Gas rig wrongful death claim transferred out of Phila. and into Middle District of Pa.

By Jon Campisi | Apr 3, 2013

A federal judge sitting in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania has denied a bid by an out-

of-state plaintiff to remand her wrongful death case to the Philadelphia Common Pleas Court, where it had originally been filed, ruling that diversity in citizenship exists because the defendants are not based in the Keystone State.

U.S. District Judge Jan E. DuBois, in a March 29 memorandum and order, denied a motion to remand that had been filed by Cherie Leatherman, who contended that the litigation belonged in state court in Philadelphia.

Leatherman, a Colorado resident, brought suit against Cabot Oil & Gas Corp., Pioneer Drilling Services LTD, Pioneer Drilling Inc. and Dean’s Casing Services Inc. on behalf of her late father, Gregory Walker, whose death allegedly resulted from an accident that occurred while he was working on a gas rig platform in central Pennsylvania.

Leatherman initiated her civil action against the defendants in late April of last year at Philadelphia’s Common Pleas Court, court records show.

The plaintiff contends that Walker’s death was caused by the negligence and reckless disregard of the defendants and their agents, and she seeks more than $50,000 in wrongful death and survival damages.

After the suit was brought in Pennsylvania court, attorneys for the defendants filed a removal notice over claims that diversity in citizenship existed among the parties.

Specifically, the lawyers wrote, Cabot is a citizen of both Delaware and Texas, Pioneer Drilling is based in Texas, and Dean’s Casing is located in Oklahoma.

Leatherman responded by contending that the case was improperly removed to federal court because at least one of the defendants is a Pennsylvania citizen.

Dean’s Casing, the plaintiff had argued, had not shown that its principal place of business was outside of Pennsylvania, although the company submitted an affidavit from its office manager stating that Dean’s is, in fact, an Oklahoma corporation with a principal place of business in Oklahoma, the record states.

DuBois concluded that based on the office manager’s testimony at her deposition, the defendant does indeed have its “nerve center” in Oklahoma, and because of this complete diversity is present.

However, the judge also refused to grant a defense request to dismiss the case in its entirety, allowing it to play out in the federal system, but not in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania; DuBois ordered that the case ultimately be sent to the federal court in Harrisburg.

As an alternative to dismissal, the defendants had asked that the case be transferred to the Middle District of Pennsylvania based on forum non conveniens, or for the convenience of the parties.

In her memorandum, DuBois wrote that the fact that the gas rig incident occurred in Dimrock Township, Pa., which is located in the Middle District of Pennsylvania, generally weighs against transfer, but in this case it is given less weight due to the plaintiff’s non-resident status.

Courts generally give a plaintiff’s choice of venue “substantial weight” in determining whether to grant a motion to transfer, the judge wrote, but it’s given less weight if the plaintiff chooses a venue in which he or she does not reside and in which none of the operative facts giving rise to the suit occurred, the memorandum states.

In this case, DuBois wrote, all of the defendants prefer to litigate the suit in the Middle District of Pennsylvania, the accident giving rise to the litigation occurred in that district, and it would be easier to play out in the Middle District because witnesses might need to visit the accident site during discovery.

“In short, this case has nothing to do with the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and should be heart in the Middle District of Pennsylvania,” DuBois wrote. “The Court concludes that defendants have met their burden of demonstrating that transferring this case to the Middle District of Pennsylvania would be in the interest of justice.”

DuBois also denied without prejudice a request by Cabot Oil & Gas to dismiss parts of the suit on the merits, writing that those issues will be left to the discretion of the federal jurist who takes over the case in the Middle District.

The complaint shows that Walker was 41 years old when he died on May 10, 2010, following the workplace incident.

The man was killed while attempting to rotate and seat a casing pipe while he was on an elevated stabbing board at the rig, according to the lawsuit. It was at this time that Walker was struck by an object, which caused significant trauma to his head and body, and ultimately led to his death.

The complaint accuses the defendants of failing to provide a safe work environment for employees.

The plaintiff is being represented by attorney Frederic S. Eisenberg, of the Philadelphia firm Eisenberg, Rothweiler, Winkler, Eisenberg & Jeck.

More News

The Record Network