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Bergman v. U.S. Silica

October 17, 2006

JAMES BERGMAN AND LORI BERGMAN, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
U.S. SILICA, DUPONT AND DUPONT TITANIUM, TECHNOLOGIES, KERR-MCGEE CORPORATION AND TRONOX, LLC, F/K/A KERR-MCGEE CHEMICAL, LLC, KRONOS WORLDWIDE, INC., AND LOTZ TRUCKING, DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter is before us on a Motion to Remand (Doc. 14), filed by plaintiffs James Bergman and Lori Bergman. Defendants Kerr-McGee Corporation and Kerr-McGee Chemical, LLC, removed this case on the basis of diversity jurisdiction (see Doc. 3) with the remaining Defendants consenting to the removal (see Docs. 7-10). Plaintiffs, who are Illinois residents, contest Defendants' assertion that complete diversity jurisdiction exists between the parties, arguing that defendant Lotz Trucking -- an Illinois corporation with its principal place of business in Illinois -- is a non-diverse party. All Defendants oppose the remand (Doc. 21), arguing complete diversity jurisdiction does exist, as they believe defendant Lotz Trucking was fraudulently joined to Plaintiffs' suit. The Court agrees with Defendants and must therefore deny a remand.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff James Bergman is an Illinois resident who alleges that he has developed silicosis/pneumoconiosis, causing permanent disability (Doc. 5, ¶ 12). Bergman, together with his wife, Lori, have filed suit against Defendants (Doc. 5). Mr. Bergman brings claims of strict products liability, negligence and breach of implied warranty against Defendants (Doc. 5). Additionally, Lori Bergman states a claim for loss of consortium (Id.). James Bergman was employed by United Gilsonite Laboratories ("UGL"), where he managed the maintenance department from 1986 to 2002 (Id. at ¶¶ 2, 8). Plaintiffs allege James Bergman's work environment caused him to be exposed to dangerous chemicals, including titanium dust and silica products (Id. at ¶ 9). This exposure allegedly caused James Bergman's debilitating condition. Plaintiffs further allege that these sand and silicosil products were manufactured by defendant U.S. Silica (Id. at ¶ 10). The titanium dioxide contained in a paint mix was allegedly manufactured and sold to UGL by defendants Kronos, Kerr-McGee (and Tronox) and DuPont (and DuPont Titanium) (Id. at ¶11).

Aside from the manufacturer-Defendants, Plaintiffs also initially brought claims against Miller Trucking (also considered a citizen of Illinois). However, subsequent to filing their initial Complaint, Plaintiffs learned that defendant Lotz Trucking was a proper party Defendant to the case,*fn1 so they sought leave to amend their Complaint, adding Lotz Trucking and thereafter voluntarily dismissing Miller Trucking (Doc. 15, p. 1; see also Doc. 3, Attachments, p. 2; Doc. 21, Ex. C). Plaintiffs, among other things, allege that Lotz Trucking transported the products at issue from the manufacturers to UGL (Doc. 21).

During pretrial discovery, Lotz Trucking served its responses to Plaintiffs' interrogatories on all parties (Doc. 21, Ex. B). Defendants state they first became aware that Lotz Trucking had been fraudulently joined upon reading these responses, coupled with a review of Lotz Trucking's Answer and Affirmative Defenses to Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint (Doc. 6), as Lotz Trucking stated it was neither the manufacturer or seller of the products at issue (Doc. 3, ¶¶ 18-20). Defendants argue that but for the fraudulent joinder of Lotz Trucking, as it is a non-diverse party, complete diversity jurisdiction would exist, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332, making removal proper (Id. at ¶ 21).

III. ANALYSIS

A. Legal Standard

1. Removal

The removal statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1441, is construed narrowly, and doubts concerning removal are resolved in favor of remand. Doe v. Allied-Signal, Inc., 985 F.2d 908, 911 (7th Cir. 1993).Defendants bear the burden to present evidence of federal jurisdiction once the existence of that jurisdiction is fairly cast into doubt. See In re Brand Name Prescription Drugs Antitrust Litig., 123 F.3d 599, 607 (7th Cir. 1997). "A defendant meets this burden by supporting [its] allegations of jurisdiction with 'competent proof,' which in [the Seventh Circuit] requires the defendant to offer evidence which proves 'to a reasonable probability that jurisdiction exists.'" Chase v. Shop 'N Save Warehouse Foods, Inc., 110 F.3d 424, 427 (7th Cir. 1997)(citations omitted). However, if the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the action must be remanded to state court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c).

The statute regarding diversity jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1332, requires complete diversity between the parties plus an amount in controversy which exceeds $75,000, exclusive of interest and costs. Complete diversity means that "none of the parties on either side of the litigation may be a citizen of the state of which a party on the other side is a citizen." Howell v. Tribune Entertainment Co., 106 F.3d 215, 217 (7th Cir. 1997) (citations omitted). In this case, as defendant Lotz Trucking is also considered a citizen of Illinois, there is not complete diversity among the parties, as Plaintiffs are also Illinois citizens. Plaintiffs, in their Motion to Remand, do not contest any other aspect of the Defendants' assertion of diversity jurisdiction (such as amount in controversy), other than the fact that defendant Lotz Trucking is a proper party and thus, a non-diverse party that destroys diversity jurisdiction. Therefore, the sole matter for determination regarding proper jurisdiction is the issue of fraudulent joinder.

2. Fraudulent Joinder

If diversity jurisdiction exists among proper parties, it will not be destroyed due to fraudulently joined non-diverse parties. Gottlieb v. Westin Hotel Co., 990 F.2d 323, 327 (7th Cir. 1993)(collecting cases). In the context of jurisdiction, "fraudulent" is a term of art. See Poulos v. Naas Foods, Inc., 959 F.2d 69, 73 (7th Cir. 1992). "Although false allegations of jurisdictional fact may make joinder fraudulent . . . in most cases fraudulent joinder involves a claim against an in-state defendant that simply has no chance of success whatever the plaintiff's motives." Id. (collecting cases). To prove fraudulent joinder, the out-of-state defendant must "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)(citing Poulos, 959 F.2d at 73)), or "if a state court has come to judgment, there [is not] any reasonable possibility that the judgment will be reversed on appeal." Poulos, 959 F.2d at 73. The defendant bears a heavy burden in this regard. Id.This burden can be met by introducing uncontradicted evidence. See Faucett v. ...


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