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Chavis v. American Honda Motor Co., Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Southern Division

October 23, 2019

KRISTIN D. CHAVIS, Plaintiff,
v.
AMERICAN HONDA MOTOR CO., INC.; HONDA R&D AMERICAS, INC.; HONDA NORTH AMERICA, INC.; HONDA MOTOR CO., LTD; HONDA OF CANADA MANUFACTURING d/b/a Honda Canada, Inc.; HONDA R&D CO., LTD; DAICEL SAFETY SYSTEMS, INC.; DAICEL PYROTECHNICS, LTD; DAICEL SAFETY SYSTEMS AMERICA, LLC; SPECIAL DEVICES, INCORPORATED; DAICEL SAFETY SYSTEMS AMERICA ARIZONA, INC.; DAICEL SAFETY SYSTEMS AMERICA HOLDINGS, INC.; DAICEL CORPORATION; DAICEL SAFETY TECHNOLOGIES AMERICA, INC.; DAICEL SAFETY TUBE PROCESSING, INC.; DAICEL AMERICA HOLDINGS, INC.; TEAM CHEVROLET OF SWANSBORO, INC.; LEJEUNE MOTOR COMPANY; COX FAMILY AUTOMOTIVE, INC.; SAMMY'S AUTO SALES, INC., Defendants.

          ORDER

          LOUISE W. FLANAGAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter comes before the court on plaintiff's motion to remand to the General Court of Justice, Superior Court Division, Robeson County, North Carolina (“Robeson County Superior Court”), pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c) (DE 12). The issues raised have been fully briefed, and in this posture are ripe for ruling. For the reasons that follow, plaintiff's motion is granted, and the case is remanded to Robeson County Superior Court.

         BACKGROUND

         This case concerns alleged liability of defendant manufacturers and sellers for failure to identify defects of an airbag deployed by plaintiff's automobile. Plaintiff purchased a 2008 Honda Accord (the “Accord”) from defendant Cox Family Automotive on May 15, 2017. (See Compl. ¶¶ 29, 30; Bill of Sale (DE 13-8) at 2). At approximately 8:45 A.M. on May 17, 2017, plaintiff was traveling east in the Accord on NC-130 when she was involved in a traffic accident. (Compl. ¶ 32). Due to a defect in the driver side airbag, metal shards and shrapnel from the airbag cartridge exited through the airbag when it was deployed. (Id. ¶¶ 33, 34). The projectiles struck plaintiff in the arm, hand, and face, resulting in serious injury. (Id. ¶¶ 33, 35, 38).

         Plaintiff initiated the instant action in Robeson County Superior Court on February 5, 2019, against numerous defendants. Defendants American Honda Motor Co., Inc. (“AHM”); Honda R&D Americas, Inc.; Honda North America, Inc.; Honda Motor Co. Ltd.; Honda of Canada Manufacturing d/b/a Honda Canada, Inc.; and Honda R&D Co., Ltd., (collectively “Honda Defendants”) allegedly are responsible for manufacturing the Accord, including the airbag (also known as a component of the “supplemental restraint system”). Defendants Daicel Safety Systems Inc.; Daicel Pyrotechnics Ltd.; Daicel Safety Systems America, LLC; Special Devices, Incorporated; Daicel Safety Systems America Arizona, Inc.; Daicel Safety Systems America Holdings, Inc.; Daicel Corporation; Daicel Safety Technologies America, Inc.; Daicel Safety Tube Processing, Inc.; and Daicel America Holdings, Inc., (collectively “Daicel Defendants”) allegedly manufactured and supplied parts of the airbag in the Accord. Finally, defendants Lejeune Motor Company; Cox Family Automotive, Inc.; and Sammy's Auto Sales (collectively “Seller Defendants”) allegedly advertised, marketed, promoted, leased, sold, maintained, inspected, serviced, and/or supplied the Accord.[1]

         Plaintiff asserts claims for negligent and wanton conduct, as well as breach of express and implied warranties, against each defendant. Plaintiff asserts unfair and deceptive trade practices claims against the Honda Defendants and the Daicel Defendants. Defendant AHM was served summons and complaint, along with plaintiff's first interrogatories and first requests for production, by certified mail on February 25, 2019. After several months, defendant AHM served Seller Defendants with requests for admissions. Defendants Cox Family Automotive and Sammy's Auto Sales each admitted that they did not provide any express warranties to plaintiff regarding the airbag and did not have a reasonable opportunity to inspect the airbag. Similarly, defendant Lejeune Motor Company denied that it provided express warranties to plaintiff for the Accord and did not admit that it had a reasonable opportunity to inspect the airbag.

         On August 15, 2019, defendant AHM removed the case to this court. Defendant AHM asserted in its notice of removal that plaintiff fraudulently joined Seller Defendants, thereby allowing the court to assume diversity jurisdiction. The notice of removal asserts that filing of the notice is timely under 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b)(3), and the supplemental cover sheet attached to the notice of removal indicates all defendants join in the removal. Two weeks later, plaintiff filed the instant motion to remand. Plaintiff argues that the court lacks diversity jurisdiction over this case, that removal of the action was not unanimous among all defendants, and that notice of removal was untimely.

         DISCUSSION

         A. Standard of Review

         In any case removed from state court, “[i]f at any time before final judgment it appears that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the case shall be remanded.” 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). “The burden of establishing federal jurisdiction is placed upon the party seeking removal.” Mulcahey v. Columbia Organic Chemicals Co., 29 F.3d 148, 151 (4th Cir. 1994). “Because removal jurisdiction raises significant federalism concerns, [the court] must strictly construe removal jurisdiction.” Id. “If federal jurisdiction is doubtful, a remand is necessary.” Id.; see Palisades Collections LLC v. Shorts, 552 F.3d 327, 336 (4th Cir. 2008) (recognizing the court's “duty to construe removal jurisdiction strictly and resolve doubts in favor of remand”).

         B. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         “[F]ederal courts, unlike most state courts, are courts of limited jurisdiction, created by Congress with specified jurisdictional requirements and limitations.” Strawn v. AT & T Mobility LLC, 530 F.3d 293, 296 (4th Cir. 2008). Generally, a defendant may remove a case from state court only if the federal district court has original jurisdiction over the removed action. See 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a); Lontz v. Tharp, 413 F.3d 435, 439 (4th Cir. 2005). Thus, an action is generally removable only if diversity jurisdiction or federal question jurisdiction exists on the face of the complaint. See 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b). Where plaintiff's complaint raises no federal questions, (see compl. ¶ 25), the court must determine if it has original jurisdiction based on diversity of citizenship.

         To invoke diversity jurisdiction, the matter in controversy must exceed the sum or value of $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs, and be between citizens of different States. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332. A corporation is a citizen of the state in which it is incorporated and of the state in which it maintains its principal place of business. See id. § 1332(c)(1); Hertz Corp. v. Friend, 559 U.S. 77, 80-81 (2010). It is long settled that diversity of citizenship between the parties must be complete. See, e.g., Wis. Dep't of Corr. v. Schacht, 524 U.S. 381, 388 (1998); Strawbridge v. Curtiss, 7 U.S. 267, 267-68 (1806); Slavchev v. Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd., 559 F.3d 251, 254-55 (4th Cir. 2009). Both plaintiff and the Seller Defendants are citizens of North Carolina, destroying complete diversity. (See Compl. ¶¶ 1, 22, 23, 24).

         “[T]he fraudulent joinder doctrine provides that diversity jurisdiction is not automatically defeated by naming non-diverse defendants.” Weidman v. Exxon Mobil Corp., 776 F.3d 214, 218 (4th Cir. 2015). The doctrine “effectively permits a district court to disregard, for jurisdictional purposes, the citizenship of certain nondiverse defendants, assume jurisdiction over a case, dismiss the nondiverse defendants, and thereby retain ...


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