Family Dollar slip-and-fall suit receives extra time to clarify diversity of citizenship

Nicholas Malfitano Jun. 22, 2016, 9:02am


PHILADELPHIA – A Harrisburg woman’s premises liability lawsuit against Family Dollar will receive additional time to determine proper citizenship of the defendant, but will not be immediately remanded to the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas.

Judge Gene E.K. Pratter of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania decided June 16 that Karina Vargas would be given more time to ascertain diversity of citizenship between the parties in her suit against Family Dollar, but her suit wouldn’t be going to state court.

“Vargas, alleges that she fractured her leg when she fell at a Family Dollar store located in Harrisburg. She contends her fall was due to a dangerous condition on the premises,” Pratter said. “She initially filed a lawsuit in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas. The defendant contends that no such company exists and the parties have since stipulated that ‘Family Dollar Stores of Pennsylvania, LLC’ should be substituted as the defendant in place of ‘Family Dollar, Inc.”

After the lawsuit was filed in state court, Family Dollar removed the suit on the basis of diversity jurisdiction.

“Ms. Vargas has filed a motion for remand asserting that the defendant cannot meet its burden of establishing complete diversity between the parties. This motion also requests, in the alternative, the opportunity to conduct limited discovery of the defendant in order to determine its citizenship,” Pratter explained.

“Ms. Vargas argues in her motion that based upon the evidence in the record, the defendant has failed to meet its burden showing the citizenship of the lessee of the property in question,” Pratter added.

“Ms. Vargas also argues that, assuming Family Dollar Stores of Pennsylvania, LLC is the lessee of the property, the defendant has not established diversity by identifying the citizenship of the LLC’s members. Ms. Vargas argues that she is entitled to discovery on these jurisdictional issues.”

But the Court explained there was no dispute remaining on this topic because the parties entered a stipulation substituting “Family Dollar Stores of Pennsylvania, LLC” as the correct defendant and removing “Family Dollar, Inc.,” from the caption, and further attached to its briefing a copy of the lease for the property in question, identifying “Family Dollar Stores of Pennsylvania, LLC” as the lessee.

“Given that Family Dollar Stores of Pennsylvania, LLC, is the proper defendant, the Court must determine whether the citizenship of this entity defeats diversity jurisdiction. The defendant alleges that the LLC is a citizen of Virginia, though, for obvious reasons, the Complaint does not so aver,” Pratter clarified.

Pratter said in support of this belief, the defendant attached a copy of the Operating Agreement of Family Dollar Stores of Pennsylvania, LLC, to its briefing, stating the company was formed under Virginia law and its principal place of business is in Chesapeake, Va.

“The Operating Agreement notes that the Family Dollar Stores, Inc. is incorporated in Delaware, thereby making it a citizen of that state for purposes of ascertaining diversity. Accordingly, based upon the evidence before the Court, there is no indication that complete diversity is lacking,” Pratter stated.

“Nevertheless, the citizenship of a corporation may be established through both state of incorporation as well as principal place of business and the record is so far silent as to Family Dollar Stores, Inc.’s principal place of business. This creates the possibility that diversity may be defeated in the event it is shown that the company’s principal place of business is located in Pennsylvania,” Pratter continued.

According to Pratter, without further information, it is unknown at this point to determine whether diversity of citizenship requirements have been, and called for additional discovery on this point in future proceedings.

“While the Court is cognizant that the burden is on the party asserting diversity and that questions should be resolved in favor of remand, at this early point in the life of the case, it appears to be the more prudent course to allow for limited discovery as to the defendant’s principal place of business, and then allow Ms. Vargas to then refile her motion for remand if it appears that the jurisdictional elements have not been met,” Pratter stated.

“The Court will therefore grant the plaintiff’s motion to the extent that Ms. Vargas seeks additional discovery to determine the citizenship of Family Dollar Stores, Inc. The Court will deny the motion to the extent it seeks immediate remand,” Pratter concluded.

The plaintiff is represented by Robert L. Astrachan of Zajac & Arias, in Philadelphia.

The defendant is represented by Louis Hockman of Mintzer Sarowitz Zeris Ledva & Meyers, also in Philadelphia.

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:16-cv-01793

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nickpennrecord@gmail.com

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