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Patton v. Allergan PLC

United States District Court, C.D. California

July 24, 2017

Stephanie Patton, et al.
Allergan PLC, et al.

          Present: Honorable MICHAEL W. FITZGERALD, U.S. District Judge


         Proceedings (In Chambers): ORDER RE PLAINTIFFS' MOTION TO REMAND [7]

         The Court offers its condolences to Ms. Patton and Mr. Knighten.

         Before the Court is Plaintiffs' Motion to Remand this matter to the Riverside County Superior Court, filed on May 30, 2017. (the “Motion” (Docket No. 7)). Defendant Forest Laboratories, LLC filed an Opposition on July 3, 2017. (Docket No. 17).

         The Court held a hearing on July 24, 2017. For the reasons stated below, the Motion is DENIED. The Motion is denied both on the basis of claims-splitting and the impossibility that RCRMC is a valid defendant to defeat diversity. At the hearing, Plaintiff submitted on the tentative ruling that came to this conclusion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case arises out of the suicide of the daughter of Plaintiffs Knighten and Patton, who is referred to as “K.K.” in the briefing. (Complaint, Docket No. 1-2, ¶¶ 1-2). K.K. had been a medical patient of several of the Defendants, and Plaintiffs allege she committed suicide as a result of negligent treatment and her taking the prescription drug Lexapro. (Id. ¶ 3).

         Plaintiffs have filed two separate suits arising out of K.K.'s suicide. The first was filed in Superior Court on January 30, 2017. (Complaint (Docket No. 17-2)). As to Defendant Riverside County Regional Medical Center (“RCRMC”), this suit alleged negligence and wrongful death in that RCRMC and its doctor-Doctor Bipin Patel-failed to reasonably advise Plaintiffs of the risks of Lexapro, and that RCRMC failed to conduct its own research into Lexapro's efficacy. This first suit named only RCRMC and Dr. Patel as Defendants.

         On May 15, 2017, Plaintiffs filed an amended pleading in the first suit, adding as Defendants various pharmacies and corporations. (First Amended Complaint (Docket No. 17-2)).

         The second suit was filed on April 4, 2017, also in Superior Court. (Docket No. 1-2). This suit named RCRMC as a Defendant in addition to a host of various pharmacies and drug manufacturers. In addition to negligence and wrongful death claims, the suit alleges product liability, fraud, breach of warranty, and violations of California consumer protection laws. While the first suit claimed that RCRMC had failed to investigate the side effects of Lexapro, the second suit claims that Lexapro's manufacturer-Defendant Forest Labs-failed to disclose the dangers of the drug to healthcare providers. (Id. ¶ 52). The second suit also argues that RCRMC acted as a “distributor” of the drug in its role as a pharmacy.

         On May 11, 2017, Forest Labs removed the second suit to this Court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. (Notice of Removal (Docket No. 1)). Forest Labs argues that RCRMC has been fraudulently joined in this suit, and that its citizenship should be ignored for diversity purposes.


         As all parties recognize, the threshold requirement for removal under 28 U.S.C. § 1441 is a “finding that the complaint . . . is within the original jurisdiction of the district court.” Ansley v. Ameriquest Mortgage Co., 340 F.3d 858, 861 (9th Cir. 2003). In most circumstances, “federal district courts have jurisdiction over suits for more than $75, 000 where the citizenship of each plaintiff is different from that of each defendant.” Hunter v. Philip Morris USA, 582 F.3d 1039, 1043 (9th Cir. 2009) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)). A well-established exception to the complete-diversity rule is “‘where a non-diverse defendant has been ‘fraudulently joined.'” Id. (quoting Morris v. Princess Cruises, Inc., 236 F.3d 1061, 1067 (9th Cir. 2001)). The joinder is considered fraudulent “[i]f the plaintiff fails to state a cause of action against the [non-diverse] defendant, and the failure is obvious according to the settled rules of the state . . . .” Hamilton Materials, Inc. v. Dow Chemical Co., 494 F.3d 1203, 1206 (9th Cir. 2007). Defendant must “prove that individuals joined in the action cannot be liable on any theory.” Ritchey v. Upjohn Drug Co., 139 F.3d 1313, 1318 (9th Cir. 1998)

         Because all doubts weigh against removal, a court determining whether joinder is fraudulent “must resolve all material ambiguities in state law in plaintiff's favor.” Macey v. Allstate Property and Cas. Ins. Co., 220 F.Supp.2d 1116, 1117 (N.D. Cal. 2002) (citing Good v. Prudential Ins. Co. of America, 5 F.Supp.2d 804, 807 (N.D. Cal. 1998)). “If there is a non-fanciful possibility that plaintiff can state a claim under [state] law against the non-diverse defendant[, ] the court must remand.” Id.; see also Good, 5 F.Supp.2d at 807 (“[T]he defendant must demonstrate that there is no possibility that the plaintiff will be able to establish a cause of action in State court against the alleged sham defendant.”). Given this standard, “[t]here is a presumption against finding ...

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