In a Florida personal injury lawsuit, it’s not enough to prove that you’ve been injured. You also have to identify the specific person or entity responsible for the injury and establish the defendant’s legal liability. In Rutsky v. Target, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida explains that a plaintiff who doesn’t identify all of the parties he or she wishes to sue in an original complaint may not get another bite at the apple.
Nicole Rutsky was injured in a slip and fall accident at a Florida Target store. She later sued the company in state court, alleging that it failed to inspect the store’s floors and keep them in a safe condition or notify visitors that the floors were in a dangerous condition. Also named as a defendant was “John Doe,” an unidentified Target manager.
Target removed the case to the Southern District – a federal court – based on diversity jurisdiction, which generally gives federal judges the authority to hear cases between residents of two different states. A corporation’s “residence” is determined based on the company’s principal place of business.
Rutsky later identified “John Doe” as Target manager Rhonda Hooper and sought to amend her complaint to substitute Hooper as the second defendant. In a proposed amended complaint, Rutsky alleged that Hooper was negligent in inspecting and maintaining Target’s floors, supervised employees that created a dangerous condition at the store and failed to warn visitors about the condition.
The problem, however, was that Hooper was a Florida resident. Federal diversity jurisdiction requires complete diversity: each of the parties must be from different states. Thus, by substituting Hooper as a defendant, Rutsky would also necessitate removal of the case back to state court. Target challenged the move, claiming it was intended solely for the purpose of destroying the federal court’s jurisdiction over the matter.
After a hearing on the matter, the Southern District sided with Target, denying Rutsky’s motion to amend the complaint.
“A district court, when faced with an amended pleading adding a non-diverse defendant in a case removed based on diversity jurisdiction, should scrutinize that amendment more closely than an ordinary amendment and should deny leave to amend unless strong equities support the amendment,” the court explained. In this case, the court said that the circumstances surrounding the move to substitute Hooper as a defendant indicated that the move was intended to destroy the court’s jurisdiction. Specifically, the court found that Rutsky will be able to obtain complete discovery and the full amount of any possible relief to which she is entitled for her injuries directly from Target with or without Hooper as a defendant.
Further, the court said Rutsky remains free to file a separate suit against Hooper in state court. Although a second suit would require additional costs and time, the court explained that “[t]he likelihood that Plaintiff will actually pursue a claim in state court against Ms. Hooper is remote given that Target is a fully solvent defendant who will be vicariously liable for any of Ms. Hooper’s negligent conduct.”
An experienced personal injury attorney is vital to pursuing an accident claim, not to mention determining whom to pursue it against. The South Florida accident lawyers at Anidjar & Levine represents clients throughout the area, including in Coral Springs, Hialeah and Pompano Beach, and offer a free initial consultation from our Fort Lauderdale offices. Call the firm today at 800-747-3733.
Related blog posts: