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Parson v. Home Depot Usa, Inc.

United States District Court, Third Circuit

December 13, 2013

HOME DEPOT USA, INC., a corporation Defendant.


JAMES B. CLARK, III, Magistrate Judge.

This matter comes before this Court upon motion by Plaintiff Stacey Parson ("Plaintiff"). Plaintiff seeks leave to amend the Complaint to add additional claims against Defendant, Home Depot USA, Inc. ("Defendant") and to add a non-diverse individual defendant. See Docket Entry No. 7. As a result of the non-diverse joinder, Plaintiff also seeks to have the Court remand the action back to state court. Defendant opposes the motion on grounds that the amendments are futile and the joinder is designed to defeat diversity. Docket Entry No. 8. The Court considers the arguments of the parties without oral argument pursuant to L.Civ.R. 78.1(b). For the reasons set forth more fully below, Plaintiff's motion is DENIED.

I. Background and Procedural History[1]

In the underlying action, Plaintiff states that he was employed at Defendant's Hackensack store for approximately 13 years. See Amended Complaint ¶ 4 ("Amend. Compl.") at Docket Entry No. 7-3. During the course of his employment, Plaintiff became acquainted with a co-worker, Dawn Wetterhahn. Id. On or about January 7, 2013, Wetterhahn told Plaintiff that Wetterhahn was involved in a dispute with Assistant Store Manager Chris Grasso ("Grasso"). Id. ¶ 5. Later that day, two workers from a different Home Depot location were in the Hackensack store with Plaintiff and told him that Grasso had told them that Wetterhahn was about to be fired. Id. Plaintiff reported the statements to a human resources manager at that time. Id. ¶ 7. Plaintiff complained about the conduct, believing that Grasso had violated Defendant's Code of Ethics in telling the other employees of Wetterhahn's termination. Id. ¶¶ 6 & 7. Eight days later, Plaintiff was terminated from his employment at Defendant's store. Id. ¶ 8.

Plaintiff initiated his suit on July 1, 2013 in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Bergen County, naming Home Depot as the sole defendant and alleging that Defendant was unjustly terminated Plaintiff in violation of the Conscientious Employee Protection Act, N.J.S.A. 34:19-1, et seq. ("CEPA"). See Notice of Removal at 8; Docket Entry No. 1. Defendant removed the matter to this Court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction on August 12, 2013. Id.

On September 12, 2013, Plaintiff filed the instant motion to amend the complaint and remand this case to state court. See Docket Entry No. 7. Plaintiff wants to add Grasso as a named defendant, alleging Grasso retaliated against him for Plaintiff's complaints and seeking to hold Grasso liable for tortious interference in the economic relationship between Plaintiff and Defendant Home Depot. See Amend. Compl., Fourth Count ¶ 1. As a result of adding Grasso, Plaintiff further seeks to have the Court remand the case to state court. See Plaintiff's Counsel Affidavit ¶ 5 ("Pl.'s Aff."); Docket Entry No. 7. Plaintiff also seeks to add two claims against Defendant Home Depot as alternatives to his CEPA-based claim: first, a breach of ethical conduct and retaliatory conduct claim, and second, a breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing claim. See Amend. Compl., Second Count ¶ 1 and Third Count, ¶ 1. Defendant opposes this motion on the grounds that the amendment was intended to strip this Court of subject matter jurisdiction and that the proposed new claims are futile.

II. Standard

Under Rule 15(a)(2), a party may amend its pleading with leave of court and the court "should freely give leave when justice so requires." Id. The Third Circuit has taken a liberal approach to allowing amendments under this rule so that claims may be decided on the merits and not on any technicality. WHY ASAP, LLC v. Compact Power , 461 F.Supp.2d 308, 311 (D.N.J. 2006) (citing Dole v. Arco Chemical Co. , 921 F.2d 484, 487 (3d Cir. 1990)). Absent "undue delay, bad faith, dilatory motive, unfair prejudice, or futility or amendment, " the court should grant leave to amend. WHY ASAP , 461 F.Supp.2d at 311 (citing Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp. , 293 F.3d 103, 108 (3d Cir. 2002)).

An amendment is futile when it fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. See In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig. , 114 F.3d 1410, 1434 (3d Cir. 1997). The standard of review for futility is therefore the same as that for a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). See id.

When faced with a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the court conducts a two-step analysis. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside , 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009). First, the factual elements are separated from the legal elements of the claim. Fowler , 578 F.3d at 210-11. The court must accept the factual elements alleged in the well-pleaded complaint as true, but may disregard any legal conclusions. Id .

Second, the court must determine if the facts alleged are sufficient to show a "plausible claim for relief." Fowler , 578 F.3d at 210 (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1955 (2009)). A plausible claim is one which "allows the Court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Fowler , 578 F.3d at 210-11 (quoting Iqbal , 129 S.Ct. at 1948). "Ultimately, this two-part analysis is context-specific' and requires the court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense' to determine if the facts pled in the complaint have nudged [plaintiff's] claims' over the line from [merely] conceivable or [possible] to plausible.'" Hobson v. St. Luke's Hospital and Health Network , 735 F.Supp.2d 206, 211 (E.D. Pa. 2010) (quoting Fowler , 578 F.3d at 211-12).

Where a party seeks to add a non-diverse defendant in a removal action, courts may permit joinder despite the fact that the amendment will defeat diversity and require remand. See 28 U.S.C. § 1447(e). Courts, however, must take a careful look at the reasons behind such motions to amend and will deny the motion if the intent is only to strip the Court of jurisdiction. See City of Perth Amboy v. Safeco. Ins. Co. of America , 539 F.Supp.2d 742, 746 (D.N.J. 2008). In the Third Circuit, district courts adopted the factors announced by the Fifth Circuit in Hensgens v. Deere & Co. , 833 F.2d 1179, 1182 (5th Cir. 1987), to weigh the moving party's intent in making the motion to join a non-diverse party. See City of Perth Amboy, 539 F.Supp.2d at 746. The Hensgens factors are: (1) the extent to which the purpose of the amendment is to defeat federal jurisdiction; (2) whether plaintiff has been dilatory in asking for an amendment; (3) whether plaintiff will be significantly injured if amendment is not allowed; and (4) any other factors bearing on the equities. Hensgens , 833 F.2d at 1182.

III. Discussion

A. Claims against ...

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