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Articles Posted in Torts

A U.S. Magistrate Judge recently ruled in favor of a plaintiff seeking discovery to aid his prosecution of a personal injury case.  The plaintiff had sought to obtain certain information from the defendant Home Depot, including a response to an interrogatory posed to the defendant concerning prior customer claims for injuries that the stores allegedly caused by or involving pallets.  The Court held a telephonic hearing on April 18, 2018 that ran over an hour after reviewing submissions by the plaintiff and the defendant.  Over the course of the hearing, the plaintiff’s counsel agreed to narrow the scope of the interrogatory that was a focus of the hearing, and the Court ordered the defendant to respond to the interrogatory as modified.

The plaintiff, via his counsel, filed a Motion to Compel on May 31, 2018, bringing to the Court’s attention that the defendant had not supplemented its discovery responses to include information concerning previous nationwide claims and lawsuits regarding injuries sustained by the defendant’s customers pertaining to slips, trips and falls involving pallets.  The plaintiff was frustrated because a few weeks earlier during the April 18 hearing the request had been modified to facilitate compliance with it.  The defendant had been allowed to respond with information stored in the defendant’s searchable database and, with respect to claims that had ripened into litigation, the defendant could respond by providing only names of the parties to the filed cases, the case numbers, and the districts in which the cases proceeded.

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In some cases, a person who brings a civil law suit can decide whether to assert claims under state law, federal law, or both.  The decision comes with consequences because a defendant may prefer to defend the suit or seek its dismissal in state court under some circumstances, and federal court in others.  In a recent case, the plaintiff filed his complaint in the Eleventh Judicial District of the County of San Juan, in a New Mexico state court.  His claims were based on a traffic stop that occurred in a manner that he alleged was actionable under the New Mexico Tort Claims Act.

The defendants, a group that includes government entities, removed the plaintiff’s complaint to federal district court, asserting that there was federal question jurisdiction, and filed a motion seeking to have the complaint dismissed on the basis of purported failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted.  Instead of filing a response to the motion addressing the defendants’ arguments in support of dismissal, the plaintiff filed a motion to remand the case to state court, where he had filed his complaint and preferred to proceed.

The plaintiff made several contentions in support of remanding the case, including that the defendants improperly removed the case from state court on the basis of federal question jurisdiction because he had not pleaded a federal cause of action in his complaint and that the due process rights referenced in his complaint are rights conferred under New Mexico state law.  The court agreed with the plaintiff that the manner in which he had pleaded his complaint did not transform a state law tort claim into a federal constitutional claim.  The court also rejected the defendants’ argument that the plaintiff’s claims should be treated as federal law claims because he had sought punitive damages that are not available under the New Mexico Tort Claims Act.  The court further reasoned that, even were the court to construe the complaint as raising an embedded federal constitutional law claim, the plaintiff’s right to relief depended on the construction and application of New Mexico state law.  Ultimately, the court concluded it was appropriate to send the case back to state court, where the plaintiff had filed his complaint and wished to proceed, and accordingly remanded to the Eleventh Judicial District of the County of San Juan.