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Cahoon v. L.B. White Co., LLC

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

August 7, 2019

Donna Cahoon, Plaintiff,
v.
L.B. White Company, Inc.; Hurricane Products, Inc.; Quality Propane of MN; and Carpentry Contractors Company, Defendants.

          ORDER DENYING MOTION TO REMAND, GRANTING MOTION TO STRIKE, AND DENYING MOTIONS TO DISMISS

          Wilhelmina M. Wright United States District Judge

         In this wrongful-death action, Plaintiff Donna Cahoon moves to remand this case to Dakota County District Court, First Judicial District, for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. (Dkt. 32.) Defendant Carpentry Contractors Company opposes Cahoon's motion to remand and moves to dismiss Cahoon's claim against it. (Dkt. 36.) Defendant Quality Propane of MN moves to strike Cahoon's second amended complaint and to dismiss Cahoon's claim against it. (Dkts. 45, 46.) For the reasons addressed below, the motion to remand is denied, the motion to strike is granted, and the motions to dismiss are denied.

         BACKGROUND

         Christopher John Cahoon (Decedent) sustained fatal injuries as a result of a propane gas flash fire in Lakeville, Minnesota, on or about January 21, 2016. The purported cause of the flash fire was a gas leak in a propane heater. The flash fire allegedly occurred during the course and scope of Decedent's employment as a manager of a residential construction site. Donna Cahoon was appointed to serve as trustee for Decedent's next of kin in February 2016. At all times relevant to this case, Decedent and Cahoon are or were Minnesota residents.

         Cahoon commenced this wrongful-death action in Dakota County District Court, First Judicial District, on December 21, 2018, against Defendants L.B. White Company, Inc.[1] (L.B. White); Hurricane Products, Inc. (Hurricane); Quality Propane of MN (Quality Propane); and Carpentry Contractors Company (Carpentry). Cahoon subsequently filed an amended complaint dated January 9, 2019. The amended complaint alleges four counts under Minnesota's wrongful-death statute, Minn. Stat. § 573.02. Count I alleges that L.B. White negligently designed, manufactured, and sold the propane heater that caused Decedent's injuries and death and failed to warn of the propane heater's hazards and defects. Count II alleges that Hurricane, in turn, negligently designed, manufactured, and sold a component part of the propane heater. Count III alleges that Quality Propane negligently failed to maintain, service, repair, modify, and inspect the propane heater. And Count IV alleges that Carpentry negligently “failed to exercise reasonable care and caution upon arrival to the [flash fire] incident site . . . after discovering and recognizing a known hazardous propane (LP) gas leak.”

         On January 22, 2019, Carpentry removed the case to this Court based on diversity jurisdiction. Cahoon filed a second amended complaint on February 1, 2019. Cahoon now moves to remand the case to Dakota County District Court, First Judicial District, for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, arguing that Carpentry has not established complete diversity of the parties because both Cahoon and Carpentry are citizens of Minnesota. Carpentry opposes Cahoon's motion to remand and moves to dismiss Cahoon's claim against it. And Quality Propane moves to strike Cahoon's second amended complaint and to dismiss Cahoon's claim against it.

         ANALYSIS

         I. Motion to Remand

         Cahoon argues that this case must be remanded to Dakota County District Court, First Judicial District, because this Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction. According to Cahoon, Carpentry is a citizen of Minnesota and, therefore, diversity does not exist between Cahoon and Carpentry. Carpentry counters that, because “Carpentry Contractors Company” is an “assumed name” that is not a legal entity subject to suit, Carpentry is not a citizen of Minnesota and this Court has diversity jurisdiction over this case.

         “If at any time before final judgment it appears that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the case shall be remanded.” 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). Diversity jurisdiction exists when the matter in controversy exceeds $75, 000 and the parties are citizens of different states. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). “Complete diversity of citizenship exists where no defendant holds citizenship in the same state where any plaintiff holds citizenship.” OnePoint Sols., LLC v. Borchert, 486 F.3d 342, 346 (8th Cir. 2007). Removal to federal court is appropriate only when the federal court would have original jurisdiction over the litigation. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a); Caterpillar, Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987). It is the removing party's burden to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that federal jurisdiction exists. Pub. Sch. Ret. Sys. of Mo. v. State Street Bank & Tr. Co., 640 F.3d 821, 825-26 (8th Cir. 2011); In re Bus. Men's Assurance Co. of Am., 992 F.2d 181, 183 (8th Cir. 1993). When assessing the existence of diversity jurisdiction, “a federal court must disregard nominal or formal parties and rest jurisdiction only upon the citizenship of real parties to the controversy.” Navarro Sav. Ass'n v. Lee, 446 U.S. 458, 461 (1980).

         Cahoon argues that complete diversity does not exist here because both she and Carpentry are citizens of Minnesota. Carpentry contends that, because it is an “assumed name” that is not a legal entity subject to suit, it does not have Minnesota citizenship and its presence in this lawsuit is immaterial to the existence of diversity jurisdiction.

         As relevant here, a defendant's capacity to be sued is determined based on “the law of the state where the court is located.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 17(b)(3). Under Minnesota law, a person or entity is prohibited from conducting business under an assumed name unless the person or entity files “a certificate setting forth the name and business address under which the business is conducted or transacted.” Minn. Stat. § 333.01; accord Northland Temps., Inc. v. Turpin, 744 N.W.2d 398, 404 (Minn.Ct.App. 2008). An assumed name “is not itself a legal entity;” rather, an assumed name is “a label-a marketing tool.” DeVary v. Countrywide Home Loans, Inc., 701 F.Supp.2d 1096, 1104 (D. Minn. 2010) (citing Minn. Stat. § 333.01); accord D.W. v. Radisson Plaza Hotel Rochester, 958 F.Supp. 1368, 1382 (D. Minn. 1997) (dismissing “assumed name” defendant because an assumed name is not a legal entity subject to suit).

         In her amended complaint, Cahoon alleges that Carpenter “is a domestic corporation licensed to do and doing business in the State of Minnesota.” But Carpenter denies that it is a corporation licensed to do business in Minnesota and presents evidence that it is registered with the Minnesota Secretary of State as an “assumed name” under which BEP/Lyman LLC (BEP/Lyman) does business in Minnesota.[2] Cahoon presents no evidence to the contrary. Because an “assumed name” such as Carpentry is not a legal entity subject to suit under Minnesota law, complete diversity is not defeated by virtue of Cahoon naming Carpentry as a defendant in this lawsuit.

         For these reasons, Carpentry has established by a preponderance of the evidence that diversity jurisdiction exists in this ...


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