Jon Campisi Apr. 15, 2013, 7:17am

A federal judge has granted a plaintiff’s motion to remand in a personal injury case playing out against retail giant Wal-Mart.

U.S. District Judge Joel H. Slomsky, sitting in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, agreed to send a case initiated by Stephan Stewart against Wal-Mart Distribution Center and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. back to the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas because joinder of two additional defendants destroyed the federal court’s diversity of citizenship jurisdiction.

Stewart sued the Wal-Mart defendants in early August of last year over allegations that he cut his knuckle on March 1, 2011, while removing debris from the inside of a pallet at the company’s distribution center.

The plaintiff had been employed by Rehrig Penn Logistics at the time, working as a pallet cleaner and sorter for the retailer’s distribution center.

The Pennsylvania Record previously reported on the lawsuit.

In his civil action, Stewart alleges that the defendants’ negligence caused his personal injuries, and he asserts that Wal-Mart knew or should have known about the “unreasonably dangerous” condition of the pallets at the distribution center.

On Aug. 29, 2012, the record shows, the defendants removed the case to the U.S. District Court because, they contended, there was diversity in citizenship among the parties.

The plaintiff subsequently filed a motion to remand, saying the matter belonged in state court because he discovered that two Wal-Mart managers may be responsible for his injuries.

Stewart filed with the motion to remand a supplemental brief seeking to join the two managers, identified as Chris Cherry and Ed Geisler, to the litigation.

Cherry was an operations manager and Geisler was an asset protection manager at the Wal-Mart distribution center where the plaintiff’s alleged injuries took place.

The plaintiff’s amended complaint says that Cherry and Geisler were negligent because they knew or should have known that the distribution center was, and remained, in an unreasonably unsafe and unsanitary condition.

Both Cherry and Geisler are Pennsylvania residents, which is why Stewart sought to remand the case back to state court in Philadelphia.

Stewart maintained that he wasn’t seeking to join the two additional defendants “solely to destroy diversity but rather to assert meritorious causes of action against potential culpable parties,” according to the memorandum by Slomsky, the judge.

“Plaintiff does not allege that he was unaware of the existence of Cherry and Geisler when he filed the Complaint,” Slomsky wrote. “Plaintiff contends that he was not aware of the role Cherry and Geisler played in the alleged wrongdoing at the time the Complaint was filed.”

It wasn’t until after Stewart filed his motion to remand that the plaintiff learned of additional parties who may be responsible for his injuries, Stewart had asserted, according to the judicial memorandum.

Slomsky agreed with the plaintiff’s argument that if joinder wasn’t granted, his lawyer would have to do “duplicative work,” since Stewart would be required to bring a separate state court action to pursue his claims against the two additional defendants.

“In both a state and federal action, the facts and issues appear to be identical, and it would be burdensome to pursue both cases at the same time. This burden on Plaintiff will be significant and prejudicial if joinder is not permitted.”

Slomsky, in granting remand, also noted the Third Circuit U.S. Court of Appeal’s statement that “removal statutes are generally ‘to be strictly construed against removal and all doubts should be resolved in favor of remand.’”

In this case, the judge wrote, “the presumption of state jurisdiction … weighs in favor of granting the instant Motion for Remand.”

The case was remanded to the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.

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