Massachusetts Court Discusses Fraudulent Joinder of Defendants

Many claims against national corporations are filed in or removed to federal court based on diversity jurisdiction. For a federal court to exercise jurisdiction over a case, though, there must be complete diversity between the plaintiff and all named defendants. Thus, in some instances, a defendant will allege that a plaintiff fraudulently joined a defendant that resides in the same jurisdiction as the defendant, simply to keep a case out of federal court. Recently, a Massachusetts district court discussed fraudulent joinder in a product liability case against a car manufacturer and car dealership. If you sustained injuries due to a defective product, you should speak to a seasoned Massachusetts product liability attorney to assess what damages you may be owed.

Factual and Procedural History

It is reported that the plaintiff’s decedent was driving her car when it suddenly accelerated, causing her to lose control and crash into a building. The decedent died due to her injuries. The plaintiff subsequently filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Massachusetts state court against the defendant auto dealership that sold the car, which had a principal place of business in Massachusetts, and the defendant auto manufacturer that made the car, which had a principal place of business in California, asserting claims of negligence and breach of the implied warranty of merchantability. The defendants moved the case to federal court, arguing that the defendant auto dealer was fraudulently joined and that the plaintiff could not maintain claims against the defendant auto dealer. The plaintiff then filed a motion to remand.

Jurisdiction Based on Complete Diversity

Under federal law, a lawsuit that may otherwise be removed to federal court based on diversity jurisdiction may not be removed if any of the parties properly joined as defendants and served by the plaintiff are citizens of the state where the lawsuit was brought. A plaintiff cannot, however, impede a defendant’s right to remove a case by fraudulently joined a defendant that has no true connection to the case but is non-diverse.

In assessing a motion to dismiss a party due to fraudulent joinder, a court must assess whether the party seeking removal of a case to federal court has met its burden of proof by producing clear and convincing evidence that either the plaintiff blatantly committed fraud in joining the defendant, or that based on the pleadings there is no real possibility of the plaintiff recovering under a cause of action against the non-diverse defendant. In the subject case, the court found that the plaintiff adequately pleaded facts that, if proven to be true, would show that the defendant auto dealership breached the implied warranty of merchantability by alleging that the defendant sold a vehicle with a defective throttle. As such, the court granted the plaintiff’s motion to remand.

Confer with a Skillful Massachusetts Attorney

If you were harmed by a defective product, it is advisable to speak to an attorney to discuss your options for seeking redress from the parties responsible for your losses. The skillful personal injury attorneys of the Law Office of James K. Meehan are adept at handling product liability claims in both state and federal courts, and we will develop effective arguments on your behalf. You can reach us via our online form or at 508-822-6600 to set up a meeting.