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ZERAFA v. MONTEFIORE HOSPITAL HOUSING CO.

December 7, 2005.

EMANUEL ZERAFA, Plaintiff,
v.
MONTEFIORE HOSPITAL HOUSING COMPANY, INC., C&D, full name unknown, and THE LOUISVILLE LADDER GROUP, LLC, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: WILLIAM CONNER, Senior District Judge

OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Emanuel Zerafa brings this negligence action against defendants Montefiore Hospital Housing Company, Inc. ("MHHC"), Louisville Ladder Group, LLC ("Louisville") and C&D (full name unknown) claiming personal injury. The claim was removed to federal court by Louisville based on diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1332. Plaintiff moves to remand the claim based on procedural defects pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. § 1447(c), and MHHC moves for summary judgment under FED. R. CIV. P. 56 on the ground that it does not own the property on which the accident occurred. For the reasons stated herein, Zerafa's motion to remand is denied and MHHC's motion for summary judgment is granted.

  BACKGROUND

  I. Procedural History

  On April 16, 2002, plaintiff was employed as a housekeeper for Montefiore Medical Center,*fn1 which occupies a complex of buildings including 3400 Bainbridge Avenue. (Am. V. Complt. ¶ 20; Def. Louisville Decl. at 5.)*fn2 While working at 3400 Bainbridge Avenue, an alleged defect in the ladder on which he was standing caused him to fall, resulting in injury. (Am. V. Complt. ¶¶ 23, 38-39.) Plaintiff commenced an action in New York State Supreme Court, Bronx County on May 13, 2003 against MHHC as the purported owner of 3400 Bainbridge Avenue. (Pl. Mem. Supp. Mot. Remand at 2.) Plaintiff's belief that MHHC is the owner of 3400 Bainbridge Avenue is based on a record abstract indicating that MHHC is the owner.*fn3 (Id.; Pl. Aff. Opp. Summ. J. ¶ 6, Ex. C.)

  MHHC moved in state court for summary judgment and dismissal of plaintiff's Amended Verified Complaint on the ground that it did not own 3400 Bainbridge Avenue. (Def. MHHC Aff. Supp. Summ. J. ¶ 9.) MHHC insists that Montefiore Medical Center is the legal owner. (Id.) Justice George D. Salerno denied the motion without prejudice with leave to renew the motion at the completion of discovery. (Id. at ¶ 10.) On February 27, 2004, plaintiff amended his complaint to add Louisville, the alleged manufacturer of the ladder, as a defendant. (Am. V. Complt. ¶¶ 35-47.) On March 3, 2005, after discovery commenced but before it was completed, MHHC informed Louisville that MHHC planned to renew its motion for summary judgment. (Def. Louisville Mem. at 2;*fn4 Def. MHHC Aff. Supp. Summ. J., Ex. I ¶ 5.) On March 9, 2005, based on what Louisville perceived as the "inevitable" dismissal of MHHC from the action, Louisville petitioned for removal of the action to federal court based on diversity jurisdiction.*fn5 (Def. Louisville Mem. at 2.) On May 25, 2005, plaintiff moved for remand, at which point MHHC renewed its motion for summary judgment. II. Property Interest in 3400 Bainbridge Avenue

  It is undisputed that the property known as 3400 Bainbridge Avenue rests on Block 3343, Lot 283 in Bronx, New York. (Pl. Aff. Opp. Summ. J. ¶¶ 5-6; Def. MHHC Mem. Supp. Summ. J. at 2-3; Def. Louisville Mem. at 5.) The first known record deed for Block 3343, Lot 283, dated 1910, conveys the property from William H. Picken and Julia A. Picken to Montefiore Home, a Hospital for Chronic Invalids and Country Sanitarium for Consumptives ("Montefiore Home"). (Pl. Aff. Opp. Summ. J., Ex. B; Def. MHHC Mot. Summ. J., Ex. J.) After several official name changes, Montefiore Home is now Montefiore Medical Center. (Def. MHHC Mot. Summ. J., Ex. K.)

  In 1964, a deed affecting this property (hereinafter "the 1964 deed") was recorded that conveyed a section of Lot 283 from Montefiore Medical Center to MHHC. (Pl. Aff. Opp. Summ. J., Ex. C; Def. Louisville Decl., Ex. 3.) In addition, an easement between Montefiore Medical Center and MHHC (hereinafter "the 1995 easement") was recorded on August 23, 1995, allowing the Medical Center a nonexclusive, perpetual easement and right-of-way on MHHC's parcel for construction of a medical arts pavilion and parking garage. (Pl. Aff. Opp. Summ. J., Ex. D; Def. Louisville Decl., Ex. 4) The explicit language in the 1995 easement, describes MHHC's property — the burdened parcel — as "Lot 300," and the parcel owned by Montefiore Medical Center — the benefitted property — is described as "Lot 283." (Pl. Aff. Opp. Summ. J., Ex. D.; Def. Louisville Decl., Ex. 4.) Attached to the 1995 easement is the metes and bounds description of "Lot 300." (Pl. Aff. Opp. Summ. J., Ex. D.; Def. Louisville Decl., Ex. 4.) This description matches the legal description of the property conveyed to MHHC in the 1964 deed. (See Pl. Aff. Opp. Summ. J. ¶ 6, Exs. C, D; Def. Louisville Decl. ¶ 27, Exs. 3, 4.) A survey of Block 3343, Lot 283 conducted in August 1999, and certified to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development by Harwood Surveying, P.C., indicates two lots on Block 3343: Lot 283 and Lot 300. (Def. MHHC Aff.Supp. Summ. J. ¶ 19, Ex. M.)

  DISCUSSION

  I. Motion to Remand

  A. Standard of Review

  A cause of action originally filed in state court may be removed by a defendant to federal court where "the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction." 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). For removal to be considered proper, the removing party must demonstrate that the federal court is endowed with the requisite subject matter jurisdiction. See Caterpillar v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 391-92 (1987). Removal jurisdiction is strictly construed inasmuch as it implicates significant federalism concerns and abridges the deference courts generally give to a plaintiff's choice of forum. See id.; see also Shamrock Oil & Gas Corp. v. Sheets, 313 U.S. 100, 109 (1941) ("Due regard for the rightful independence of state governments, which should actuate federal courts, requires that they scrupulously confine their own jurisdiction to the precise limits which the statute has defined."); In re NASDAQ Mkt. Makers Antitrust Litig., 929 F. Supp. 174, 178 (S.D.N.Y. 1996) ("Removal jurisdiction must be strictly construed, both because the federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction and because removal of a case implicates significant federalism concerns."). The removing party bears the burden of establishing that removal is proper. See Avon Prods., Inc. v. The A/J P'ship, Nos. 89 Civ. 3743, 89 Civ. 8032, 1990 WL 422416, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 1, 1990); Fisher v. Bldg. Servs. 32-B-J Health Fund, No. 96 Civ. 4317, 1997 WL 590843, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 22, 1997); Still v. DeBuono, 927 F. Supp. 125, 129 (S.D.N.Y. 1996). A federal court has subject matter jurisdiction when complete diversity exists between the parties and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332. "It is a fundamental principal [sic] of law that whether subject matter jurisdiction exists is a question answered by looking to the complaint as it existed at the time the petition for removal was filed." Hill v. Delta Int'l Mach. Corp., 386 F. Supp. 2d 427, 429 (S.D.N.Y. 2005) (citing Collins v. Dartmouth Plan, Inc., 646 F. Supp. 244, 245 (D. Conn. 1986)).

  B. Nominal Parties

  Complete diversity does not appear to exist in this case. Plaintiff is a citizen of New York. Louisville is a Delaware Corporation with its principal place of business in Kentucky. The presence of MHHC, a nonprofit corporation organized under New York law with its ...


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