344 F.Supp.3d 814 (E.D.Pa. 2018), C. A. 17-4580, Aldorasi v. Crossroads Hospitality and Management Co., LLC

Docket Nº:Civil Action No. 17-4580
Citation:344 F.Supp.3d 814
Opinion Judge:Juan R. Sánchez, C.J.
Party Name:Marlene ALDORASI Individually and on Behalf of Her Husband, Philip Aldorasi v. CROSSROADS HOSPITALITY AND MANAGEMENT COMPANY, LLC, et al.
Attorney:Joseph T. Piscitello, Law Offices of Joseph T. Piscitello, Philadelphia, PA, for Marlene Aldorasi Individually and on Behalf of Her Husband, Philip Aldorasi. Speros John Kokonos, Law Offices Gibley & McWilliams, Media, PA, for Crossroads Hospitality and Management Company, LLC, Marsha Ray, George...
Case Date:September 25, 2018
Court:United States District Courts, 3th Circuit, Western District of Pennsylvania
 
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344 F.Supp.3d 814 (E.D.Pa. 2018)

Marlene ALDORASI Individually and on Behalf of Her Husband, Philip Aldorasi

v.

CROSSROADS HOSPITALITY AND MANAGEMENT COMPANY, LLC, et al.

Civil Action No. 17-4580

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

September 25, 2018

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Joseph T. Piscitello, Law Offices of Joseph T. Piscitello, Philadelphia, PA, for Marlene Aldorasi Individually and on Behalf of Her Husband, Philip Aldorasi.

Speros John Kokonos, Law Offices Gibley & McWilliams, Media, PA, for Crossroads Hospitality and Management Company, LLC, Marsha Ray, George McFeeters.

MEMORANDUM

Juan R. Sánchez, C.J.

In this negligence action, Plaintiff Marlene Aldorasi, individually and on behalf of her husband, Philip Aldorasi, seeks damages for injuries she and her husband sustained when they were struck by falling building material while exiting a Philadelphia hotel where they had parked their car. Plaintiff brings claims against Crossroads Hospitality and Management Company, LLC, the business entity that operates or manages the hotel where the accident occurred, and two hotel employees: Marsha Ray, the hotel’s general manager, and George McFeeters, the director of engineering. After Plaintiff filed this action in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, Defendants promptly removed the case to federal court, asserting Ray and McFeeters had been fraudulently joined to destroy diversity and that, disregarding these individual Defendants’ Pennsylvania citizenship, subject matter jurisdiction was proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). Defendants also moved to dismiss all claims against the nondiverse individual Defendants. Plaintiff, disputing Defendants’ fraudulent joinder allegations, responded with a series of her own motions, seeking to remand the case to state court, amend her Complaint to clarify her allegations against the individual Defendants, or voluntarily dismiss this action without prejudice so that she could refile her proposed amended complaint in state court. Although presented in several different motions governed by different legal

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standards, the parties’ dispute centers on whether this case should proceed in state or federal court. As explained below, the Court agrees with Defendants that Plaintiff’s claims against Ray and McFeeters are not colorable as pleaded in her original state court Complaint. However, because it is undisputed that Plaintiff can state a claim against these individual Defendants— and, indeed, has done so in her proposed amended complaint— and upon consideration of the relevant equitable factors, the Court will exercise its discretion under 28 U.S.C. § 1447(e) to permit Plaintiff to amend her Complaint to rejoin Ray and McFeeters as defendants and will remand the case to the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County.

BACKGROUND

On April 3, 2016, Marlene and Philip Aldorasi, both citizens of Pennsylvania, parked their car in the parking garage at the Sheraton Philadelphia Downtown Hotel and walked from the garage into the hotel to exit onto 17th Street. While exiting the hotel, they were struck and injured by drywall, plasterboard, or other material that dislodged from a wall or ceiling above the doorway leading to 17th Street.

On October 9, 2017, Marlene Aldorasi commenced the above-captioned civil action by filing a Complaint against Crossroads, Ray, and McFeeters in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County.1 In her Complaint, which Plaintiff filed in her individual capacity and on behalf of her husband, Plaintiff alleges Defendants breached various duties owed to the Aldorasis as persons lawfully on the hotel premises, including their duty to properly maintain the hotel premises and to reasonably inspect and discover the dangerous conditions which caused the accident in which the Aldorasis were injured.

The above-captioned action is the third civil action Plaintiff has filed in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County with respect to the April 3, 2016, accident. On May 11, 2017, five months before filing this action, Plaintiff and her husband filed an action against four corporate entities, including Interstate Hotels & Resorts, Inc., the parent company of Crossroads (the First Civil Action),[2] raising allegations of negligence virtually identical to those made in this case. Like Defendants in this case, the defendants in the First Civil Action removed that action to federal court. Following the removal, the Aldorasis filed a praecipe to withdraw the action, and the case was ultimately dismissed without prejudice pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(1)(A)(i).

On June 23, 2017, Plaintiff filed a second negligence action against Crossroads and two other corporate entities[3] (the Second Civil Action), again raising allegations of negligence virtually identical to those made in this case. Although in the First Civil Action, Plaintiff and her husband had requested damages in an amount in excess of $50,000, Plaintiff filed the Second Civil Action solely on her own behalf as an "arbitration matter," specifically alleging the amount in controversy was "not in

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excess of $50,000" and requesting judgment "in an amount not in excess of $50,000."[4] Defs.’ Mem. in Opp’n to Pl.’s Mot. for Leave to File Am. Compl. Ex. C, at 1 & ¶¶ 6 & 29 (emphasis added). The defendants in the Second Civil Action answered the complaint on July 21, 2017, and the parties thereafter exchanged written discovery. In interrogatory responses served on Plaintiff on August 16, 2017, Crossroads disclosed that members of its engineering department were responsible for maintaining the hotel premises on the date of the Aldorasis’ accident and identified George McFeeters as the person most knowledgeable about the maintenance procedures in effect at the time of the accident. See id. Ex. D, ¶¶ 15, 18. Crossroads also represented, in both its interrogatory responses and answers to Plaintiff’s requests for admission, that repeated inspections of the ceiling in question revealed that "it never required repair [at] any time subsequent to its original construction in or about 1981 other than in connection with the incident [involving the Aldorasis] itself." See id. Ex. D, ¶ 7; see also id. Ex. F, ¶ 4 ("The referenced ceiling never demonstrated or experienced maintenance problems/conditions of any kind at any time subsequent to the date of its original construction in or about 1981.").[5] On October 6, 2017, Plaintiff filed a praecipe to withdraw the Second Civil Action.

Three days later, Plaintiff filed the instant case (the Third Civil Action) in state court on October 9, 2017, again seeking damages in an amount in excess of $50,000, as in the First Civil Action. On October 13, 2017, Defendants removed the case to this Court citing the federal diversity jurisdiction statute and arguing the two individual Defendants (Ray and McFeeters) were fraudulently joined. Consistent with their position that Ray and McFeeters were fraudulently joined, Defendants also moved to dismiss Plaintiff’s claims against these individual Defendants pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) on October 18, 2017.

On October 24, 2017, Plaintiff opposed the motion to dismiss and also moved to remand the case to state court. Three weeks later, on November 14, 2018, Plaintiff moved for leave to amend her Complaint to "clarify and detail" her allegations against Ray and McFeeters. Pl.’s Mot. for Leave to File Am. Compl. ¶ 6. Plaintiff’s proposed amended complaint adds allegations that Ray specifically authorized inadequate repairs of the ceiling above the 17th Street exit and that McFeeters specifically directed co-employees to inadequately repair the ceiling, a known hazard. The proposed amended complaint also faults all Defendants, including Ray and McFeeters, for improperly repairing and maintaining the ceiling despite knowing it posed a risk of becoming detached and falling.

On December 14, 2017, the Court heard argument on all pending motions. At the conclusion of the argument, Plaintiff’s counsel candidly advised the Court that if the Court were to deny Plaintiff’s motion to remand, counsel intended to withdraw this federal court action and refile Plaintiff’s

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proposed amended complaint— the allegations of which defense counsel conceded were sufficient to state a claim against Ray and McFeeters— in state court. Plaintiff then made an oral motion to withdraw the Complaint in this action without prejudice and, after the argument, submitted a proposed order dismissing this action without prejudice pursuant to Rule 41(a)(1)(A)(i).6 Although Defendants did not oppose Plaintiffs oral motion while in court, they subsequently filed a written opposition, asserting that any Rule 41(a)(1) dismissal had to be with prejudice under...

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