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Brown v. Panasonic Corp.

May 18, 2006

RUSSELL BROWN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
PANASONIC CORPORATION, TOSHIBA CORPORATION, MILLER ELECTRIC MFG. CO., AND ILLINOIS TOOLS WORKS, INC., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reagan, District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Now before the Court is a fully-briefed remand motion. This personal injury suit commenced with Russell Brown's February 2006 complaint filed in the Circuit Court of Madison County, Illinois. Brown, an Illinois citizen, sued four companies who manufacture welding machines, equipment and supplies.*fn1 He alleged that all four Defendants knew or should have known of serious health hazards inherent in the products they were selling, distributing or using.

More specifically, Brown asserted that Defendants deliberately concealed information about the adverse health effects of welding fumes containing manganese --- neurotoxic fumes to which Brown was directly and indirectly exposed while working in Illinois.

Count I of Brown's complaint alleges negligence against all four Defendants. For example, Brown claims that, in making representations to workers like Brown, Defendants breached their duty to exercise reasonable care, because they knew welding fumes would cause neurological damage to workers.

Count II alleges strict liability (failure to warn) against all four Defendants. For instance, Brown claims that Defendants failed to provide any warnings or instructions regarding use of the welding machines without a source-capture ventilation system.

Count III alleges strict liability (defective design) against all four Defendants. For instance, Brown claims that the welding machines were in a defective condition when they left Defendants' control, because they lacked fume-extraction devices.

On March 30, 2006, Defendant Illinois Tool Works, Inc. ("ITW"), who had been served with process on March 1st, removed the action to this United States District Court, invoking subject matter jurisdiction under the federal diversity statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1332. To properly invoke the federal courts' diversity jurisdiction, the party seeking the federal forum must establish both complete diversity and that the matter in controversy exceeds $75,000, exclusive of interest and costs. Id.; Smith v. General Life and Acc. Ins. Co., Inc., 337 F.3d 888, 892-93 (7th Cir. 2003).

The amount in controversy presents no obstacle here. Brown has alleged severe and permanent injuries, and he seeks damages for pain and suffering (past and future), medical expenses (past and future), lost wages (past and future), and loss of earning capacity. Setting aside the question of whether ITW complied with all procedural requirements of removal,*fn2 the problem here is the apparent absence of complete diversity among the parties.

Plaintiff Brown is an Illinois citizen. Defendant Panasonic is a citizen of Delaware (place of incorporation) and New Jersey (principal place of business). Defendant Toshiba is a citizen of California (place of incorporation) and New York (principal place of business). Defendant Miller Electric is a citizen of Wisconsin (place of incorporation and principal place of business). So far so good. But Defendant ITW is a citizen of both Delaware (place of incorporation) and Illinois (principal place of business).

ITW urges the Court to overlook its Illinois citizenship on the theory that Brown fraudulently joined ITW in this action. The parties largely agree on the test governing fraudulent joinder in this Circuit.

Although a plaintiff is normally free to choose his own forum, he may not join an in-state defendant solely to defeat federal diversity jurisdiction.

Such joinder is considered fraudulent, and is therefore disregarded, if the out-of-state defendant can show there exists no "reasonable possibility that a state court would rule against the [in-state] defendant."

Schwartz v. State Farm Mutual Auto Ins. Co., 174 F.3d 875, 878 (7th Cir. 1999), quoting Poulos v. Naas Foods, Inc., 959 F.2d 69, 73 (7th Cir. 1992).*fn3

The question before this Court, then, is whether there is a reasonable possibility that an Illinois court would rule against ITW. The Court has carefully reviewed the memoranda and exhibits presented on both sides of this question, ...


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