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Independent School District No.1 of Tulsa County v. Sodexo Management, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

May 1, 2019




         Now before the Court is Intervenor's Motion to Join Non-Diverse Defendants (Dkt. # 14). Jon Marc Pulliam and Christine Pulliam were granted leave to intervene as plaintiffs and assert claims against defendant Sodexo Management, Inc. (Sodexo). Dkt. # 13. The Pulliams now request leave to file a complaint in intervention adding two employees of Sodexo as parties, but joinder of these parties would destroy diversity jurisdiction. Dkt. # 14. Plaintiff Independent School District No. 1 of Tulsa County, Oklahoma (the School District) and Sodexo object to the Pulliams' request to add non-diverse defendants. Dkt. ## 16, 17.

         The School District filed this subrogation action in Tulsa County District Court alleging that it was required to pay worker's compensation benefits to Jon Marc Pulliam and that Sodexo's negligence caused his injuries. Dkt. # 3-1. The School District is a citizen of Oklahoma and Sodexo is a New York corporation with its principal place of business in Maryland, and the School District seeks over $75, 000 in damages. The Pulliams filed a motion to intervene and claimed that they were necessary and indispensable parties. Dkt. # 8. Sodexo removed the case to this Court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction, but the motion to intervene had not been ruled on by the state court before the case was removed.

         Jon Marc Pulliam states that he was an employee of the School District and he suffered significant personal injuries for which he received worker's compensation benefits. Dkt. # 8, at 1. The School District has alleged that Sodexo was negligent in failing to properly train or supervise Jon Marc Pulliam and that Sodexo's negligence caused his injuries. Under Oklahoma law, the School District has a right to recover against a tortfeasor who has caused it to pay worker's compensation benefits to an injured worker, but the injured worker may also be entitled to a share of any recovery against the tortfeasor. Okla. Stat. tit. 85A, § 43. The Court granted the Pulliams' motion to intervene as plaintiffs and directed them to file a complaint in intervention, but the Court did not expressly authorize the Pulliams to join additional parties in their complaint in intervention. Dkt. # 13. The Pulliams have filed a complain in intervention (Dkt. # 20) asserting claims against Sodexo only.

         The Pulliams have filed a motion seeking to add Sue Ann Bell and Ann Marie Hayden as defendants in their complaint in intervention. Dkt. # 14. They claim that the complaint in intervention “seeks to establish liability against Bell and Hayden, as primary negligent individual [d]efendants, which, in turn, supports vicarious liability against Sodexo.” Id. at 10. Sodexo and the School District oppose the Pulliams' motion, and they argue that the Pulliams are seeking to add Bell and Hayden as parties for the sole purpose of destroying diversity jurisdiction. Dkt. ## 16, 17.

         The Pulliams have filed a complaint in intervention and they are now plaintiffs in this action. Under 28 U.S.C. § 1447(e), “[i]f after removal the plaintiff seeks to join additional defendants whose joinder would destroy subject matter jurisdiction, the court may deny joinder, or permit joinder and remand the action to the State court.” A plaintiff in a removed action does “not have an absolute right to join such parties.” McPhail v. Deere & Co., 529 F.3d 947, 951 (2008). Instead, the district court must determine whether the plaintiff should be permitted to amend his complaint under Fed.R.Civ.P. 15, and the district court should initially determine whether the party to be joined is indispensable under Fed.R.Civ.P. 19. Id. If a party is indispensable, the district court is required to join the party and remand the case, or the case should be dismissed if joinder of the indispensable party is not feasible. Id. However, if the absent party is not indispensable, the district court should consider whether joinder is appropriate under Fed.R.Civ.P. 20. Id. at 952. In exercising this discretion, district courts typically consider “whether the amendment will result in undue prejudice, whether the request was unduly and inexplicably delayed, [and whether it] was offered in good faith . . . .” Id. The district court may permit joinder under Rule 20 and remand the case or deny joinder and retain jurisdiction. Id.

         The Court will initially consider whether Bell or Hayden are indispensable parties under Rule 19. Under Rule 19, a district court must determine (1) if the absent party is a “required” party and (2) if the required party is indispensable to the litigation. The Wilderness Society v. Kane County, Utah, 581 F.3d 1198, 1217-18 (10th Cir. 2009). A non-party must be joined as a required party if:

(A) in that person's absence, the court cannot accord complete relief among existing parties; or
(B) that person claims an interest relating to the subject of the action and is so situated that disposing of the action in the person's absence may:
(i) as a practical matter impair or impede the person's ability to protect the interest; or
(ii) leave an existing party subject to a substantial risk of incurring double, multiple, or otherwise inconsistent obligations because of the interest.

         Fed. R. Civ. P. 19(a). If a court determines that a non-party is a required party under Rule 19(a), the court must consider whether “in equity and good conscience” the case should proceed without the absent party or be dismissed. Sac & Fox Nation of Missouri v. Norton, 240 F.3d 1250, 1259 (10th Cir. 2001). Rule 19 provides four factors that a court must balance to make this determination:

(1) the extent to which a judgment rendered in the person's absence might prejudice that person or ...

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