BOLDMAN et al v. WAL-MART STORES INC. et al
OPINION filed. Signed by Judge Anne E. Thompson on 9/20/2016. (mmh)
NOT FOR PUBLICATION
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
JOSEPH J. BOLDMAN and LAURA A.
SEP 20 2016
WILLIAM T. WALSH
Civ. No. 16-4
Civ. No. 16-4185
WAL-MART STORES, INC., WALMART STORES, EAST, LP, and WALMART STORES, EAST, INC.,
This matter comes before the Court upon the motion of Plaintiffs Joseph and Laura
Boldman ("Plaintiffs") to remand their case to the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division,
Middlesex County. (ECF No. 9, Civ. No. 16-4185). Defendants Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., WalMart Stores, East, LP, and Wal-1\.fart Stores, East, Inc. (collectively "Wal-Mart" or
"Defendants") oppose. (ECF No. 12, Civ. No. 16-4185). The Court has issued the opinion
below based upon the written submissions of the parties and without oral argument pursuant to
Local Civil Rule 78.l(b). For the reasons stated herein, Plaintiffs' motion to remand will be
Given the extensive proceedings in this matter, the Court will recount here only those
facts necessary to the present motion. On November 17, 2015, Plaintiffs filed a product liability
action against Defendants in the Superior Court of New Jersey ("Boldman I"). The action was
based on injuries Mr. Boldman sustained while using a gasoline can purchased from Defendants'
store. Mr. Boldman had used the gasoline can on January 1, 2014 to start a fire, which resulted
in an explosion. Mr. Boldman alleged third-degree burns to approximately forty percent of his
body, resulting in extensive skin graft operations, prolonged hospitalization, rehabilitation,
disfigurement, physical pain, loss of sensation, emotional suffering, and substantial medical
expenses and economic losses. Mrs. Boldman alleged that she observed the accident and
suffered emotional distress, loss of consortium, and loss of enjoyment of life.
Defendants removed the case to federal court on January 4, 2016. (ECF No. 1, Civ. No.
16-4). Defendants then filed a motion to dismiss, and on February 10, 2016, the Court granted
Defendants' motion, dismissing the complaint without prejudice and granting Plaintiffs leave to
amend the complaint within thirty days. Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint on March 9,
2016. Defendants filed another motion to dismiss, which was granted on May 3, 2016.
Although the case was again dismissed without prejudice, the Court did not grant Plaintiffs leave
to amend the complaint On May 26, 2016, Plaintiffs attempted to file a second amended
complaint without leave from the Court. Defendants therefore filed another motion to dismiss on
June 8, 2016.
Plaintiffs opposed the motion to dismiss, but simultaneously filed a second product
liability action based on the same set of facts in the Superior Court of New Jersey ("Boldman
If'). Defendants removed Boldman II to this Court on July 11, 2016, alleging diversity
jurisdiction. (ECF No. 1, Civ. No. 16-4185). Defendants claimed that Plaintiffs are residents of
New Jersey and Defendants are wholly owned by Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., a Delaware corporation
with its principal place of business in Arkansas; thus, there is complete diversity. Furthermore,
Defendants claimed that Mr. Boldman's medical treatment alone would significantly exceed the
$75,000 jurisdictional threshold. Thus, Defendants argued, the requirements of diversity
jurisdiction are satisfied.
The Court denied Defendants' motion to dismiss Boldman I on August 17, 2016,
reopened the case, and allowed Plaintiffs to file their second amended complaint. (ECF No. 42,
Civ. No. 16-4). Then, on September 6 and September 13, 2016, the Court consolidated Boldman
I and Boldman II and denied the pending motion to dismiss Boldman II. (ECF Nos. 45, 46, Civ.
No. 16-4; ECF Nos. 13, 14, Civ. No. 16-4185). Plaintiffs' motion to remand Boldman II is
presently before the Court. (ECF No. 9; Civ. No. 16-4185).
A. Legal Standard
An order consolidating cases does not dismiss or render moot a motion to remand one of
the cases. A court may conduct pretrial proceedings in phases, including dispositive motions, as
it sees fit. Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Commentary, Phased pretrial.
A defendant may remove a civil action filed in state court to the federal court where the
action might originally have been brought. 28 U.S.C. §§ 144l(a), (b). However, the federal
court to which the action is removed must have subject matter jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 144l(b).
Federal district courts have subject matter jurisdiction over civil actions that involve a federal
question or diversity of citizenship. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1332. Federal-question jurisdiction
exists when the action arises "under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States." 28
U.S.C. § 1331. Diversity jurisdiction exists when the action arises between citizens of different
states, and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000. 28 U.S.C. § 1332. If at any time before
final judgment it appears that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the case must be
remanded to state court. 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). The party that removed the case bears the burden
of establishing federal jurisdiction. Frederico v. Home Depot, 507 F .3d 188, 193 (3d Cir. 2007).
"[F]ederal courts have a 'virtually unflagging obligation ... to exercise the jurisdiction
given them."' Quackenbush v. Allstate Ins. Co., 517 U.S. 706, 716 (1996) (quoting Colorado
River Water Conservation Dist. v. U.S., 424 U.S. 800, 821 (1976)). Courts may only abstain
from exercising jurisdiction in "'exceptional circumstances,' where denying a federal forum
would clearly serve an important countervailing interest." Id (quoting Colorado River, 424 U.S.
at 813, 817). Such important countervailing interests include "proper constitutional adjudication,
regard for federal-state relations, or wise judicial administration." Id. (internal citations omitted).
The Burford doctrine governs the area of federal-state relations. Under the Burford
doctrine, abstention may be appropriate where (1) there are "difficult questions of state law
bearing on policy problems of substantial public import whose importance transcends the results
in the case at bar;" and (2) the "exercise of federal review of the question in a case and in similar
cases would be disruptive of state efforts to establish a coherent policy with respect to a matter of
substantial public concern." New Orleans Pub. Serv., Inc. v. Council ofNew Orleans, 491 U.S.
350, 361 (1989) (quoting Colorado River, 424 U.S. at 814); Nat'! City Mortg. Co. v. Stephen,
647 F.3d 78, 83 (3d Cir. 2011)). However, where relevant state law is settled or does not disrupt
state efforts to establish coherent policy, abstention is not appropriate. See e.g. Nat'! City Mortg.
Co. v. Stephen, 647 F.3d 78, 83 (3d Cir. 2011).
In this case, the Complaint alleges only New Jersey state law claims and does not allege
any federal claims. Therefore, no federal question jurisdiction exists.
However, parties are completely diverse and the amount in controversy here exceeds
$75,000. Thus, the removing party has met its burden for removal; this Court has diversity
jurisdiction in this case.
Plaintiffs do not dispute that diversity jurisdiction exists or that removal was timely.
(ECF No. 9, Civ. No. 16-4185). Plaintiffs argue, notwithstanding proper removal, the court
should abstain from exercising diversity jurisdiction out of "regard for federal-state relations"
because there are "novel questions concerning substantive state law"-namely equitable
principles of tolling the statute of limitations-and it would be "disruptive of state efforts to
establish a coherent policy" for this Court to rule on this issue. (ECF No. 9, Civ. No. 16-4185).
However, this Court found already that Plaintiffs' claim was not time-barred when it granted
leave to file a second amended complaint (ECF No. 42, Civ. No. 16-4), and Defendants have not
challenged that ruling. Thus, Plaintiffs' state law claim is moot and the Court need not reach the
question of whether equitable tolling under New Jersey law is a novel area of state law that
constitutes "exceptional circumstances" warranting abstention. Spring City Corp. v. Am. Bldgs.
Co., 193 F.3d 165, 173 (3d Cir. 1999) (citing Colorado River).
The remaining issues occur under the New Jersey Products Liability Act, which is
frequently ruled upon by the federal courts and does not constitute undue interference with the
creation of coherent state law. Thus, abstention is not proper in this case.
For the reasons above, Plaintiffs' motion to remand will be denied. A corresponding
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