Strategic Acquisitions, Inc. et al v. Great American Insurance Company et al

Filing 27

ORDER REMANDING TO STATE COURT #26 ; AND DENYING DEFENDANTS MOTION TO DISMISS AS MOOT #19 by Judge Otis D. Wright, II: the Court finds the addition of Hercules and Reingold as non-diverse defendants divests it of diversity jurisdiction. Accordingly, the Court REMANDS this case to state court. The Court also DENIES Defendants Motion to Dismiss, as moot. Case remanded to Los Angeles Superior Court no.BC 672352. (Made JS-6. Case Terminated.) . (lc). Modified on 10/25/2017 (lc).

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JS-6 O 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 United States District Court Central District of California 8 9 10 Case № 2:17-cv-06770-ODW (JC) 11 STRATEGIC ACQUISITIONS, INC., a 12 California corporation; MAKE IT NICE, 13 LLC, a California limited liability ORDER REMANDING TO STATE 14 company COURT [26]; AND DENYING Plaintiffs, 15 16 v. DEFENDANT’S MOTION TO DISMISS AS MOOT [19] 17 GREAT AMERICAN INSURANCE 18 COMPANY, an Ohio corporation; 19 HERCULES COMMUNITY 20 CORPORATION, a California 21 corporation; WILLIAM REINGOLD, an 22 individual; and DOES 3 through 10, 23 inclusive, 24 Defendants. 25 26 27 On September 14, 2017, Defendant Great American Insurance Company 28 removed this action from state court. (ECF No. 1.) On September 21, 2017, Great 1 American filed a motion to dismiss, which the Court later denied as moot because 2 Plaintiffs Strategic Acquisitions, Inc. and Make It Nice, LLC filed a First Amended 3 Complaint (“FAC”). (ECF Nos. 9, 13, 16.) On October 16, 2017, Great American 4 again moved to dismiss. (ECF No. 19.) 5 On October 16, 2017, Plaintiffs Strategic Acquisitions, Inc. and Make It Nice, 6 LLC filed a Request for Order to Show Cause re: Lack of Diversity Jurisdiction. 7 (ECF No. 22.) Plaintiffs claimed that the Court does not have jurisdiction because not 8 all parties are diverse, in light of the parties added in Plaintiffs’ FAC. (See id.) 9 On October 17, 2017, the Court issued an Order to Show Cause requiring Great 10 American to explain why this case should not be remanded to state court in light of the 11 addition of non-diverse defendants. (ECF No. 23.) On October 23, 2017, Great 12 American filed a response arguing that the Court should exercise jurisdiction because 13 the defendants Plaintiffs added in their FAC were solely designed to destroy diversity 14 jurisdiction. (See generally Resp., ECF No. 26.) For the reasons set forth below, the 15 Court declines to exercise jurisdiction, and REMANDS this matter to state court. 16 I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND 17 Plaintiffs were the named insureds on a Commercial General Liability (“CGL”) 18 insurance policy issued by Great American, which purported to cover real property in 19 Agoura Hills, California (the “Property”). (FAC ¶¶ 8–11.) The Property sustained 20 water damage and Plaintiffs made a claim on the policy. (Id.) On October 27, 2016, 21 Great American paid the claim by issuance of a check. (Id. ¶ 12.) However, Plaintiffs 22 never received the check, and, despite Plaintiffs’ requests, Great American never 23 reissued the check. 24 Community Corporation (“Hercules”) and William Reingold, who were added in the 25 FAC, fraudulently endorsed, and then cashed, the check. (Id. ¶ 14.) Plaintiffs assert 26 claims for breach of contract and failure to pay monetary benefits against Great 27 American, and a claim for conversion against Hercules and Reingold. (See generally 28 FAC.) (Id. ¶ 13.) Plaintiffs allege that the defendants Hercules 2 1 2 II. LEGAL STANDARD A civil action may be removed from state court if a district court would have 3 original jurisdiction over the action. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). The Court strictly 4 construes the removal statutes against removal jurisdiction, and jurisdiction must be 5 rejected if there is any doubt as to the right of removal. See Gaus v. Miles, Inc., 980 6 F.2d 564, 566 (9th Cir. 1992). 7 A federal court must determine its own jurisdiction, even where there is no 8 objection. Rains v. Criterion Sys., Inc., 80 F.3d 339, 342 (9th Cir. 1996). Because 9 federal courts are of limited jurisdiction, they possess original jurisdiction only as 10 authorized by the Constitution and federal statute. See Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. 11 Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). Federal courts have jurisdiction where an 12 action arises under federal law, or where each plaintiff’s citizenship is diverse from 13 each defendant’s and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 14 1332(a). “If after removal the plaintiff seeks to join additional defendants whose 15 joinder would destroy subject matter jurisdiction, the court may deny joinder, or 16 permit joinder and remand the action to the State court.” 28 U.S.C. § 1447(e). 17 III. DISCUSSION 18 Great American argues that the Court should exercise jurisdiction because 19 Plaintiffs are simply trying to avoid the fact that they do not have a claim against 20 Great American, as set forth in Great American’s Motion to Dismiss. (Req. 1–2.) 21 This argument is equally available to Great American in state court. 22 There is a split in authority regarding whether the liberal standard for amending 23 a pleading as of right pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a) includes the 24 ability to add parties that destroy diversity jurisdiction. Compare In re CBT Group 25 PLC Sec. Litig., No. C–98–21014–RMW, 2000 WL 33339615, at *5 n.6 (N.D. Cal. 26 Dec. 29, 2000) (“Finally, as this court has previously held, joinder of a party when 27 amending the pleadings should be analyzed under the liberal amendment policy of 28 Rule 15.”), with Greer v. Lockheed Martin, No. CV 10–1704 JH (HRL), 2010 WL 3 1 3168408, at *4 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 10, 2010) (“Thus, when a plaintiff amends her 2 complaint after removal to add a diversity-destroying defendant, this Court will 3 scrutinize the amendment pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1447(e)”); see also McGrath v. 4 Home Depot USA, Inc., 298 F.R.D. 601, 606 (S.D. Cal. 2014) (collecting cases). 5 Here, Plaintiffs amended their complaint as a matter of right when they filed the FAC 6 on October 9, 2017—eighteen days after Great American filed its responsive pleading. 7 (ECF No. 13.) Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a)(1) allows Plaintiffs to file an 8 amended complaint once as a matter of course within twenty-one days of service with 9 a Rule 12(b) motion. Whether the Court employs the liberal amendment policy of 10 Rule 15, or the standard in section 1447(e), the decision of whether to exercise 11 jurisdiction or remand is within the Court’s discretion. 28 U.S.C. § 1447(e) (“[T]he 12 court may deny joinder, or permit joinder and remand the action to the State court.”). 13 And, in any event, the Court may not exercise jurisdiction to the extent that the non- 14 diverse parties remain in this case. Desert Empire Bank v. Ins. Co. of N. Am., 623 15 F.2d 1371, 1374 (9th Cir. 1980) (holding addition of non-diverse party by amendment 16 divests district court of jurisdiction). The Court finds the liberal policy of amendment 17 in Rule 15 should be applied here, but consideration under Section 1447(e) warrants 18 remand. 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 Great American proposes that the Court consider these six factors: (1) whether the party sought to be joined is needed for just adjudication and would be joined under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 19(a); (2) whether the statute of limitations would preclude an original action against the new defendants in state court; (3) whether there has been unexplained delay in requesting joinder; (4) whether joinder is intended solely to defeat federal jurisdiction; (5) whether the claims against the new defendant appear valid; and (6) whether denial of joinder will prejudice the plaintiff. 27 28 4 1 IBC Aviation Servs., Inc. v. Compania Mexicana de Aviacion, S.A. de C.V., 125 F. 2 Supp. 2d 1008, 1011 (N.D. Cal. 2000). These factors favor Plaintiffs’ amendment, 3 and mandate remand: 4  Joinder of new defendants: The Court finds this factor tips in favor of 5 allowing the amendment, and remanding to state court. The new 6 defendants are the parties allegedly responsible for fraudulently 7 endorsing the check, which is the reason that Plaintiffs seek recovery 8 from Great American. (FAC ¶¶ 12–14.) All parties have an interest in 9 being able to conduct discovery as to whether, and why, Hercules and 10 Reingold endorsed and cashed the check Great American issued, and will 11 be able to do so with many of procedural vehicles afforded in litigation 12 only if they are parties to the lawsuit. 13  Statute of limitations: While the statute of limitations would not bar a 14 state court action by Plaintiffs against Hercules and Reingold, 15 considerations of judicial efficiency override this factor because of the 16 likely overlap of relevant facts. There is no reason to have duplicative, 17 parallel actions in state and federal court, when Plaintiffs can litigate their 18 claims in one case, and in one forum. 19  Delay & Plaintiffs’ intent: Great American claims Plaintiffs added 20 Hercules and Reingold solely to defeat diversity jurisdiction, as 21 evidenced by their delay in adding the parties. (Resp. 13.) On October 6, 22 2017, Plaintiffs filed a Notice of Intent to File a First Amended 23 Complaint in lieu of responding substantively to Great American’s 24 pending Motion to Dismiss, which was their right. 25 15(a)(1); see also In re CBT Group PLC Sec. Litig., 2000 WL 33339615, 26 at *5 n.6. While Plaintiffs failure to file the FAC until after being 27 presented with Great American’s Motion to Dismiss may raise suspicions 28 regarding Plaintiffs’ intent in adding the non-diverse defendants, the 5 Fed. R. Civ. P. 1 Court still finds that this factor is outweighed by considerations of 2 judicial economy given that Hercules and Reingold are the parties who 3 allegedly started the domino effect leading to Plaintiffs’ claims against 4 Great American. 5 American’s substantive arguments forever, as Great American may 6 challenge the legal bases of Plaintiffs’ FAC in state court. Further, Plaintiffs will not be able to evade Great 7  Validity of claims & prejudice to Plaintiffs: Plaintiffs’ claims against 8 Hercules and Reingold are valid on their face. If, as Plaintiffs allege, 9 Hercules and Reingold fraudulently endorsed and cashed the check that 10 Great American issued, then they likely have a claim for conversion 11 against those defendants. To the extent Plaintiffs are required to litigate 12 their claims against Hercules and Reingold in a separate lawsuit, they 13 will likely be prejudiced because of the potentially overlapping discovery 14 and modes of proof required for all of their claims, which arise out of a 15 common nucleus of fact. 16 Further, Great American will not be prejudiced by remand because it too will be 17 able to make its substantive arguments as to why Plaintiffs do not have a claim against 18 it in state court. In light of the analysis above under the section 1447(e) standard, and 19 the liberal amendment policy afforded by Rule 15, the Court finds that the addition of 20 Hercules and Reingold to the FAC was proper, and thus destroyed diversity 21 jurisdiction. Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(1); see also Newcombe v. Adolf Coors Co., 157 22 F.3d 686, 691 (9th Cir. 1998); Desert Empire Bank, 623 F.2d at 1374 (holding 23 addition of non-diverse party by amendment divests district court of jurisdiction); In 24 re CBT Group PLC Sec. Litig., 2000 WL 33339615, at *5 n.6. 25 // 26 // 27 // 28 // 6 1 IV. CONCLUSION 2 For the reasons set forth above, the Court finds the addition of Hercules and 3 Reingold as non-diverse defendants divests it of diversity jurisdiction. Accordingly, 4 the Court REMANDS this case to state court. The Court also DENIES Defendant’s 5 Motion to Dismiss, as moot. 6 7 IT IS SO ORDERED. 8 October 25, 2017 9 10 11 12 ____________________________________ OTIS D. WRIGHT, II UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 7

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