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In re Paulsboro Derailment Cases Belbin

United States District Court, Third Circuit

January 13, 2014

CONSOLIDATED RAIL CORPORATION, et al. Defendants. Civil No. 13-5583 (RBK/KMW)

OPINION (Doc. No. 16).

ROBERT B. KUGLER, District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court on the motion of David Belbin, et al. ("Plaintiffs") to remand this case to the Superior Court of New Jersey, Gloucester County. Consolidated Rail Corporation ("Conrail"), Norfolk Southern Railway Company ("Norfolk Southern"), and CSX Transportation ("CSX") (collectively "Railroad Defendants") argue that the case was properly removed pursuant to this Court's diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Because the Court finds that it does not have jurisdiction, Plaintiffs' motion to remand will be GRANTED and the case will be remanded to the Superior Court.


On the morning of November 30, 2012, a freight train derailed and plunged into the Mantua Creek in Paulsboro, New Jersey, when a railroad bridge spanning the creek buckled and collapsed. Several cars became partially submerged in the creek. Compl. ¶¶ 24-25. At least one of the derailed railcars released its cargo of vinyl chloride into the air and water. Id . ¶ 45. The release of chemicals allegedly caused the surrounding neighborhood to become engulfed in a cloud of vinyl chloride fumes. Id . ¶ 46. As a result, a number of residents of the surrounding area were evacuated. Id . ¶ 51.

Plaintiffs allege that the Railroad Defendants acted negligently and recklessly in their operation of the freight train and maintenance of the bridge. They further allege that the train proceeded across the bridge against a red signal, which indicated that the bridge, which could swing open to allow water traffic, was not ready to safely accommodate rail traffic. Id . ¶¶ 40. Plaintiffs also assert that shortly before the derailment, the Railroad Defendants had been notified of deficient conditions relating to the operation of the bridge, but failed to correct the problems. Id . ¶¶ 30-31, 34-35. Plaintiffs were involved in the emergency response to the derailment or are family members of those involved in the emergency response. Id . ¶ 80. They also allege that the Railroad Defendants failed to warn those responding to the scene of the dangers of the chemicals, and made misleading and false statements about the risk of exposure. Id . ¶¶ 72-74. The plaintiffs allege various physical symptoms and illnesses resulting from exposure to the toxic chemicals. Id . ¶¶ 81-101.

In May, 2013, a similar group of plaintiffs to the group in this case filed suit against the Railroad Defendants in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas. See Certification of Mark Cuker, Ex. 1. After two other cases in filed Philadelphia County related to the Paulsboro derailment were dismissed on the ground of forum non conveniens, the plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed their case. See Am. Notice of Removal, Ex. B. Shortly thereafter, Plaintiffs in this matter filed suit in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Gloucester County. Two plaintiffs who were included in the Philadelphia suit were not included in the New Jersey suit, and four new plaintiffs were added when suit was filed in New Jersey Superior Court. Am. Notice of Removal ¶ 25. One of the new plaintiffs was James Bogusky, who is a citizen of Pennsylvania. Id . ¶ 18. All other plaintiffs in both the Philadelphia suit and this suit are residents of, and presumably citizens of, New Jersey. The defendants named in the Superior Court complaint were Conrail, a citizen of Pennsylvania, Norfolk Southern, a citizen of Virginia, and CSX, which is a citizen of Virginia and Florida. Id . ¶¶ 9-12.

On September 19, 2013, CSX removed the complaint to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441, asserting that diversity jurisdiction existed under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). On September 20, 2013, CSX filed an amended notice of removal, and Conrail and Norfolk Southern filed consent notices thereafter. See ECF Doc. Nos. 1, 5-7.


A. Standard for Removal

Under 28 U.S.C. § 1441, a defendant may remove an action filed in state court to a federal court with original jurisdiction over the action. Once an action is removed, a plaintiff may challenge removal by moving to remand the case back to state court. To defeat a plaintiff's motion to remand, the defendant bears the burden of showing that the federal court has jurisdiction to hear the case. Abels v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co. , 770 F.2d 26, 29 (3d Cir. 1985). Where the decision to remand is a close one, district courts are encouraged to err on the side of remanding the case back to state court. See Abels , 770 F.2d at 29 ("Because lack of jurisdiction would make any decree in the case void and the continuation of the litigation in federal court futile, the removal statute should be strictly construed and all doubts should be resolved in favor of remand."); Glenmede Trust Co. v. Dow Chem. Co. , 384 F.Supp. 423, 433-34 (E.D. Pa. 1974) ("It is well settled that district courts should remand close or doubtful cases for two reasons. First, remand will avoid the possibility of a later determination that the district court lacked jurisdiction and, secondly, remand is normally to a state court which clearly has jurisdiction to decide the case.") (citations omitted).

B. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

Federal Courts are courts of limited jurisdiction and may only decide cases as authorized by Congress or the Constitution. Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. , 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). Congress has authorized federal subject matter jurisdiction in civil suits where the amount "in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000" and the parties are "citizens of different States." 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). The statutory requirement that parties be citizens of different states means that complete diversity must exist; if any two adverse parties are co-citizens, there is no jurisdiction. See Strawbridge v. Curtiss , 7 U.S. (3 Cranch) 267 (1806); State Farm Fire & Cas. Co. v. Tashire , 386 U.S. 523, 531 (1967). When a corporation is a party, it "shall be deemed to be a citizen of every State and foreign state by which it has been incorporated and of the State or foreign state where it has its principal place of business...." 28 U.S.C. § 1332(c)(1).

In the amended notice of removal, CSX acknowledged that Bogusky's Pennsylvania citizenship precludes complete diversity of citizenship, because Defendant Conrail is also a citizen of Pennsylvania. Am. Notice of Removal ¶ 19. CSX nevertheless indicated that removal was proper because the Court could "drop Plaintiff Bogusky from the lawsuit, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 21." Id . ¶ 20. CSX indicated that Bogusky was added for the purpose of preventing removal to federal court, is not an indispensable party, and should thus be dismissed to allow for diversity jurisdiction. Id . ¶¶ 20-21. They argue that Bogusky's participation in this suit "does not advance efficiency, but instead would prevent this Court from exercising jurisdiction over the claims of the other 23 plaintiffs." Id . ¶ 28. They also argue that Bogusky ...

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