Two recent rulings denying motions to remand in chemical exposure cases by demonstrate that a complaint must contain sufficient facts to show legitimate claims against all parties. A failure to properly plead causes of action allows a federal court to conclude a claim does not exist and therefore maintain jurisdiction over the case under the doctrine of fraudulent joinder.
Bayer CropScience LP was sued by two individuals who live near the Institute, West Virginia, plant and who claim illness as a result of exposures during a ten day period in 2009. Sue Ferguson Davis v. Bayer AG, et al., Civil Action No. 2:11-cv-00879 and Donna Willis v. Bayer AG, et al., Civil Action No. 2:22-cv-00880. Both filed virtually identical complaints in state court naming Bayer CropScience and others, including West Virginia Paving, Inc., a West Virginia corporation, as defendants. The plaintiffs claimed exposure to toxic fumes “negligently released into the atmosphere..." caused a variety of personal injuries. Bayer CropScience removed the cases to federal court arguing that both Complaints did not contain particular factual allegations justifying claims against the non-diverse party, West Virginia Paving. Inclusion of that company as a defendant destroyed diversity, precluding removal to federal court. Both plaintiffs filed motions to remand.
On the issue of diversity jurisdiction the Court found all of the defendants except West Virginia Paving were from different states or countries than the two West Virginia plaintiffs. Only if West Virginia Paving was fraudulently joined to prevent federal jurisdiction, could the case remain in federal court.
Recognizing well-settled law, Judge Joseph R. Goodwin explained that the doctrine of fraudulent joinder allows federal courts to disregard the citizenship of non-diverse defendants for jurisdictional purposes. A heavy burden is placed on parties who seek federal jurisdiction, as they must demonstrate there is “no possibility” that plaintiff can establish a case against the in-state defendant or there is outright fraud in the facts pled in the complaint.
The judge concluded the complaints lacked even a “glimmer of hope” of establishing claims against West Virginia Paving and denied remand in both cases. He found the complaints simply did not link West Virginia Paving to the specific chemical leak described in both complaints, and concluded (as admitted by plaintiffs) that “West Virginia Paving’s conduct could not have caused the plaintiff’s injuries, ….because [it] was not operating a chemical facility at any point around that date.” Without West Virginia Paving as a defendant, there was complete diversity between the parties, and the court therefore denied plaintiffs’ motion to remand.