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N.E. Bridge Contractors, Inc. v. Aspen Aerials, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

March 7, 2019

N.E. Bridge Contractors, Inc., Plaintiff,
Aspen Aerials, Inc., Defendant.



         This jurisdictional dispute arises out of an underlying tort suit where a truck equipped for bridge-inspecting malfunctioned. The plaintiff initially filed its suit in state court and defendant removed to federal court. Shortly thereafter, plaintiff amended its complaint to add a non-diverse defendant and moved to remand.

         I. Background

         In late 2016, N.E. Bridge Contractors, Inc. (“Bridge Contractors” or “plaintiff”) purchased a new truck from Tri State Truck Center, Inc. (“Tri State”). In January, 2017, the truck was shipped from Tri State to Minnesota, where Aspen Aerials, Inc. (“Aspen” or “defendant”) affixed bridge inspection equipment (“the A-62”) onto the truck. Plaintiff took delivery of the truck with the A-62 equipment in July, 2017. One year later, the truck malfunctioned while it was rented out to a third party.

         On August 6, 2018, Bridge Contractors, a Massachusetts company, filed suit against Aspen, a Minnesota company, in Bristol County Superior Court. Shortly after filing its initial complaint, plaintiff moved for a preliminary injunction to prevent Aspen from selling its assets to a third party. The Bristol County Superior Court declined to hear argument on that motion but did hear argument on another motion for a preliminary injunction that plaintiff sought against Aspen with respect to a different suit that arose in Rhode Island. As part of the two requests for injunctive relief, plaintiff sought to attach Aspen's assets located in Minnesota. On August 10, 2018, plaintiff filed a separate suit in Minnesota, where Aspen was named as the only defendant.

         One week later, Aspen removed the initial Bristol County Superior Court action to this Court and had until September 11, 2018, to respond to the removed complaint. Before it did so, plaintiff filed an amended complaint on August 23 pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(1)(A), which added Western Star Truck Sales Inc., an Oregon corporation and the manufacturer of the truck (“Western Star”) and Tri State, a Massachusetts corporation, as defendants (“the additional defendants”). Plaintiff filed its motion to remand the day after filing its amended complaint.

         Aspen alleges that plaintiff deliberately added a non-diverse defendant to destroy diversity through improper amendment under Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(1). It further contends that under 28 U.S.C. § 1447, 1) Tri State is a dispensable party that should be dismissed from this action and 2) the Court should exercise its equitable power to reject plaintiff's amendment.

         Plaintiff responds that the claims against Aspen and the additional defendants arise from the same nexus of operative facts and that the district court has discretion under § 1447(e) to remand and not to apply Fed.R.Civ.P. 19(b) mechanically. It submits that 1) it intended all along to amend the initial complaint, 2) it was distracted by the pending preliminary injunction motions in state court and 3) even under a Fed.R.Civ.P. 19(b) analysis, Tri State is an indispensable party to this suit.

         II. Legal Analysis

         A. Fraudulent Joinder Doctrine

         The doctrine of “fraudulent joinder”, in which a district court can disregard, for jurisdictional purposes, the citizenship of non-diverse defendants at the time of removal, does not apply after a case has been removed. Universal Truck & Equip. Co. v. Southworth-Milton, Inc., 765 F.3d 103, 108 (1st Cir. 2014); Kauders v. Uber Techs., Inc., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 65912, at *5 (D. Mass. May 1, 2017) (citing Mayes v. Rapoport, 198 F.3d 457, 461 (4th Cir. 1999) (fraudulent joinder has no effect once the district court actually possesses jurisdiction, including after the case has been properly removed)).

         At issue here is whether Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(1) permits a plaintiff to add a non-diverse party as a matter of course after removal. Although the First Circuit has not addressed that precise issue, most courts have concluded that plaintiffs cannot destroy diversity through amendment as a matter of right and have, instead, analyzed whether joinder of the non-diverse defendant is appropriate under 28 U.S.C. § 1447(e) in the first instance. Kauders, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 65912, at *7; see also Casas Office Machines, Inc. v. Mita Copystar Am., Inc., 42 F.3d 668 (1st Cir. 1994) (annulling a district court's diversity jurisdiction when the district court allowed the plaintiff to substitute an unidentified defendant with a newly identified, non-diverse defendant after removal).

         B. § 1447(e) Analysis

         Although the First Circuit has not addressed the precise issue of Rule 15 amendments post-removal, both the Fourth and Fifth Circuits found that such joinder is to be determined by the “sound discretion” of the district court and does not require a strict Fed.R.Civ.P. 19(b) analysis for dispensability. Mayes v. Rapoport, 198 F.3d 457, 462 (4th Cir. 1999); Hensgens v. Deere & Co., 833 F.2d 1179 (5th Cir. 1987). In ...

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