The U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico, one of the federal courts in the state, recently remanded a New Mexico personal injury lawsuit back to the Second Judicial District Court, Bernalillo County, the state court in which the plaintiff had filed her lawsuit. The plaintiff allegedly had suffered physical injuries after slipping and falling at a store maintained by a national retailer in Albuquerque. She sued in state court, seeking to recover damages based on New Mexico state law, and asserted causes of action including negligence and negligent hiring, training and supervision against the store and people associated with it, among them the assistant store manager. The plaintiff’s theory of the case was that other customers had told people working at the store that there was a spill but the people working at the store did not clean the spill up, resulting in her falling and getting hurt.
The defendants removed the case from state court to federal court pursuant to section 1332(a) of the U.S. Code, which requires a diversity of state citizenship among the parties and an amount in controversy exceeding $75,000 exclusive of interest and costs. In support of removal the defendants argued that, although there was not a diversity of citizenship when the presence of all of the defendants was considered, the federal court should exercise jurisdiction because some of the defendants were fraudulently joined. Based on this argument they sought to have the case proceed in federal court, their chosen forum. The plaintiff was opposed to proceeding in federal court, and sought an award of attorneys fees and costs for efforts in seeking remand back to state court.
The court’s analysis was unusual because it relied heavily on a line of cases dating back to 1982 for the proposition that all doubts are to be resolved against removal. More recent case law has been somewhat deferential to defendants, who sometimes prefer to try to win a case via federal court motion practice instead of preparing for trial in state court. The court rejected the defendants’ position that the plaintiff could not assert claims against some of the named defendants. The court reasoned it could not say there was no possibility of the plaintiff being able to establish her claims. Accordingly, the court ruled for the plaintiff and granted the motion to remand the lawsuit back to state court, in part. The court did not award the plaintiff attorneys fees and costs, concluding the defendants had an objectively reasonable basis for seeking removal to federal court and did not remove the case to prolong litigation or impose costs on the plaintiff.