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Colon v. Bernabe

July 19, 2007

MELANIE M. COLON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BERNARDIN GUTIERR BERNABE, SALEM TRUCK LEASING, INC. AND PIGTAINER INC., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Andrew J. Peck, United States Magistrate Judge

OPINION AND ORDER

On February 7, 2007, plaintiff Melanie Colon brought this action in Supreme Court, Bronx County, against defendants Bernardin Bernabe, Salem Truck Leasing, Inc., and Pigtainer Inc. (Dkt. No. 1: Notice of Removal, Att.: Summons & Compl.) On April 27, 2007, defendants filed a Notice of Removal on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. (Dkt. No. 1: Notice of Removal.) Presently before the Court is Colon's motion to remand the action to state court. (Dkt. No. 10: Notice of Motion to Remand.) The parties have consented to determination of this action by a Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (Dkt. No. 12.)

For the reasons set forth below, because Colon is a citizen of New York and Salem is a New York corporation and not a "nominal" defendant as defendants assert, diversity jurisdiction is lacking, and therefore Colon's motion to remand is GRANTED.

FACTS

The Complaint

This action arises from a September 7, 2006 motor vehicle accident. (Dkt. No. 1: Notice of Removal, Att.: Compl. ¶ 29.) Plaintiff Melanie Colon alleges that she sustained personal injuries when she was struck by a tractor trailer driven by Bernardin Bernabe and owned by Salem which leased it to Pigtainer. (Compl. ¶¶ 9-19, 27-30.) The complaint alleges that both Salem and Pigtainer were responsible for maintaining the tractor trailer. (Compl. ¶¶ 20-21.) Colon's complaint alleges "[t]hat Defendants were negligent, careless and reckless in the ownership, operation, management, maintenance, supervision, use and control of the aforesaid vehicle and the Defendants were otherwise negligent, careless and reckless under the circumstances then and there prevailing." (Compl. ¶ 32.)

The complaint alleges that Colon is a citizen of New York (Compl. ¶ 2); that Salem is incorporated in New York and with its principal place of business in New York (Compl. ¶¶ 2, 4); that Pigtainer is incorporated in New York with its principal place of business in New Jersey (Compl. ¶¶ 6, 8); and that Bernabe is a citizen of New Jersey (Compl. ¶ 3). Defendants' answer to the complaint, filed in state court, admits these allegations as to Bernabe and Salem (Notice of Removal, Att.: Ans. ¶¶ 2-4), admits that Pigtainer's principal place of business is in New Jersey, but denies that Pigtainer is incorporated in New York (Ans. ¶¶ 6, 8).*fn1

Defendants' Notice of Removal

On April 27, 2007, defendants filed a Notice of Removal based on diversity pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332(a) and 1441. (Dkt. No. 1: Notice of Removal.) Defendants allege that:

The above-described civil action is one in which this court has original jurisdiction under the provisions of Title 28, United States Code, Section 1332, and is one which may be removed to this court by the petitioners, the defendants herein, pursuant to the provisions of Title 28, United States Code, Section 1441, in that it is a civil action wherein the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75,000.00 exclusive of interests and costs, and is between citizens of different states. (Notice of Removal ¶ 1, emphasis added.) The Notice of Removal stated that plaintiff is a citizen of New York, Bernabe is a citizen of New Jersey, Pigtainer has its principal place of business in New Jersey, and that while Salem is a New York corporation, Salem "is a nominal defendant and its presence in the action cannot defeat diversity jurisdiction." (Notice of Removal ¶¶ 5-8, 10.) Specifically, defendants asserted that Salem owned the tractor trailer and leased it to Pigtainer/Bernabe, and that pursuant to 49 U.S. C. § 30106, the lessor is not liable for accidents arising out of the leased vehicle's operation. (Notice of Removal ¶ 5.)

ANALYSIS

BECAUSE THE REQUIREMENTS FOR DIVERSITY JURISDICTION HAVE NOT BEEN MET, THIS CASE IS REMANDED TO STATE COURT

An action brought in state court that could have been brought in federal court based on diversity jurisdiction is removable to federal court. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a)-(b). Section 1441 provides:

(a) Except as otherwise expressly provided by Act of Congress, any civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction, may be removed by the defendant or the defendants, to the district court of the United States for the district and division embracing the place where such action is pending. For purposes of removal ...


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