Casias v. Wal–Mart Stores, Inc.

Decision Date26 October 2012
Docket NumberNo. 11–1227.,11–1227.
Citation695 F.3d 428
PartiesJoseph CASIAS, Plaintiff–Appellant, v. WAL–MART STORES, INC.; Wal–Mart Stores East, L.P.; and Troy Estill, Defendants–Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

ARGUED:Scott Michelman, American Civil Liberties Union Foundation, Santa Cruz, California, for Appellant. Susan M. Zoeller, Barnes & Thornburg, LLP, Indianapolis, Indiana, for Appellees. ON BRIEF:Scott Michelman, American Civil Liberties Union Foundation, Santa Cruz, California, Daniel S. Korobkin, Michael J. Steinberg, American Civil Liberties Union Fund of Michigan, Detroit, Michigan, Daniel W. Grow, Targowski & Grow, PLLC, Kalamazoo, Michigan, for Appellant. Susan M. Zoeller, Barnes & Thornburg, LLP, Indianapolis, Indiana, Michael P. Palmer, Barnes & Thornburg, LLP, South Bend, Indiana, for Appellees.

Before: SUHRHEINRICH, MOORE, and CLAY, Circuit Judges.

CLAY, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which SUHRHEINRICH, J., joined. MOORE, J. (pp. 437–39), delivered a separate dissenting opinion.

OPINION

CLAY, Circuit Judge.

In this wrongful discharge action, Plaintiff Joseph Casias, a former Wal–Mart employee, appeals the district court's order denying his motion to remand and the dismissal for failure to state a claim following his termination for failing a drug test in violation of Defendants' drug testing policy. Because we find no reasonable basis to conclude that the non-diverse Defendant Troy Estill (Estill) would be liable and because we hold that the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act (MMMA) does not regulate private employment, we AFFIRM the judgment of the district court.

DISCUSSION
I. The Michigan Medical Marihuana Act

In 2008, Michigan passed the MMMA, Mich. Comp. Laws § 333.26421 et seq., to provide protections for the medical use of marijuana. The Act defines the term “medical use” to include “the acquisition, possession, cultivation, manufacture, use, internal possession, delivery, transfer, or transportation of marihuana or paraphernalia relating to the administration of marihuana to treat or alleviate a registered qualifying patient's debilitating medical condition or symptoms associated with the debilitating medical condition.” Id. § 333.26423(e). Although the Act broadly defines a “debilitating medical condition,” only a “qualifying patient” or “primary caregiver” who is issued a “registry identification card” by the Michigan Department of Community Health are permitted to administer or use medical marijuana. Id. §§ 333.26423(h), (g), (i). Thus any “qualifying patient” or “primary caregiver who has been issued and possesses a registry identification card shall not be subject to arrest, prosecution, or penalty of any manner, or denied any right or privilege, including but not limited to civil penalty or disciplinary action by a business.” Id. §§ 333.26424(a),(b).

II. Plaintiff's termination from Wal–Mart

Plaintiff was an employee of Wal–Mart's Battle Creek, Michigan store from November 1, 2004 until November 24, 2009, when Plaintiff was terminated from Wal–Mart after he tested positive for marijuana, in violation of the company's drug use policy.

Plaintiff was diagnosed with sinus cancer and an inoperable brain tumor at the age of 17. During his employment at Wal–Mart, Plaintiff endured ongoing pain in his head and neck. Although his oncologist prescribed pain relief medication, Plaintiff continued to experience constant pain as well as other side effects of his medication. After Michigan passed the MMMA in 2008, Plaintiff's oncologist recommended that he try marijuana to treat his medical condition. The Michigan Department of Community Health issued Plaintiff a registry card on June 15, 2009, and, in accordance with state law, he began using marijuana for pain management purposes. Plaintiff stated that the drug reduced his level of pain and also relieved some of the side effects from his other pain medication. Plaintiff maintains that he complied with the state laws and never used marijuana while at work; nor did he come to work under the influence. Instead, Plaintiff used his other prescription medication during the workday and only used the marijuana once he returned home from work.

In November 2009, Plaintiff injured himself at work by twisting his knee the wrong way while pushing a cart. Plaintiff contends that he was not under the influence of marijuana at the time of his accident. Although Plaintiff came to work the next day, he had trouble walking and was driven to the emergency room by a Wal–Mart manager to receive treatment. Since Plaintiff was injured on the job, he was administered a standard drug test at the hospital in accordance with Wal–Mart's drug use policy for employees. Prior to his drug test, Plaintiff showed his registry card to the testing staff to indicate that he was a qualifying patient for medical marijuana under Michigan law. Plaintiff then underwent his drug test, wherein his urine was tested for drugs.

One week later, Defendant notified Plaintiff that he tested positive for marijuana. Plaintiff immediately met with his shift manager to explain the positive drug test. Plaintiff showed the manager his registry card and also stated that he never smoked marijuana while at work or came to work under the influence of the drug. Plaintiff explained that the positive drug test resulted from his previous ingestion of marijuana within days of his injury in order to treat his medical condition. The shift manager made a photocopy of Plaintiff's registry card.

The following week, Wal–Mart's corporate office directed the store manager, Defendant Troy Estill, to fire Plaintiff due to the failed drug test, which was in violation of the company's drug use policy. Wal–Mart did not honor Plaintiff's medical marijuana card. Plaintiff sued Wal–Mart and Estill in state court for wrongful discharge and violation of the MMMA, arguing that the statute prevents a business from engaging in disciplinary action against a card holder who is a qualifying patient. Defendants thereafter removed the case to federal court based on diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332, 1441(a), and moved to dismiss the action for failure to state a claim. Plaintiff moved to remand the case to state court on the basis that Defendant Estill is a Michigan citizen, as is Plaintiff, and was properly joined, therefore eliminating diversity jurisdiction. Plaintiff also opposed Defendants' motion to dismiss.

The district court denied Plaintiff's motion to remand and granted Defendants' motion to dismiss. The district court held that Estill was fraudulently joined and could not be held liable under Michigan law because he did not make the decision to terminate Plaintiff, nor did he have the authority to fire Plaintiff. Therefore, the district court determined that Estill's citizenship should be disregarded for purposes of determining diversity jurisdiction. In addition, the district court held that the MMMA does not protect Plaintiff's right to bring a wrongful termination action because the MMMA does not regulate private employment. Plaintiff now appeals.

DISCUSSION
I. Motion to Remand

We review a district court's ruling on the issue of jurisdiction de novo, but the district court's factual findings are reviewed for clear error. Coyne v. American Tobacco Co., 183 F.3d 488, 492 (6th Cir.1999). “When a non-diverse party has been joined as a defendant, then in the absence of a substantial federal question the removing defendant may avoid remand only by demonstrating that the non-diverse party was fraudulently joined.” Jerome–Duncan, Inc. v. Auto–By–Tel, L.L.C., 176 F.3d 904, 907 (6th Cir.1999) (citation omitted). Fraudulent joinder is “a judicially created doctrine that provides an exception to the requirement of complete diversity.” Coyne, 183 F.3d at 493 (quoting Triggs v. John Crump Toyota, Inc., 154 F.3d 1284, 1287 (11th Cir.1998) (alteration in original)). A defendant is fraudulently joined if it is “clear that there can be no recovery under the law of the state on the cause alleged or on the facts in view of the law ...” Alexander v. Elec. Data Sys. Corp., 13 F.3d 940, 949 (6th Cir.1994) (citation omitted). The relevant inquiry is whether there is “a colorable basis for predicting that a plaintiff may recover against [a defendant].” Coyne, 183 F.3d at 493. “The removing party bears the burden of demonstrating fraudulent joinder.” Alexander, 13 F.3d at 949 (citation omitted).

When deciding a motion to remand, including fraudulent joinder allegations, we apply a test similar to, but more lenient than, the analysis applicable to a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. See Walker v. Philip Morris USA, Inc., 443 Fed.Appx. 946, 952–54 (6th Cir.2011). As appropriate, we may “pierce the pleading” and consider summary judgment evidence, such as affidavits presented by the parties. Id. The court may look to material outside the pleadings for the limited purpose of determining whether there are “undisputed facts that negate the claim.” Id. at 955–56.

Plaintiff argues that the district court improperly asserted diversity jurisdiction because Defendant Estill, a Michigan citizen, was a proper defendant in this case. According to Plaintiff, Defendant Estill participated in the tortious conduct alleged by Plaintiff by firing him from his position at Wal–Mart, and therefore was personally liable and properly joined in this action. In response, Defendants contend that Plaintiff failed to establish a colorable claim because Defendant Estill had no involvement in Plaintiff's termination. Defendants further argue that, under Michigan law, corporate agents cannot be liable for a wrongful discharge action.

In dismissing Plaintiff's motion to remand on the grounds of fraudulent joinder, the district court concluded that personal liability did not attach to Defendant Estill. In reaching this...

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