Hartley v. CSX Transpotation, 98-2742

Decision Date08 June 1999
Docket NumberNo. 99-1210,CA-98-1396-1-6,No. 98-2742,98-2742,99-1210
Citation187 F.3d 422
Parties(4th Cir. 1999) LIDY J. HARTLEY, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. CSX TRANSPORTATION, INCORPORATED; SOUTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION; TOWN OF ALLENDALE, SOUTH CAROLINA, Defendants-Appellees. LIDY J. HARTLEY, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. CSX TRANSPORTATION, INCORPORATED; SOUTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION; TOWN OF ALLENDALE, SOUTH CAROLINA, Defendants-Appellees. (). . Argued:
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fourth Circuit

Appeals from the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina, at Aiken.

Charles E. Simons, Jr., Senior District Judge.

COUNSEL ARGUED: John E. Parker, PETERS, MURDAUGH, PARKER, ELTZROTH & DETRICK, P.A., Hampton, South Carolina, for Appellant. John Arthur Davidson, FULCHER, HAGLER, REED, HANKS & HARPER, L.L.P., Augusta, Georgia, for Appellees. ON BRIEF: Ronnie L. Crosby, PETERS, MURDAUGH, PARKER, ELTZROTH & DETRICK, P.A., Hampton, South Carolina; H. Woodrow Gooding, GOODING & GOODING, Allendale, South Carolina, for Appellant. L. Dean Best, FULCHER, HAGLER, REED, HANKS & HARPER, L.L.P., Augusta, Georgia; Pete Kulmala, HARVEY & KULMALA, Barnwell, South Carolina, for Appellees.

Before WILKINSON, Chief Judge, and NIEMEYER and KING, Circuit Judges.

Reversed and remanded by published opinion. Chief Judge Wilkinson wrote the opinion, in which Judge Niemeyer and Judge King joined.

OPINION

WILKINSON, Chief Judge:

A South Carolina citizen filed a tort action in South Carolina state court against a Virginia railroad corporation and two South Carolina government entities. The railroad removed the case to federal court on diversity grounds, claiming that the government defendants were fraudulently joined. The district court denied plaintiff's motion to remand the case to state court. Because there is at least some possibility that plaintiff will recover against the government defendants, we reverse.

I.

Lidy J. Hartley is a South Carolina citizen whose automobile collided with a train at an Allendale, South Carolina railroad crossing in July 1997. She filed suit in the Allendale County Court of Common Pleas against CSX Transportation, Inc. (CSX), the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT), and the Town of Allendale, South Carolina (Town). Hartley alleged, among other things, that the SCDOT was negligent in maintaining an unsafe crossing, in failing to inspect the crossing adequately, and in failing to maintain proper markings on the roadway near the crossing. She also alleged that the Town was negligent in maintaining its property and in failing to warn the public of the obstructed view at the crossing.

CSX removed the case to the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina on the basis of diversity of citizenship. With the government defendants joined, there is incomplete diversity between plaintiff and defendants, and federal jurisdiction will not attach. On the other hand, if the government defendants are dismissed, then diversity jurisdiction will lie. CSX contended that the SCDOT and the Town were sham defendants that Hartley had named solely for the purpose of defeating diversity.

Hartley filed a motion to remand the case to state court on the ground that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction. The district court denied the motion, holding that South Carolina's public duty rule precluded Hartley's claims against the SCDOT and the Town. Hartley then filed this interlocutory appeal.

II.

CSX argues that diversity jurisdiction exists because the SCDOT and the Town are not proper defendants in this action. The district court agreed, holding that the government defendants were fraudulently joined because they could not be liable as a matter of law under the public duty rule. That rule provides that "public officials are generally not liable to individuals for their negligence in discharging public duties because the duty is owed to the public at large rather than to anyone individually." Wells v. City of Lynchburg, 501 S.E.2d 746, 751-52 (S.C. Ct. App. 1998).

We disagree with the district court. To show fraudulent joinder, the removing party must demonstrate either "outright fraud in the plaintiff's pleading of jurisdictional facts" or that"there is no possibility that the plaintiff would be able to establish a cause of action against the in-state defendant in state court." Marshall v. Manville Sales Corp., 6 F.3d 229, 232 (4th Cir. 1993) (internal quotation marks omitted). CSX does not allege any bad faith in pleading, so the only inquiry is whether Hartley has any possibility of recovery.

The party alleging fraudulent joinder bears a heavy burden -it must show that the plaintiff cannot establish a claim even after resolving all issues of law and fact in the plaintiff's favor. Id. at 232-33. This standard is even more favorable to the plaintiff than the standard for ruling on a motion to dismiss under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). See, e.g., Batoff v. State Farm Ins. Co., 977 F.2d 848, 852 (3d Cir. 1992) (inquiry into validity of complaint is more searching under Rule 12(b)(6) than when party claims fraudulent joinder).

CSX cannot meet this burden. The public duty rule does not preclude all possibility of recovery here. South Carolina law prescribes a six-part test for determining whether the public duty rule applies. Wells, 501 S.E.2d at 752. This test requires the court to ascertain the purposes of the statute; whether the statute imposes a duty on a specific public officer; the class protected by the statute; the membership of the plaintiff in that class; the public officer's state of mind concerning the likelihood of harm to members of the class if he fails in his duty; and the nature of the officer's authority. Id.

No South Carolina case has squarely held that the public duty rule forecloses Hartley's claims. Further, it is unclear whether a state court would apply the rule to her claims because the six-part test requires a judgment call at every turn. The presence or absence of each element often depends on several variables and may require factual investigation. See, e.g., Bellamy v. Brown, 408 S.E.2d 219, 221 (S.C. 1991) (public duty rule inquiry requires "applying this test to the facts of [the] case" (emphasis added)); Jensen v. Anderson County Dep't of Soc. Servs., 403 S.E.2d 615, 617-19 (S.C. 1991) (endorsing lower court's findings that, inter alia, considered report received by social worker and social worker's personal observations in determining foreseeability of harm). These judgment...

To continue reading

Request your trial
692 cases
  • Little v. Purdue Pharma, L.P.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Ohio
    • September 20, 2002
    ...a plaintiff gets more favorable treatment in a fraudulent joinder inquiry than she does in a 12(b)(6) inquiry. Hartley v. CSX Transp., Inc., 187 F.3d 422, 424 (4th Cir. 1999). The Batoff court held that a fraudulent joinder basis for removal (or for opposing remand) should only be upheld if......
  • Barbour v. Int'l Union
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Fourth Circuit
    • January 27, 2011
    ...of remanding the case to state court. Dixon v. Coburg Dairy, Inc., 369 F.3d 811, 816 (4th Cir.2004)( en banc ); Hartley v. CSX Transp., Inc., 187 F.3d 422, 425 (4th Cir.1999). Section 1441(a) of Title 28 of the United States Code provides that “the defendant or the defendants” may seek to r......
  • Jeff Gaither, Deputy Liquidator of Ky. Health Coop., Inc. v. Beam Partners, LLC
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of Kentucky
    • March 31, 2017
    ...Circuits have described claims as having a "reasonable basis" if they display as little as a "glimmer of hope." Hartley v. CSX Transp., Inc., 187 F.3d 422, 426 (4th Cir. 1999).5C Ms. Janie Miller, the Officers and Board of Directors of the Kentucky Health Cooperative, Inc., and Joseph E. Sm......
  • John S. Clark Co., Inc. v. Travelers Indem. Co. of Ill.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Middle District of North Carolina
    • August 16, 2004
    ... ... [can] establish a cause of action against the in-state defendant in state court.'" Hartley v ... Page 436 ... CSX Transp., Inc., 187 F.3d 422, 424 (4th Cir.1999) (quoting Marshall v ... ...
  • Request a trial to view additional results
6 books & journal articles
  • Clarity and Clarification: Grable Federal Questions in the Eyes of Their Beholders
    • United States
    • University of Nebraska - Lincoln Nebraska Law Review No. 91, 2021
    • Invalid date
    ...instance."); Cheshire v. Coca-Cola Bottling Affiliated, Inc., 758 F. Supp. 1098, 1102 (D.S.C. 1990); cf.Hartley v. CSX Transp., Inc., 187 F.3d 422, 425-26 (4th Cir. 1999) (holding that, in fraudulent joinder analysis on removal, "there need be only a slight possibility of a right to relief.......
  • Removal And Remand
    • United States
    • ABA Archive Editions Library Business Torts and Unfair Competition Handbook. Second Edition Business Tort Litigation
    • June 23, 2006
    ...Cir. 2001) (clear and convincing evidence required); Hart v. Bayer Corp., 199 F.3d 239, 246 (5th Cir. 2000); Hartley v. CSX Transp., Inc., 187 F.3d 422, 424 (4th Cir. 1999). 34. Ross v. Citifinancial, Inc., 344 F.3d 458, 463 (5th Cir. 2003); Pampillonia v. RJR Nabisco, Inc., 138 F.3d 459, 4......
  • The One Year Limit on Removal: an Ace Up the Sleeve of the Unscrupulous Litigant?
    • United States
    • Georgia State University College of Law Georgia State Law Reviews No. 24-4, June 2008
    • Invalid date
    ...of contract action when they were negligent in assessing the potential profitability of a business). 73. Hartley v. CSX Transp., Inc., 187 F.3d 422, 424 (4th Cir. 1999) (finding that fraudulent joinder was not present because there was at least some possibility that the plaintiff could reco......
  • The Old Bait and Switch: the Fourth Circuit Declined to Vacate a Remand Order as a Sanction Under Rule 60(b)(3) in Barlow v. Colgate Palmolive Co
    • United States
    • University of Nebraska - Lincoln Nebraska Law Review No. 48, 2022
    • Invalid date
    ...of a right to relief' or a 'glimmer of hope' on Barlow's claims against the in-state defendants" (quoting Hartley v. CSX Transp., Inc., 187 F.3d 422, 426 (4th Cir. 10. Barlow II, 750 F.3d at 445-48 (Floyd, J. dissenting). 11. Id. at 440 (majority opinion). 12. Id. at 440-44. 13. See infra n......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT