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Dewittt v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

July 31, 2018

CHRISTOPHER DEWITT, Plaintiff,
v.
WAL-MART STORES, INC., JAIMIE TYLKA, and REBEKAH DEDMAN, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          HERNDON, DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. Introduction

         Pending before the Court is plaintiff Christopher DeWitt's motion to remand this action to the Randolph County, Illinois Circuit Court (Doc. 14), to which defendants filed a joint response (Doc. 19). Also pending is defendants' motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) (Doc. 8). For the following reasons, the Court grants motion to remand and denies as moot the motion to dismiss.

         II. Background

         Christopher DeWitt initially filed his complaint on November 14, 2017, in the Randolph County Circuit Court (Doc. 1-1). Plaintiff names Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., Jaimie[1] Tylka and Rebekah Dedman as defendants to his lawsuit. He alleges violations of the Illinois Human Rights Act (“IHRA”), Illinois Whistleblower Act (“IWA”), and Illinois common law. Specifically, plaintiff charges the defendants with sex discrimination and retaliation under the IHRA and retaliation under the IWA. The complaint also charges Wal-Mart with retaliatory discharge in violation of Illinois common law (Id.).

         Plaintiff's complaint alleges that he was a Wal-Mart store manager at the Chester, Illinois location from March 2010 until his termination. Jaime Tylka was the Market Manager for Wal-Mart's Southern Illinois Market and plaintiff's supervisor. Rebekah Dedman was Wal-Mart's Regional General Manager, and Tylka's direct supervisor. Prior to his termination, plaintiff alleges that Tylka “treated female employees differently and with more respect than plaintiff.” (Doc. 1-1, ¶ 11). Plaintiff complained of discrimination to Wal-Mart on April 21, 2016 (Id. at ¶ 12). Thereafter, on May 6, 2016, he filed a Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC and IDHR alleging sex discrimination and retaliation (Id. at ¶ 13).

         While plaintiff's Charge of Discrimination was pending, he was on a medical leave of absence from mid-April 2016 until June 10, 2016. Upon plaintiff's return to work following medical leave, he alleges that he learned Wal-Mart's response to allegations of OSHA rules violations was untruthful. Plaintiff contends that he raised his concerns with Deadman and other regional supervisors about the unsafe working conditions, but he was ignored and later told he should resign (Id. at ¶ 22). Thereafter, plaintiff allegedly reported Wal-Mart's untruthful OSHA responses to both Wal-Mart and OSHA (Doc. 1-1, ¶ 24, ¶ 28). Subsequent to his reporting to Wal-Mart, Tylka gave plaintiff a “Third Written Warning” as part of Wal-Mart's progressive disciplinary policy. However, plaintiff alleges that this was his first warning.

         On October 3, 2016, plaintiff was fired from Wal-Mart (Id. at ¶ 30). He filed a second Charge of Discrimination on December 11, 2016, with the EEOC and IDHR. On August 31, 2017, the IDHR issued a notice of dismissal, and plaintiff filed the pending lawsuit on November 14, 2017, in the Randolph County Circuit Court (Doc. 1-1). Defendants removed the case to this Court based on diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Defendants contend that Tylka has been fraudulently joined to defeat federal diversity jurisdiction because plaintiff has no possibility of establishing a claim for relief against Tylka or Dedman under Illinois law.[2] Specifically, defendants argue that there is no individual liability under the IHRA or IWA for discrimination or retaliation. Thereafter, plaintiff moved to remand the case to the state court, arguing that the defendants have not established fraudulent joinder (Doc. 13).

         III. Legal Standard

         The statute regarding diversity jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1332, requires complete diversity between the parties plus an amount in controversy exceeding $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs. 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).

         The Seventh Circuit directs federal courts to interpret the removal statute narrowly, resolving any doubts in favor of the plaintiff's choice of forum in the state court. Schur v. L.A. Weight Loss Ctrs., Inc., 577 F.3d 752, 758 (7th Cir. 2009). Defendants bear this 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).

         Under the fraudulent joinder doctrine, a court considering removal may “disregard, for jurisdictional purposes, the citizenship of certain non-diverse defendants, assume jurisdiction over a case, dismiss the non-diverse defendants, and thereby retain jurisdiction.” Id. at 763 (quoting Mayes v. Rapoport, 198 F.3d 457, 461 (4th Cir. 1999)). Fraudulent joinder exists if the plaintiff has made false allegations of jurisdictional fact, or if a claim against a non-diverse defendant has no chance of success. Poulos v. Naas Foods, Inc., 959 F.2d 69, 73 (7th Cir. 1992).

         Here, the defendants argue that the plaintiffs' claims against ...


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