to treatment of claims against non-diverse defendants that ostensibly operate to defeat complete diversity and thereby prevent removal. A fraudulent misjoinder theory attacks a facially viable claim based on the absence of a joinder nexus between claims asserted against diverse and non-diverse defendants; a fraudulent joinder theory disputes the facial validity of a claim against a non-diverse defendant.

         The Court concludes that Handshoe properly joined Highlands, a party allegedly sharing fault and causing harm in the criticized knee replacement surgery. Fraudulent misjoinder as a doctrine (extant or not in this Circuit) thus would not impact jurisdiction here. Because the parties are not completely diverse, the Court remands without evaluating Hopewell's joinder or other removal mechanics.

         Fraudulent ...


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