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Knox v. Monsanto Co.

United States District Court, D. Montana, Great Falls Division

July 17, 2019



          Brian Morris, United States District Court Judge

         I. Background

         Plaintiffs Terry Knox and Carolyn “Coke” Knox (collectively “Plaintiffs”) initially filed this action in Montana state court. Plaintiff Terry Knox alleges that Monsanto's Roundup branded herbicides (“Roundup”) acted as a substantial factor in causing him to develop non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. (Doc. 6 at 1-2.) Defendants Monsanto Company (“Monsanto”) and Kerry Yates (“Yates”) (collectively “Defendants”) removed the case to this Court based on diversity jurisdiction. (Doc. 1.) Yates has promoted Roundup in Montana. (Doc. 2 at 2.)

         Defendants acknowledge that Yates is a citizen of Montana, but claim that he has been fraudulently joined to this action. (Doc. 1 at 3.) Plaintiffs filed a Motion to Remand and Memorandum in Support arguing that Yates constitutes a proper defendant and that his presence in this action prevents removal under the forum defendant rule. (Docs. 8 & 9.) Defendants filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings and Memorandum in Support seeking to dismiss Yates from this action. (Docs. 11 & 12 at 2.)

         The Court conducted a hearing on these motions on July 10, 2019. (Docs. 8 & 11.) For the reasons discussed below, the Court grants Plaintiffs' motion and remands this case back to state court.

         II. Legal Standard

         Defendants removed this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1441 and 1446. (Doc. 1 at 1.) The Court's subject matter jurisdiction must arise from U.S.C. § 1332 on the basis of diversity of parties.

         There exists a strong presumption against federal jurisdiction over cases removed from state courts. Gaus v. Miles, Inc., 980 F.2d 564, 566 (9th Cir. 1992). The party seeking removal possess the burden to establish that removal proves proper. Id. Courts must strictly construe the removal statute. Moore-Thomas v. Alaska Airlines, Inc., 553 F.3d 1241, 1244 (9th Cir. 2009). A court must remand if any doubt exists that removal had been improper. Id. Proper removal arises only if there exists complete diversity of citizenship-meaning that each plaintiff is a citizen of a different state than each properly joined defendant. 28 U.S.C. § 1332; Morris v. Princess Cruises, Inc., 236 F.3d 1061, 1067 (9th Cir. 2001). A plaintiff properly may join multiple defendants in a single action if the plaintiff's claims against them arise from the “same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences” or share a common question of law or fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 20. This liberal joinder standard promotes trial convenience and judicial economy without affecting the substantive rights of the parties. Wheat v. Safeway Stores, Inc., 404 P.2d317, 321 (1965).

         A court may ignore defendants who fraudulently have been joined. Fraudulent joinder stands a term of art; joinder of a resident defendant proves fraudulent if the plaintiff fails to state a cause of action against a resident defendant, and the failure appears obvious according to the rules of the state. Ritchey v. Upjohn Drug Co., 139 F.3d 1313, 1318 (9th Cir. 1998). To establish fraudulent joinder, the defendant must demonstrate that the plaintiff failed to assert a valid state law claim against the resident defendant. Id. The federal court must find that the joinder had been proper and remand the case to state court if there exists a possibility that a state court would determine that the complaint states a cause of action against the resident defendant. Hunter v. Phillip Morris USA, 582 F.3d 1039, 1046 (9th Cir. 2009).

         III. Discussion

         Defendants assert that Plaintiffs' Complaint lacks sufficient factual detail to state a plausible negligence claim against Yates. (Doc. 12 at 5.) Defendants argue that Yates must be dismissed from the case and that Yates's dismissal would establish complete diversity. Id. Plaintiffs counter that a plausible claim exists against Yates and that the case should be remanded to state court. (Doc. 8.)

         Defendants argue that Plaintiffs' base their claims against Yates on conduct that occurred in the course and scope of Yates's employment with Monsanto. (Doc. 9 at 8-11.) Plaintiffs do not dispute that the claims against Yates relate to his employment as a sales representative and manager for Monsanto. (Doc. 7 at 2.) Plaintiffs argue that the allegations of misconduct and omission by Yates constitute an exception to the corporate shield. (Doc. 9 at 15.)

         The following four paragraphs refer to Yates:

¶ 3: “Defendant Kerry Yates is a resident of Great Falls, Cascade County, Montana. At times relevant to this action, Kerry Yates was Monsanto's sales representative in Montana and promoted its commercial herbicide Roundup and other products. Kerry Yates knew that Terry Knox used thousands of gallons of ...

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