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Cahoon v. L.B. White Company, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

October 1, 2019

Donna Cahoon, as Trustee for the next of kin of Christopher John Cahoon, Decedent, Plaintiff,
v.
L.B. White Company, Inc., Ken Larson, Inc. dba Hurricane Products, Inc., Quality Propane of MN, and Carpentry Contractors Company, Defendants.

          ORDER

          ELIZABETH COWAN WRIGHT UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Donna Cahoon’s (“Cahoon”) Motion for Leave to File Amended Complaint to Correct Misnomers (Dkt. 82) and Defendant Carpentry Contractors Company’s (“Carpentry”) Motion to Stay Proceedings Pending Appeal (Dkt. 93). The Court held a hearing on September 13, 2019, at which the Court denied the Motion to Stay from the bench for the reasons stated on the record. (Dkt. 104.) For the reasons stated below, the Court grants Plaintiff’s Motion for Leave to File Amended Complaint to Correct Misnomers (“Motion to Amend”).

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On or about January 21, 2016, Christopher Cahoon (“Decedent”) was fatally injured by a propane gas flash fire in Lakeville, Minnesota. (Dkt. 1, Compl. at 2.) The incident took place at a residential construction site during Decedent’s course of employment. (Id.) On December 21, 2018, Cahoon, serving as trustee for Decedent’s next of kin, filed a wrongful-death action in Dakota County District Court, First Judicial District, against four Defendants including L.B. White Company, Inc. (“L.B. White”)[1], Hurricane Products, Inc. (“Hurricane”), Quality Propane of MN (“Quality Propane”), and Carpentry. (Id. at 3-6.)

         On January 9, 2019, Cahoon filed an amended complaint that alleges four counts under Minnesota’s wrongful-death statute, Minn. Stat. § 573.02. (Id. at 3.) Count I alleges that L.B. White “negligently and carelessly designed, engineered, manufactured, assembled, promoted, distributed, sold and advertised” the propane heater that caused Decedent’s death and “failed to warn of its hazards and defects.” (Id. at 3.) Count II alleges that Hurricane “negligently and carelessly designed, engineered, manufactured, tested, assembled, promoted, distributed, sold and advertised” a control valve from the propane heater that caused Decedent’s death and “failed to warn of its hazards and defects.” (Id. at 4.) Count III alleges that Quality Propane “negligently and carelessly failed to maintain, service, repair, modify, and inspect the Propane Heater and Regulator utilized by Decedent” at the site of the incident. (Id. at 5.) Count IV alleges that Carpentry’s “negligence and carelessness” caused Decedent’s injuries and death when Carpentry “failed to exercise reasonable care and caution upon arrival to the incident.” (Id. at 5-6.)

         On January 22, 2019, Carpentry removed the case to this Court based on diversity jurisdiction. (Dkt. 1, Notice of Removal at 1-3.) On February 1, 2019, Cahoon filed a second amended complaint without leave of court naming EDPO, LLC (“EDPO”) dba Quality Propane of MN as a defendant. (Dkt. 19.)

         On February 6, 2019, Cahoon moved to remand the case to Dakota County District Court, First Judicial District, for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. (Dkt. 32.) Carpentry moved to dismiss the claims against it on February 7, 2019. (Dkt. 36.) On February 14, 2019, Quality Propane moved to strike Cahoon’s second amended complaint and to dismiss the claims against it. (Dkt. 46.) District Judge Wilhelmina M. Wright heard oral arguments on these motions on May 28, 2019. (Dkt. 77.)

         On August 7, 2019, District Judge Wright issued an Order denying Cahoon’s motion to remand, granting Quality Propane’s motion to strike Cahoon’s second amended complaint, and denying both Quality Propane and Carpentry’s motions to dismiss the claims against them. (Dkt. 78 at 10.)

         With respect to Cahoon’s motion to remand, District Judge Wright found that “[b]ecause 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.” (Id. at 5.) Additionally, “Carpentry has established by a preponderance of the evidence that diversity jurisdiction exists in this case.” (Id.)

         With respect to Quality Propane’s motion to strike, District Judge Wright found that Cahoon failed to obtain either the Defendants’ written consent or the Court’s leave to file her second amended complaint as required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a)(2). (Id. at 5-6 (noting ruling was in accord with Minnesota Rule of Civil Procedure 15.01).) Thus, she granted the motion to strike, rendering Cahoon’s first amended complaint the operative complaint in this case. (Id. at 6.)

         District Judge Wright also denied Quality Propane and Carpentry’s motions to dismiss. (Id. at 10.) Quality Propane and Carpentry argued that because Quality Propane and Carpentry are “assumed names” under which EDPO and BEP/Lyman LLC (“BEP/Lyman”) do business in Minnesota, they are not legal entities and thus, not subject to suit. (Id. at 6-9.) Relying on Hovelson v. U.S. Swim & Fitness, Inc., 450 N.W.2d 137 (Minn.Ct.App. 1990), and Nelson v. Glenwood Hills Hosps., Inc., 62 N.W.2d 73 (Minn. 1953), Cahoon argued that the Court nevertheless acquired jurisdiction over Quality Propane and Carpentry because Cahoon 1) properly served the summons and complaint on the intended defendants, and 2) the intended defendants were not misled by Cahoon’s misnomers. (Id. at 7-8.) District Judge Wright concluded that “although Cahoon must seek leave to amend her complaint to correct the misnomers, dismissal of Cahoon’s claims against Carpentry (i.e., BEP/Lyman) and Quality Propane (i.e., EDPO), is not warranted.” (Id. at 9-10.) In a footnote, District Judge Wright rejected Quality Propane’s argument that because Cahoon did not correctly name EDPO as a defendant within three years after her claim arose, her claim against EDPO was barred by the statute of limitations. (Dkt. 78 at 10 n.6.) Specifically, District Judge Wright stated:

An amended complaint that adds a new defendant relates back to the original complaint in certain circumstances. Such circumstances include instances when the amended complaint asserts a claim that arose out of the conduct set out in the original complaint or when (1) the added defendant received notice of the action within 90 days after the original complaint was filed, (2) that defendant will not be prejudiced by defending the action on the merits, and (3) that defendant “knew or should have known that the action would have been brought against it, but for a mistake concerning the proper party’s identity.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(c)(1), 4(m). These circumstances exist here.

(Id. (emphasis added).)

         On August 20, 2019, Cahoon filed his Motion to Amend. (Dkt. 82.) On August 21, Carpentry filed a Notice of Appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit appealing the denial of its Motion to Dismiss. (Dkt. 86.) On August 28, 2019, Quality Propane and ...


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