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Priester v. Bent Creek Golf Club, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Knoxville

May 21, 2018

ALLEN PRIESTER, Plaintiff,
v.
BENT CREEK GOLF CLUB, LLC, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          CURTIS L. COLLIER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is the motion (Doc. 30) of Defendants Bent Creek Golf Club, LLC, Integrity Golf Company, LLC, and Colin Williams (collectively, “Defendants”) to dismiss the suit for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1).[1]Aiming to cure the jurisdictional defect identified in Defendants' motion, Plaintiff responded by moving the Court to dismiss a defendant, David Meyer, from the suit. (Doc. 41.) Defendants replied in opposition (Doc. 44). They also subsequently moved to stay discovery (Doc. 50) pending resolution of their motion to dismiss. For the reasons that follow, the Court will GRANT Plaintiff's motion to dismiss Meyer as a named defendant (Doc. 41), and will DENY AS MOOT both Defendants' motion to dismiss (Doc. 30) and their motion to stay discovery (Doc. 50).

         I. BACKGROUND

         This action arises out of a round of golf. On the back nine holes at the Bent Creek Golf Course in Sevier County, Tennessee, Plaintiff was thrown from the passenger seat of his golf cart when it “lost traction, slid sideways, and diverted off the cart path.” (Doc. 1 ¶ 18.) Defendants' negligent maintenance of the golf course was to blame, according to Plaintiff, and he filed his original complaint on June 30, 2017. (Doc. 1.) He alleged only state law causes of action. But, at the time, complete diversity of citizenship existed among the parties-Plaintiff is a citizen of Virginia, while Defendants are based in either Tennessee or Florida. Plaintiff sought review in federal court on that basis.

         Defendants answered Plaintiff's original complaint on August 18, 2017. (Doc. 16.) They asserted the affirmative defense of comparative fault, averring that Meyer-believed to have been driving the golf cart at the time of the incident-caused or contributed to Plaintiff's injuries. (Id.) Along with its answer, Defendants also filed a third-party complaint against Meyer with an eye towards the Cart Usage Agreement (the “Agreement”) Meyer signed prior to playing the course. Under the Agreement, Meyer “promise[d] . . . to indemnify and hold [Defendants] harmless from any/all damage or claims . . . that may arise from or through the use of [the golf carts].” (Doc. 16 at 19.)

         In response to this third-party claim, Plaintiff sought, and was granted, leave to file an amended complaint (the “Amended Complaint”) (Doc. 28). Though he claims to have “had no reason to believe Meyer caused or contributed to his injuries, ” Plaintiff nevertheless added Meyer as a defendant “out of an abundance of caution.” (Doc. 42.)

         Like Plaintiff, however, Meyer is a citizen of Virginia. Defendants consequently moved to dismiss the suit for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, [2] contending the addition of Meyer destroyed diversity of citizenship. (Doc. 30.) Plaintiff now moves the Court to dismiss Meyer from the suit to cure any jurisdictional defects his addition to the suit may have worked. (Doc. 41.) Defendants responded in opposition (Doc. 44).

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Defendants seek dismissal pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1). To survive a motion to dismiss based on a lack of subject matter jurisdiction, the plaintiff bears the burden of proving jurisdiction is proper. Wisecarver v. Moore, 489 F.3d 747, 749 (6th Cir. 2007). When reviewing a facial attack, such as that here, a district court takes the allegations in the complaint as true. Gentek Bldg. Prods., Inc. v. Steel Peel Litig. Trust, 491 F.3d 320, 330 (6th Cir. 2007).

         III. DISCUSSION

         For a federal court to exercise subject matter jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332, there must be complete diversity of citizenship among the parties, [3] meaning “no plaintiff and no defendant are citizens of the same state.” Curry v. U.S. Bulk Transport, Inc., 462 F.3d 536, 540 (6th Cir. 2006) (quoting Jerome-Duncan, Inc. v. Auto-By-Tel, LLC, 176 F.3d 904, 907 (6th Cir. 1999)). The Court initially had jurisdiction on this basis; Plaintiff is a citizen of Virginia, and Defendants are not. The addition of a fellow Virginian as a defendant, however, destroyed diversity jurisdiction, and Plaintiff concedes as much. Plaintiff seeks now to restore the Court's ability to hear the case by dismissing Meyer from the suit under Rule 21-a dismissal Defendants oppose.

         Rule 21 instructs that “[m]isjoinder of parties is not a ground for dismissing an action, ” and “the court may at any time, on just terms, add or drop a party.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 21. Before a court may dismiss a party under this rule, however, it must consider two questions: (1) Is the to-be-dismissed party indispensable to the action? (2) Would a defendant suffer “plain legal prejudice” if the party is dismissed? See Mayfield v. London Women's Care, PLLC, No. 15-19- DLB, 2015 WL 3440492, at *3 (E.D. Ky. May 28, 2015) (citing Newman-Green, Inc. v. Alfonzo-Larrain, 490 U.S. 826, 838 (1989)).

         As to the former, Rule 21 allows a district court to drop a non-diverse party to retain diversity jurisdiction if that party's presence in the action is not required under Rule 19. Iwan v. Petco Animal Supplies Stores, Inc., No. 1:15-CV-2540, 2016 WL 2898034, at *1 (N.D. Ohio May 18, 2016) (citing Safeco Ins. Co. of Am. v. City of White House, Tenn., 36 F.3d 540, 545 (6th Cir. 1994). A party is “required” under Rule 19 if: “(1) complete relief cannot be given to existing parties in his absence; (2) disposition in his absence may impair his ability to protect his interest in the controversy; or (3) his absence would expose existing parties to substantial risk of double or inconsistent obligations.” Id.

         If Rule 19 does not mandate the party's inclusion in the action, the court then assesses whether the party's dismissal would work “plain legal prejudice” on the remaining defendants. Wilkerson v. Brakebill, No. 3:15-CV-435-TAV-CCS, 2017 WL 401212, at *3 (E.D. Tenn. Jan. 30, 2017). To that end, the court considers “(1) the defendants' effort and expense of preparation for trial, (2) excessive delay and lack of diligence on plaintiff's part in prosecuting the case, (3) insufficient explanation for the need for dismissal, and (4) whether a motion for summary judgment is pending.”[4]Id. (quoting Rosenthal v. Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc., 217 Fed.Appx. 498, ...


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