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Italo Campuzano and Mercy Encalada v. Stanley Black & Decker

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

April 11, 2014

ITALO CAMPUZANO and MERCY ENCALADA (his wife), Plaintiffs,
v.
STANLEY BLACK & DECKER, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

KEVIN MCNULTY, District Judge.

THIS MATTER having been opened to the Court by Plaintiffs, Italo Campuzano and Mercy Encalada, through their counsel Clark Law Firm, on a Motion to Remand this case, which was removed from state court [ECF No. 4]; and Defendant Stanley Fastening Systems, LP, through its counsel LeClair Ryan, having submitted papers in opposition to the motion [ECF No. 8]; and Magistrate Judge Michael A. Hammer having filed a Report and Recommendation [ECF No. 9] on March 19, 2014; and Defendant having filed a timely objection to the Report and Recommendation [ECF No. 10]; and

IT APPEARING THAT:

(1) In the First Count of the Complaint [ECF No. 1 at ¶ [2], Plaintiffs allege that Italo Compuzano "was working for a company called PBI Construction & Contractors, performing certain construction and/or construction related activities related to carpentry. In connection with this work, as a result of the negligence, gross negligence, intentional wrong and/or substantial certainty o[f] harm as described herein of defendants named herein, plaintiff, ITALO CAMPUZANO, was struck in the leg while using a nail gun performing his work activities causing him severe, debilitating and permanent injuries." (Underlining added.)
(2) In the First Count of Complaint, "Plaintiff(s) demand(s) judgment against all defendants, joint and/or severally for compensatory damages in an amount to be determined at trial; punitive damages; attorneys' fees and costs and for such other relief as the Court deems appropriate." (Underlining added.).
(3) On December 18, 2013, Defendant Stanley Fastening Systems, LP (hereinafter "Stanley LP") filed a notice of removal of the complaint from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, to this Court, asserting that this Court has diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). [ECF No. 1].
(4) On January 17, 2014, Plaintiffs filed a motion to remand this action to the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County. [ECF No. 4]. The motion asserts that complete diversity of citizenship is lacking because of the presence of defendants PBI Construction, Inc., PBI Construction, and PBI (collectively, "PBI"), which are citizens of New Jersey.
(5) Stanley LP argued in opposition that the PBI defendants "are nominal or fraudulently joined defendants, whose inclusion in Plaintiffs' Complaint does not defeat diversity jurisdiction." (Br. Opp. Mot. Remand [ECF No. 8] at 2).
(6) Magistrate Judge Michael A. Hammer's Report and Recommendation ("R&R") concluded that the motion to remand should be granted because complete diversity is lacking, and this Court therefore lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the case. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). The R&R finds that Stanley LP failed to establish that Plaintiffs "fraudulently joined" PBI for the purpose of defeating diversity jurisdiction.
(7) Judge Hammer noted that the Complaint alleged that each and every named defendant's negligence, gross negligence, intentional acts, and/or knowledge of the substantial certainty of harm caused Campuzano's injury, and that Plaintiff sought damages from each and every named defendant, including PBI. He therefore rejected Stanley LP's assertion that PBI was joined for the sole purpose of obtaining discovery.
(8) Judge Hammer considered and rejected Stanley LP's argument that the New Jersey Workers Compensation Act bars any potential lawsuit against PBI, inasmuch as its exclusive-remedy provision does not apply to an employer's alleged intentional acts. See N.J.S.A. § 34:15-8; Laidlow v. Hariton Machinery Co., 170 N.J. 602, 616-617.
(9) Accordingly, Judge Hammer determined that the Complaint alleged colorable grounds for recovery against PBI, a non-diverse defendant, which the state court may well determine to be viable. See Batoff v. State Farm Ins. Co., 977 F.2d 848, 851-852 (3d Cir. 1992); Jatczyszyn v. Marcal Paper Mills, Inc., 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 114851, *4-7 (D.N.J. Aug. 21, 2008) (Salas, M.J.) (citing Batoff ). Judge Hammer's R&R therefore proposes that this Court remand the action to state court, since both Plaintiffs and PBI are citizens of New Jersey.
(10) Stanley LP timely objected to the R&R within fourteen days of its filing and service. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b). It argues that the First Count of the Complaint is limited to a products liability claim, and that Judge Hammer misconstrued paragraph 2 therein. It also argues that the Second Count actually "alleges that [PBI is] not liable to Mr. Campuzano due to the New Jersey Workers' Compensation Act" and "make[s] clear... that they are not seeking relief from FBI." Finally, Stanley LP argues that "Plaintiffs never make the argument that is the entire premise of the Report." ( See Response in Opp. [ECF No. 10] at 2-5).
(11) Because the R&R is primarily an application of law to the face of the complaint, this Court will reviews it de novo, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3). "A judge of the court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); see generally U.S. v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 680 (1980) (stating that ...

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