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Peter Aramini, Margret Aramini v. City of Buffalo

May 22, 2012

PETER ARAMINI, MARGRET ARAMINI, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CITY OF BUFFALO, CSX TRANSPORTATION, INC., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: William M. Skretny Chief Judge United States District Court

DECISION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff, Peter Aramini, commenced this personal injury action by filing a Summons and Complaint in New York State Supreme Court against the County of Erie (subsequently dismissed from the case), the City of Buffalo, and CSX Transportation, Inc. ("CSX").*fn1 On September 2, 2011, CSX removed the action to this Court based on diversity of citizenship. Although Aramini and the City of Buffalo are citizens of the same state, CSX claims that the City of Buffalo was fraudulently joined because there is no possibility that Aramini can state a claim against it.*fn2 (Docket No. 1.)

Both remaining defendants, CSX and the City of Buffalo, have since filed motions to dismiss in favor of the City of Buffalo. (Docket Nos. 14, 17.) The City of Buffalo and CSX argue that dismissal is appropriate for the same reasons that CSX has claimed that the City was fraudulently joined. Although Aramini did not move to remand the case or otherwise contest CSX's stated basis for removal, it now opposes Defendants' motions to dismiss.

Because Aramini's claims are barred by New York law, the City of Buffalo will be terminated as a defendant. Accordingly, Defendants' motions to dismiss will be denied as moot.

II. BACKGROUND*fn3

As they stand at this point, the facts are brief and straightforward: On May 1, 2010, in his capacity as a City of Buffalo Sanitation Department employee, Aramini was riding on the back of a sanitation truck traveling westbound on West Ferry Street when it attempted to pass underneath a railroad bridge, which was owned and operated by CSX. (Compl., ¶¶ 10-12, 23.) The top of the truck struck the bridge, bringing it to a sudden stop and injuring Aramini. (Id., ¶ 13.) Aramini contends that a nearby sign, presumably meant to indicate the height of the bridge, was in someway inadequate. (Id., ¶ 14.)

As a result of this incident, Aramini filed a Workers' Compensation claim and received benefits from the City of Buffalo to compensate him for his injures. (Quinn Decl., ¶ 18; Docket No. 14-1; Workers' Compensation Board Decision, attached as Ex. "F" to Quinn Decl.; Docket No. 14-7.)

III. DISCUSSION

As noted, CSX removed this case based on diversity jurisdiction, which Aramini did not oppose. Yet, Aramini continues to assert his claims against the City of Buffalo, a non-diverse party. Therefore, at the outset, this Court must consider whether it has subject-matter jurisdiction over this case.

A. Fraudulent Joinder

CSX argues that the City of Buffalo, whose presence in this case would typically destroy the long-standing requirement of complete diversity, see, e.g., Strawbridge v. Curtiss, 7 U.S. (3 Cranch) 267 (1806), overruled on other grounds by Louisville, C. & C.R. Co. v. Letson, 43 U.S. (2 How.) 497, 555 (1844), should not be considered in the diversity analysis because, based upon the allegations in the complaint, there is no possibility Aramini can state a claim against it.

To establish fraudulent joinder, a defendant must demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that there is outright fraud in the plaintiff's pleadings, or that there is no possibility of stating a claim against the non-diverse defendant in state court. Pampillonia v. RJR Nabisco, Inc., 138 F.3d 459, 461 (2d Cir. 1998). "The defendant bears the heavy burden of proving this circumstance [and] all factual and legal ambiguities [must be] resolved in favor of plaintiff." Collins v. Flynn, No. 08-CV-59, 2008 WL 3851842, at *3 (W.D.N.Y. Aug. 15, 2008) (citing Briarpatch Ltd., L.P. v. Phoenix Pictures, Inc., 373 F. 3d 296, 302 (2d Cir. 2004)). The defendant's burden is greater than the requisite burden to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Stan Winston Creatures, Inc. v. Toys "R" Us, Inc., 314 F. Supp. 2d 177, 182-83 (S.D.N.Y. 2003) ("In order to show that a defendant was fraudulently joined to defeat removal, it is not sufficient to argue that the complaint fails to state a claim against that defendant; rather, the removing party 'must demonstrate, by clear and convincing evidence, . . . that there is no possibility, based on the pleadings, that a plaintiff can state a cause of action against the . . . defendant in state court.'"). If there is a possibility that a right to relief exists under the governing law, fraudulent joinder will not be found. Id. at 183 (citation omitted).

In making the inquiry into whether a defendant has been fraudulently joined, courts may look outside the pleadings. See, e.g., Pampillonia, 138 F. 3d at 461-62 (looking to affidavits to determine if plaintiff's complaint alleged sufficient factual foundation to support his claim); In re Consolidated Fen-Phen Cases, Nos. 03-CV-3081, 03-CV-4869, 2003 WL 22682440, at *3 (E.D.N.Y. Nov. 12, 2003); Areseneault v. Congoleum, No. 01-CV-10657, 2002 WL 472256, at *6 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 26, 2002) (deciding fraudulent joiner issue and looking outside the pleadings to depositions and other evidence in the record because "[t]he Second Circuit . . . has said that, on jurisdictional issues 'federal courts may look outside [the] ...


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