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Brundage v. MV Transportation, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

April 3, 2017

EVELYN BRUNDAGE, Plaintiff,
v.
MV TRANSPORTATION, INC. Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          Stephanie A. Gallagher United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Evelyn Brundage (“Plaintiff”) brought this action against Defendant MV Transportation, Inc. (“MV”) for injuries she sustained while attempting to board a van MV operated for Maryland Transit Administration Mobility Paratransit Services (“MTA Mobility”). See [ECF No. 3]. The parties consented to proceed before a magistrate judge. See [ECF Nos. 11, 13]. Now pending are Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to Amend and Remand (“Motion to Amend”), [ECF No. 16], Defendant's Motion to Permit Filing of Audio Recording (“Motion to File Audio Recording”), [ECF No. 20], and Plaintiff's Motion to Strike Defendant's Supplement, [ECF No. 22]. I have considered these motions and the other related filings. [ECF Nos. 17, 18, 21, 23]. No hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the reasons set forth herein, Plaintiff's Motion to Amend will be GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART, Defendant's Motion to File Audio Recording will be DENIED, and Plaintiff's Motion to Strike Defendant's Supplement will be DENIED.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         On July 29, 2014, Plaintiff fell and severely injured her shoulder while attempting to enter an MTA Mobility van outside of her home in Baltimore, Maryland. See Pl.'s Am. Compl., [ECF No. 3 at ¶¶ 1, 11]. MV owned and operated the van pursuant to a transportation service contract with MTA Mobility. See Id. at ¶ 4. According to Plaintiff, the driver of the van (“MV Employee”) breached a duty owed by paratransit operators to ensure the safe transport of disabled passengers by failing to help Plaintiff safely board the van. See Id. at ¶¶ 3-14.

         Plaintiff filed suit against MV in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City under a respondeat superior theory of liability. See Id. Thereafter, MV, a California corporation headquartered in Texas, removed the case to this Court under 28 U.S.C. § 1441, invoking the Court's original jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. See [ECF No. 1]. Plaintiff filed an amended complaint (“First Amended Complaint”) the same day that MV removed the case. See Pl.'s Am. Compl., [ECF No. 3]. On November 28, 2016, the Court issued a Scheduling Order, see [ECF No. 10], and the parties have since engaged in discovery efforts including exchanging Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(a)(1) initial disclosures, participating in expert and witness depositions, serving written discovery, and conducting an independent medical examination of Plaintiff's injuries. See Pl.'s Mot., [ECF No. 16, 3]; Def.'s Opp., [ECF No. 17, 7]; Def.'s Supp., [ECF No. 21, 3]. Plaintiff now timely moves to file a Second Amended Complaint in order to 1) join the MV driver, Angela Paige, as a non-diverse defendant to the suit, and 2) correct factual errors in the First Amended Complaint. See Pl.'s Mot., [ECF No. 16, 1 & Ex. 2]. Plaintiff simultaneously moves to remand this matter to the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, because joining Ms. Paige necessarily defeats the Court's diversity jurisdiction. See Pl.'s Reply, [ECF No. 18, 4 n.1]. MV consents to Plaintiff's proposed factual amendments, Def.'s Opp., [ECF No. 17, 2 at n.1], but opposes Plaintiff's desire to join a non-diverse party. Id.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15 provides that a party seeking to amend its pleading after twenty-one days following service may do so “only with the opposing party's written consent or the court's leave.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(1)(B). Furthermore, the Rule requires courts to “freely give leave when justice so requires.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). The Fourth Circuit has liberally construed this standard, such that leave to amend should be denied only if prejudice, bad faith, or futility is present. See Johnson v. Oroweat Foods Co., 785 F.2d 503, 509 (4th Cir. 1986) (interpreting Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178 (1962)); Hart v. Hanover Cnty. Sch. Bd., 495 F. App'x 314, 315 (4th Cir. 2012).

         The decision whether to allow a party to join a non-diverse defendant after a case has been removed rests within the “sound discretion” of the district court. Mayes v. Rapoport, 198 F.3d 457, 461-62 (4th Cir. 1999). In such cases, the district court “may deny the joinder, or may permit the joinder and remand the action to the State court.” 28 U.S.C. § 1447(e). “In exercising its discretion under Section 1447(e), the district court [is] entitled to consider all relevant factors, including: ‘the extent to which the purpose of the amendment is to defeat federal jurisdiction, whether the plaintiff has been dilatory in asking for amendment, whether the plaintiff will be significantly injured if amendment is not allowed, and any other factors bearing on the equities.'” Mayes, 198 F.3d at 462 (citations omitted). In addition, though the fraudulent joinder doctrine does not directly apply to post-removal cases, the district court may consider, as one factor, whether the movant seeks to join a non-diverse party solely to deprive the court of diversity jurisdiction. Id. at 463.

         III. DISCUSSION

         1. Factual Corrections

         Plaintiff proposes two relatively minor factual corrections to the First Amended Complaint. First, Plaintiff now alleges she fell and injured her left shoulder, rather than her right shoulder. See Pl.'s Mot., [ECF No. 16, 3] Second, while Plaintiff originally claimed that Ms. Paige drove across a double yellow line in the roadway prior to pulling up to Plaintiff's home, Plaintiff now indicates that the roadway does not have marked traffic lanes. Id. As previously noted, MV does not oppose Plaintiff's proposed factual amendments. Def.'s Opp., [ECF No. 17, 2 at n.1]. With MV's consent, and finding no indicia of prejudice, bad faith, or futility to otherwise warrant denial of these amendments, see Johnson, 785 F.2d at 509, the Court grants Plaintiff's motion to file a Second Amended Complaint containing the factual corrections.[1]

         2. Joinder of Non-Diverse Party

         Plaintiff also proposes to join Ms. Paige, an MV Employee and a resident of Baltimore City, as an additional defendant whose negligence directly caused Plaintiff “serious and permanent injuries.” See Pl.'s Mot., [ECF No. 16, 1-4 & Ex. 4]. The parties offer lengthy and opposing accounts regarding whether the equities favor or disfavor permitting Plaintiff's proposed joinder of a non-diverse party. See Pl.'s Mot., [ECF No. 16, 3-9]; Def.'s Opp., [ECF No. 17, 3-7]; Pl.'s Reply, [ECF No. 18, 3-10]. Ultimately,

[t]he district court, when faced with an amended pleading naming a new nondiverse defendant in a removed case, should scrutinize that amendment more closely than an ordinary amendment and should conduct a balancing of the equities involved. On the one hand is the danger of parallel lawsuits in federal and state court, which may spawn inconsistent results and inefficient use of judicial resources. On ...

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