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Larson v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A.

United States District Court, Eighth Circuit

January 27, 2014

Brandon Larson, Plaintiff,
v.
Wells Fargo Bank, N.A.; and Paul Timp, Defendants.

Frances E. Baillon, Esq., and Christopher D. Jozwiak, Esq., Baillon Thome Jozwiak & Wanta LLP, Minneapolis, MN, on behalf of Plaintiff.

Joseph G. Schmitt, Esq., David A. James, Esq., and Sejal Desai Winkelman, Esq., Nilan Johnson Lewis PA, Minneapolis, MN, on behalf of Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

ANN D. MONTGOMERY, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter is before the undersigned United States District Judge for consideration of Plaintiff Brandon Larson's ("Larson") Motion for Remand [Docket No. 18] and Defendants Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. ("Wells Fargo") and Paul Timp's ("Timp") Motion to Dismiss [Docket No. 7]. For the reasons stated herein, Larson's motion is granted and Defendants' motion is not reached.

II. BACKGROUND

Larson was a Vice President in the Home Mortgage Division at Wells Fargo. See Notice of Removal [Docket No. 1] Ex. A ("Complaint") ¶ 9. A group of employees ("direct reports") reported directly to Larson; Larson, in turn, reported to Timp, his immediate supervisor. Id . ¶¶ 10, 12. In June 2012, some of Larson's direct reports complained of sexual harassment by one of their co-workers, Brett Jacobs. Id . ¶¶ 12-15. During his investigation, Larson alleges other direct reports made similar complaints about Jacobs. Id . ¶¶ 19-22. Larson followed company procedures and reported the situation to Timp and Wells Fargo's employee relations department ("Human Resources"). Id . ¶¶ 15, 17. A few weeks later, Larson alleges he received another complaint from one of his direct reports that Jacobs had engaged in sexually offensive behavior. Id . ¶ 19. Upon hearing of the allegations, Jacobs requested a meeting with his co-workers to discuss the claims; Timp approved the meeting. Id . ¶ 23.

On September 25, 2012, Larson alleges he received still further complaints that Jacobs was creating a sexually hostile work environment and retaliating against co-workers. Id . ¶¶ 24-25. As with the previous incidents, Larson states he reported these new complaints to Timp and Human Resources. Id . ¶¶ 30-31. Larson alleges Timp responded to the report by telling Larson "he was sick of hearing about these issues and they had to end." Id . ¶ 32. Larson met face-toface with Timp the following day to talk about Jacobs' access to email accounts. Id . ¶ 33. During the meeting, Timp allegedly told Larson that Human Resources was tired of Larson reporting sexual harassment. Id . Days later, Wells Fargo, through Timp, fired Larson. Id . ¶ 36.

Larson claims Defendants fired him because of his good faith reports of sexual harassment in the workplace. Id . ¶ 41. Therefore, Larson claims his termination was in violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act ("MHRA"), Minn. Stat. § 363A.15.

III. DISCUSSION

The Complaint in this action was filed in the Fourth Judicial District of Minnesota, Hennepin County, on July 9, 2013. See Notice of Removal. Plaintiff Larson is a resident of Hennepin County, Minnesota. Wells Fargo Bank is a resident of South Dakota and Timp is a resident of Otsego, Minnesota. On August 5, 2013, Defendants removed the action to this Court, invoking the United States District Court's diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1). Defendants acknowledge: a) Larson decided to file his case in state court, b) Larson has only brought a state law action under Minn. Stat. § 363A.15, and no federal law is at issue, and c) Larson and Timp are both Minnesota residents. Defendants admit these facts facially defeat diversity jurisdiction. However, Defendants argue that Timp, as an employee of Wells Fargo, is not a liable party under Minnesota law, and is thus fraudulently joined. Since Timp is not liable, Defendants argue, he was necessarily added to the case for the sole purpose of defeating diversity jurisdiction. Larson argues Timp is liable for his role in retaliating against Larson; therefore, Defendants improperly removed this action and the case should be remanded to state court.

A. Standard of Review for Removal Versus Remand

When a plaintiff has joined a non-diverse party as a defendant in a state case, the defendants may avoid remand by demonstrating that the non-diverse party was fraudulently joined. Filla v. Norfolk S. Ry. Co. , 336 F.3d 806, 809 (8th Cir. 2003). "Joinder is fraudulent and removal is proper when there exists no reasonable basis in fact and law supporting a claim against the resident defendants." Wiles v. Capitol Indemnity Corp. , 280 F.3d 868, 871 (8th Cir. 2002). This means "the district court's task is limited to determining ...


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