United States District Court, D. Maryland
Xinis, United States District Judge
before the Court is Plaintiffs' motion to remand this
action to the Circuit Court for Allegany County, Maryland.
ECF No. 11. The motion is fully briefed and the Court rules
under Local Rule 105.6 because no hearing is necessary. For
the reasons that follow, the Court grants the motion and
remands this case to Allegany County Circuit Court for all
Robert Candy, Animal Park, Care & Rescue, Inc. and
Tri-State Zoological Park of Western Maryland, Inc. operate a
small zoo in Cumberland, Maryland. ECF No. 2 ¶ 12.
According to Plaintiffs, People for the Ethical Treatment of
Animals, Inc. (“PETA”) began targeting the zoo in
2014 for the zoo's alleged mistreatment of the animals.
Id. ¶¶ 11, 14. PETA has sent agents to the
zoo to photograph and record surreptitiously the animals and
their habitats. Id. ¶ 15. To gain entry to the
zoo, certain PETA agents affirmatively denied their
affiliation with PETA to zoo personnel. Others, including
named Defendants Holly Brown and Casey Brown (“the
Brown sisters”), entered the zoo without first
identifying themselves as PETA affiliates, in violation of
the zoo's requirements as posted at the zoo's
entrance. ECF No. 11 ¶¶ 13-14. PETA subsequently
published at least one photograph of the zoo's conditions
that the Brown sisters had taken. ECF No. 2 ¶ 30.
Additionally, PETA has alleged mistreatment of the zoo
animals on its website, social media platforms, and email
lists, documenting the conditions in part by its unauthorized
entry onto zoo grounds. ¶¶ 35, 37. PETA also filed
complaints in the Department of Agriculture and before this
Court. Id. ¶ 27; People for the Ethical
Treatment of Animals, Inc. v. Tri-State Zoological Park of
Western Md., Inc. et al., No. PX-17-2148, 2018 WL 434229
(D. Md. Jan. 16, 2018).
23, 2018, Plaintiffs filed this lawsuit in the Allegany
County Circuit Court against PETA and its agents for
defamation, false light, tortious interference with business
relations/prospective advantage, civil conspiracy, trespass,
and fraud. ECF No. 2 ¶¶ 47-69. Plaintiffs claimed
damages of $74, 500 for each count. Id. The
Defendants thereafter removed the action to this Court,
alleging diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C.
§1332(a). ECF No. 1 ¶ 12.
20, 2018, Plaintiffs moved to remand this action to the
Allegany County Circuit Court and requested attorneys'
fees for their efforts. ECF No. 11. Plaintiffs noted that the
parties are not completely diverse because Plaintiffs and at
least two named Defendants, the Brown sisters, are all
citizens of Maryland. Id. ¶ 2. PETA does not
contest that Plaintiffs and the Brown sisters are Maryland
citizens, but rather contends that the Brown sisters were
“added solely as a means to defeat diversity
jurisdiction.” Id. ¶ 28. It is undisputed
that all remaining Defendants are citizens of states other
than Maryland. ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 20-25. Accordingly, if
the Court agrees that the Brown sisters have been
fraudulently joined, and if the amount in controversy is met,
then the action must not be remanded. For the following
reasons, the Court GRANTS the motion to remand.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Court is one of limited jurisdiction, authorized to hear
civil cases giving rise to a federal question or brought
pursuant to the Court's diversity jurisdiction. Exxon
Mobile Corp. v. Allapattah Servs., Inc., 545 U.S. 546,
552 (2005). Diversity jurisdiction is proper where the amount
in controversy exceeds $75, 000 and complete diversity exists
such that no plaintiff is a citizen of the same state as any
defendant. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a); Johnson v. Am.
Towers, LLC, 781 F.3d 693, 704 (2015). Where diversity
jurisdiction is proper, a defendant may remove the case to
federal court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441.
Caterpillar, Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392
(1987); Mulcahey v. Columbia Organic Chems. Co., 29
F.3d 148, 151 (4th Cir. 1994).
removal jurisdiction raises significant federalism concerns,
[courts] must strictly construe removal jurisdiction.”
Mulcahey, 29 F.3d at 151; see also Cohn v.
Charles, 857 F.Supp.2d 544, 547 (D. Md. 2012)
(“Doubts about the propriety of removal are to be
resolved in favor of remanding the case to state
court.”). The defendant, as removing party, bears the
burden of “demonstrating the court's jurisdiction
over the matter.” See Md. Stadium Auth. v. Ellerbe
Becket, Inc., 407 F.3d 255, 260 (4th Cir. 2005);
Strawn v. AT&T Mobility, LLC, 530 F.3d 293, 296
(4th Cir. 2008).
principally contend that diversity jurisdiction exists
because Plaintiffs have fraudulently joined the Brown sisters
for the sole purpose of defeating diversity. ECF No. 11
¶ 28. Where defendants are joined fraudulently, district
courts “can disregard, for jurisdictional purposes, the
citizenship of certain nondiverse defendants.”
Weidman v. Exxon Mobile Corp., 776 F.3d 214, 218
(4th Cir. 2015) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting
Mayes v. Rapoport, 198 F.3d 457, 461 (4th Cir.
1999)). The party seeking to establish fraudulent joinder
must demonstrate “either that the plaintiff committed
outright fraud in pleading jurisdictional facts, or that
there is no possibility that the plaintiff would be able to
establish a cause of action against the in-state defendant in
state court.” Weidman, 776 F.3d at 218
(internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Mayes,
198 F.3d at 464).
the lens through which the Court considers the question of
fraudulent joinder “is even more favorable to the
plaintiff than the standard for ruling on a motion to dismiss
under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).”
Hartley v. CSX Transp., Inc., 187 F.3d 422, 424 (4th
Cir. 1999). The plaintiff “must show only a
‘glimmer of hope'” of success on claims
brought against non-diverse defendants. Johnson, 781
F.3d at 704 (quoting Mayes, 198 F.3d at 466).
Moreover, the Court may consider the entire record, with all
factual and legal disputes resolved in the plaintiff's
favor. Mayes, 198 F.3d at 464; see also
Johnson, 781 F.3d at 704.
asserts, as it must, that Plaintiffs could never establish
the Brown sisters' liability on any of the claims. ECF
No. 12 at 2. PETA's argument is unavailing as to the
trespass claims against the Brown sisters. Id. at 6.
A civil trespass is “an intentional or negligent
intrusion upon or to the possessory interest in property of
another.” Litz v. Md. Dep't of Env't,
446 Md. 254, 276-77 (2016) (quoting Schuman v. Greenbelt
Homes, Inc., 212 Md.App. 451, 475 (2013). Based on the
Complaint, the Plaintiffs have plausibly averred a trespass
claim as to the Brown sisters. See ECF No. 2 ¶
contends, however, that the zoo's “consent”
to entry is a complete defense to trespass and so defeats the
claim as a matter of law. ECF No. 12 at 6. PETA is correct
only if the Brown sisters' entry did not exceed the scope
of the zoo's consent. See Mitchell v. Balt. Sun
Co., 164 Md.App. 497, 508 (2005). Put plainly, where a
business invites individuals onto its premises for the
purpose of providing goods or services, it cannot then claim
such individuals have trespassed. See Wells v.
Polland, 120 Md.App. 699, 710 (1998) (premises
liability); see ...