Federal District Court Rules on Remand to State Court Following Successful Joinder of Defendant’s Employer in Respondeat Superior Claim Arising out of Motorcycle Accident

A federal court in New Mexico recently reached a decision in a motorcycle accident case that dealt with the complicated issues of fraudulent joinder and the theory of respondeat superior in determining the proper venue for the personal injury lawsuit.

In the case, PACELY v. Lockett, Dist. Court, D. NM (2013), the plaintiff filed a complaint for personal injuries sustained when he was involved in an accident with the defendant.

The plaintiff, who was riding a motorcycle at the time, had stopped his motorcycle in the median, in order to wait for other riders. The defendant then reportedly came from behind the plaintiff at a high rate of speed in his Porsche, and struck the rear of the plaintiff’s motorcycle. As a result, the plaintiff’s vehicle was totaled, and he suffered severe injuries, which included the loss of his left leg above the knee, the loss of his right leg below the knee, and he was in a coma for a sustained period of time.

The plaintiff initially filed his complaint in the relevant state court accusing the defendant of negligence, and seeking compensatory and punitive damages. The defendant then removed the case to federal court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction, since he is a citizen of Arizona, and the plaintiff is a citizen of New Mexico, and the amount in controversy is more than $75,000.

Shortly thereafter, the plaintiff amended his complaint, raising a new claim for vicarious liability against the defendant’s employer, under the doctrine of respondeat superior. Thereafter, following the joinder of the new defendant, the plaintiff filed a motion to remand the case to state court, because the defendant’s alleged employer is a domestic corporation headquartered in the same state as the plaintiff, defeating the complete diversity requirement necessary for the case to remain in federal court.

The defendant challenged the motion for remand, claiming that the plaintiff attempted to commit a fraudulent joinder by trying to add his alleged employer, solely for the purpose of eliminating the diversity of citizenship.

The court then undertook a brief analysis of whether the plaintiff could have a claim of respondeat superior, as he claimed, in order to determine whether the joinder was fraudulent. While the analysis was not conclusive, it ruled that there was a potential argument for it, and that therefore there was not evidence that the amended complaint, and thus joinder of the employer, was in bad faith. Therefore, the court granted the plaintiff’s motion to remand, sending the case back to the relevant state court.

Personal injury lawsuits such as this one can implicate diversity of citizenship as individuals from states different than each other collide, literally, on inter and intrastate highways, freeways, and roadways. If this case had remained in federal court, the decision ultimately would likely have rested on the underlying law of New Mexico anyway, since that is where the actual accident occurred.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a Maryland motorcycle accident due to another driver’s negligence, contact the experienced Maryland motorcycle accident attorneys at Lebowitz & Mzhen Personal Injury Lawyers immediately. Our law firm has extensive experience in representing motorcyclists and their passengers, or the family members of those who have been injured or killed due to another driver’s negligence. Call us today in order to schedule your initial complimentary consultation. You can contact us through our website or by calling 1-800-654-1949.

More Blog Posts:

The Importance of Testifying at Your Motorcycle Accident Trial, Maryland Motorcycle Accident Lawyer Blog, published December 5, 2013
U.S. Court of Appeals Decision in Motorcycle Accident Case Affirms Importance of Not Making Statements of Fault Following Accidents, Maryland Motorcycle Accident Lawyer Blog, published November 24, 2013

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