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Ragsdale v. Amsted Rail Co., Inc.

United States District Court, Tenth Circuit

December 19, 2013

STEVEN L. RAGSDALE, Plaintiff,
v.
AMSTED RAIL COMPANY, INC. d/b/a GRIFFIN WHEEL, and BRIAN ROBINSON Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

ERIC F. MELGREN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

Plaintiff Steven Ragsdale filed his petition in the District Court of Wyandotte County, Kansas asserting that Defendants Amsted Rail and Brian Robinson wrongfully terminated his employment in retaliation for filing a workers’ compensation claim and that these two Defendants conspired to wrongfully terminate his employment. Defendant Amsted Rail removed the case to federal court asserting diversity jurisdiction despite Robinson’s citizenship in Kansas. Amsted Rail contends that Plaintiff fraudulently joined Robinson in an effort to defeat diversity jurisdiction. Plaintiff Ragsdale now seeks to have this case remanded to state court (Doc. 10), and Defendant Robinson requests that the Court dismiss the claims against him because Plaintiff fails to state a claim (Doc. 3). Because the Court concludes that Defendant Robinson was fraudulently joined in this case, and as described more fully below, the Court denies Plaintiff’s motion to remand and grants Defendant Robinson’s motion to dismiss.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

On April 25, 2013, Plaintiff Steven Ragsdale commenced this action by filing in the District Court of Wyandotte County, Kansas.[1] Plaintiff alleged that he was injured on the job in November 2011, and he filed a workers’ compensation claim against Defendant Amsted Rail. Amsted Rail is incorporated in Delaware and its principal place of business is in Illinois. Defendant Brian Robinson is the manager of Human Resources & Safety at Amsted Rail’s facility in Wyandotte County. Robinson is a citizen of Kansas. On June 21, 2012, Plaintiff was terminated.

Plaintiff asserts two causes of action. He first asserts that Defendants wrongfully terminated him in retaliation for filing a workers’ compensation claim. Plaintiff also asserts civil conspiracy alleging that Defendants conspired to wrongfully terminate Plaintiff’s employment.

On May 30, 2013, Defendant Amsted Rail filed its Notice of Removal. Amsted Rail contends that this Court has jurisdiction, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332, based upon diversity between the parties and the amount of controversy exceeds $75, 000. In its Notice of Removal, Amsted Rail contends that although Robinson is a citizen of Kansas, this Court has diversity jurisdiction because Plaintiff fraudulently joined Robinson.

There are now two motions pending before the Court. Defendant Robinson filed a Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 3) contending that Plaintiff fails to state a claim against him. Plaintiff Ragsdale filed a Motion to Remand (Doc. 10) asserting that he properly asserted a claim against Defendant Robinson and the case therefore lacks diversity and should be remanded back to Wyandotte County.

II. Legal Standard

A civil action filed in state court is only removable if the action could have originally been brought in federal court.[2] Diversity jurisdiction requires that the amount in controversy exceed $75, 000 and that each defendant is a resident of a different state than each plaintiff.[3]

The party requesting removal has the burden of establishing the federal court’s jurisdiction.[4] “Removal jurisdiction over diversity cases is more limited than jurisdiction over diversity cases originally brought in federal court because removal based on diversity is available only if none of the defendants is a citizen of the state in which the action is brought.”[5] “Because federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, there is a presumption against federal jurisdiction.”[6] If there are any doubts regarding the federal court’s jurisdiction, the court must resolve these doubts in favor of remand.[7]

A plaintiff, however, cannot defeat the right of removal by fraudulently joining a non-diverse defendant who has “no real connection with the controversy.”[8] “Fraudulent joinder is a term of art; it does not reflect on the integrity of the plaintiff or counsel, but exists regardless of the plaintiff’s motives when the circumstances do not offer any other justifiable reason for joining the defendant.”[9] “[U]pon specific allegations of fraudulent joinder, the court may pierce the pleadings, consider the entire record, and determine the basis of joinder by any means available.”[10]

The party seeking removal and asserting fraudulent joinder has a heavy burden.[11] To establish fraudulent joinder, the removing party must establish that “there is no possibility that plaintiff would be able to establish a cause of action against the defendant in state court.”[12] All disputed questions of fact or ambiguities in law must be resolved in favor of the non-removing party.[13] Remand is required if there is the possibility of the viability of any of the claims against the non-diverse defendant.[14] “[T]he propriety of removal is judged on the complaint as it stands at the time of the removal.”[15]

III. Analysis

Defendants contend that Defendant Robinson cannot be held individually liable for Plaintiff’s claim for workers’ compensation retaliatory discharge. And because Robinson cannot be held liable for the underlying tort of wrongful discharge, Defendants assert that Robinson cannot commit civil conspiracy. Thus, Defendants contend that Robinson was fraudulently joined to the action because Plaintiff cannot state a claim against the non-diverse Defendant, and Defendant Robinson should be dismissed from the action. Plaintiff disagrees and contends that he adequately states a claim ...


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