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Sardinas v. United Airlines, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

September 23, 2019

PAULA SARDINAS, individually, and on behalf of her minor child, G.M., Plaintiffs,
v.
UNITED AIRLINES, INC., et al., Defendants.

          ORDER ON PLAINTIFFS' MOTION TO AMEND COMPLAINT AND TO REMAND

          JAMES L. ROBART, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the court is Plaintiffs Paula Sardinas and G.M.'s (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) motion for leave to amend their complaint and to remand. (Mot. (Dkt. # 17).) Defendant United Airlines, Inc. (“United”) opposes the motion. (Resp. (Dkt. # 18).) Plaintiffs filed a reply. (Reply (Dkt. # 22).) The court has considered the parties' submissions, the relevant portions of the record, and the applicable law. Being fully advised, [1] the court GRANTS in part and DENIES in part Plaintiffs' motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Paula Sardinas filed this action in state court on January 17, 2019 on behalf of herself and her minor child, identified as G.M. (See Compl. (Dkt. # 1-1) ¶¶ 3-4.) Ms. Sardinas alleges that United and members of its flight crew were negligent in failing to protect G.M. from a sexual assault that occurred on board a United Airlines flight and in failing to respond appropriately when she reported the sexual assault. (See Id. ¶¶ 9, 11-13, 16.) Defendants removed the case to federal court on February 22, 2019, based on diversity jurisdiction. (See Not. of Removal (Dkt. # 1) at 3-5.) Plaintiffs are citizens of the State of Washington. (See Compl. ¶¶ 3-4.) United Airlines is incorporated in Delaware with its principal place of business in Illinois. (See Wallace Decl. (Dkt. # 2) ¶ 3.)

         Plaintiffs move to amend their complaint to join 10 additional unnamed Doe defendants who Plaintiffs allege are United gate agents and King County, Washington residents (see Mot. at 5; id., Ex. 1 (“Prop. Am. Complaint”) ¶¶ 3, 6)) and to remand the case to state court because the newly joined gate agents would destroy diversity of citizenship (see Mot. at 9-10). Plaintiffs also move to add claims for breach of contract and intentional infliction of emotional distress. (See Id. at 7-9; Prop. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 23-31.)

         United opposes the motion and asserts that (1) Plaintiffs' joinder of the gate agents is fraudulent (see Resp. at 5-8), (2) that the gate agents are not necessary and indispensable parties (see Id. at 8-9), (3) that fictitious Doe defendants cannot destroy diversity jurisdiction (see Id. at 9-10), and (4) that Plaintiffs' proposed amendments would be futile (see Id. at 10-12.)

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Legal Standard Governing Plaintiffs' Motion to Add Non-Diverse Doe Defendants and Remand

         Although motions to amend a complaint are ordinarily governed by Rule 15(a), a request to add a non-diverse defendant following removal is governed by 28 U.S.C. § 1447(e). See Newcombe v. Adolf Coors Co., 157 F.3d 686, 691 (9th Cir. 1998); Raifman v. Wachovia Sec., LLC, No. C11-02885, 2012 WL 1611030, at *1 (N.D. Cal. May 8, 2012); Greer v. Lockheed Martin, No. C10-1704, 2010 WL 3168408, at *4 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 10, 2010) (“[W]hen a plaintiff amends her complaint after removal to add a diversity-destroying defendant, this Court will scrutinize the amendment pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1447(e).”). Section 1447(e) of Title 28 states:

If after removal the plaintiff seeks to join additional defendants whose joinder would destroy subject matter jurisdiction, the court may deny joinder, or permit joinder and remand the action to the State court.

Id.

         “In determining whether a civil action is removable on the basis of [diversity jurisdiction], the citizenship of defendants sued under fictitious names shall be disregarded.” 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b)(1). Plaintiffs, however, do not dispute that United properly removed this case. (See generally Mot.). Instead, Plaintiffs seek to join defendants who, although unidentified by name, are identified by title and who Plaintiffs specifically allege are Washington residents. (See Prop. Am. Compl. ¶ 6; Mot. at 9-10.) Indeed, the entire basis of Plaintiffs' motion to remand rests on the alleged citizenship of the gate agents. (See Mot. at 9-10.)

         The Ninth Circuit has “not conclusively addressed the appropriate treatment of fictitiously named defendants described with sufficient particularity to provide a clue as to their actual identity.” See Sandoval v. Republic Servs., Inc., No. 218CV01224ODWKSX, 2018 WL 1989528, at *3 (C.D. Cal. Apr. 24, 2018) (citing Wong v. Rosenblatt, No. 3:13-CV-02209-ST, 2014 WL 1419080, at *4 (D. Or. Apr. 11, 2014) (recognizing that the Ninth Circuit has not yet resolved this question)). In Sandoval, the Central District of California cites a growing number of federal district court opinions determining that “when a plaintiff's allegations give a definite clue about the identity of the fictitious defendant by specifically referring to an individual who acted as the company's agent, the court should consider the citizenship of the fictitious defendant.” Sandoval, 2018 WL 1989528, at *2 (quoting Brown v. TranSouth Fin. Corp., 897 F.Supp. 1398, 1401 (M.D. Ala. 1995)); see also Collins v. Garfield Beach CVS, LLC, No. CV 17-3375 FMO (GJSx), 2017 WL 2734708, at *2 (C.D. Cal. 2017). Sandoval determined that to consider a fictitious defendant's citizenship for diversity purposes, the complaint must provide a “definite clue” as to the defendant's identity. See Sandoval, 2018 WL 1989528, at *3-4. A complaint provides a “definite clue” where “an individual was specifically identified as performing a particular job function, ” see id., at *4 (citing Musial v. PTC All. Corp., No. 5:08CV-45R, 2008 WL 2553900, at *4 (W.D. Ky. June 25, 2008)), or where the complaint “provid[es] specifics regarding location, dates, and particular events, see Sandoval, 2018 WL 1989528, at *4 (citing Collins, 2017 WL 2734708, at *2).

         There are compelling policy reasons to consider the citizenship of Doe defendants when they are described with sufficient detail, particularly when they are agents of a party. A contrary rule would allow defendants to remove cases they know are not properly removable because one of the unnamed defendants is the defendant's non-diverse agent. “As a matter of policy, it is unfair to force plaintiffs from their state court forum into federal court by allowing [a defendant] to plead ignorance about the defendant-employee's identity and citizenship when [a corporate defendant] is in a position to know that information.” See Collins, 2017 WL 2734708, at *2.

         The court finds the reasoning in Sandoval persuasive and adopts it. Here, Plaintiffs' proposed amended complaint describes both the fictitious defendants' job titles and their citizenship. (See Prop. Am. Compl. ¶ 6 (“Defendants United Sea-Tac employee gate agents, John and Jane Does 11-20 are residents of King County, Washington.”).) By doing so, Plaintiffs have provided a “definite clue” as to the gate agents' identity. Accordingly, the court considers the gate agents' citizenship. Because the gate agents are alleged to be Washington citizens, like Plaintiffs, their joinder would defeat diversity jurisdiction. Plaintiffs' motion specifically seeks to “amend [their] complaint after ...


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