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Snider v. Surnaik Holdings of WV, LLC

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Charleston Division

June 18, 2018

PAUL SNIDER, on behalf of himself and others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
SURNAIK HOLDINGS OF WV, LLC, a West Virginia limited liability company, Defendant.



         Pending before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion to Remand and For Costs, Fees, and Expenses. (ECF No. 5.) For the reasons discussed below, the Court GRANTS the motion to remand, DENIES the motion for costs, fees, and expenses, and REMANDS this case to the Circuit Court of Wood County, West Virginia.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case arises out of a warehouse fire in Parkersburg, West Virginia. (ECF No. 1-2 at 4.) Plaintiff is an individual who seeks certification of a single putative class of all residents and businesses within an 8.5 mile radius of the warehouse. (Id. ¶ 37.) Defendant is a West Virginia Limited Liability Company. (ECF No. 1-2 at 5 ¶ 3). The Complaint filed in state court and attached to Defendant's Notice of Removal alleges that on Saturday, October 21, 2017, a warehouse, owned by Defendant, caught fire. (ECF No. 1-2 at 4-5.) The Complaint alleges that the proposed class incurred personal injury and property damages arising from the toxic “smoke from the fire and smoldering ruins of the warehouse which continued to be a nuisance and health hazard to residents and workers in the vicinity of the fire for days.” (Id. at 4.) Plaintiff asserts (1) negligence; (2) “reckless, willful, and wanton indifference motivated by financial gain”; (3) nuisance; and (4) trespass, (Id. ¶¶ 15-35), and request relief in the forms of punitive damages, “damages . . . for the particular harms and injuries . . . suffered as a result of defendants' [sic] conduct and their unreasonable interference with the plaintiffs' use and enjoyment of their property, ” court costs, and any other legal relief that may be just and equitable, (Id. at 13).

         Plaintiff filed his Complaint in the Circuit Court of Wood County, West Virginia, on October 30, 2017. (See ECF No. 1-2.) Defendant removed the case to this Court on November 20, 2017. (ECF No. 1.) In the Notice of Removal, Defendant asserts this Court has jurisdiction over this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332, as amended by the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 (“CAFA”). (See Id. at 2.) Plaintiff filed the current Motion on December 14, 2017. (ECF No. 5.) Defendant filed its response to the motion, as allowed by the Court, on January 8, 2018, (ECF No. 13), and Plaintiff replied on January 15, 2018, (ECF No. 14). The motion is fully briefed and ripe for adjudication.


         Article III of the United States Constitution provides, in pertinent part, that “[t]he judicial Power shall extend . . . to Controversies . . . between Citizens of different States.” U.S. Const. art. III, § 2. “The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs, and is between . . . citizens of different States.” 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1).

         Congress provided a right to remove a case from state to federal court under 28 U.S.C. § 1441. This statute states, in relevant part:

Except as otherwise expressly provided by Act of Congress, any civil action brought in a state court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction, may be removed by the defendant or the defendants, to the district court of the United States for the district and division embracing the place where such action is pending.

28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). Because removal of civil cases from state to federal court infringes state sovereignty, federal courts strictly construe the removal statute and resolve all doubts in favor of remanding cases to state court. See Shamrock Oil & Gas Corp. v. Sheets, 313 U.S. 100, 109 (1941); see also Mulcahey v. Columbia Organic Chems. Co., 29 F.3d 148, 151 (4th Cir. 1994) (“Because removal jurisdiction raises significant federalism concerns, we must strictly construe removal jurisdiction.” (citation omitted)).


         The main dispute between the parties as to this motion is whether the home-state exception under the Class Action Fairness Act applies.[1] (See ECF No. 6 at 1; ECF No. 13 at 1-2.) Both parties agree that federal jurisdiction over this matter exists under the CAFA. (See id.) However, the parties dispute whether the home-state exception applies and who bears the burden of persuasion. (See ECF No. 6 at 2-3; ECF No. 13 at 2-4.) Plaintiff maintains that the burden is irrelevant to the Court's decision but does not concede that they have the burden, while Defendant argues that Plaintiff bears the burden of proving that the home-state exception applies. (See id.)

         The home-state exception provides that a district court shall decline to exercise jurisdiction over a class action in which “two-thirds or more of the members of all proposed plaintiff classes in the aggregate, and the primary defendants, are citizens of the State in which the action was originally filed.” 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(4)(B). It is uncontested that Defendant is a citizen of West Virginia, (See ECF No. 6 at 5-6; ECF No. 13), and being the only defendant, Defendant is the primary defendant. As a result, the sole remaining issue with respect to the application of the home-state exception is whether greater than two-thirds of the members of the proposed class are citizens of West Virginia.

         To be a citizen of a State, a person must be both a citizen of the United States and a domiciliary of that State. Newman-Green, Inc. v. Alfonzo-Larrain, 490 U.S. 826, 828 (1989). Domicile requires physical presence, coupled with an intent to make the State a home. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians v. Holyfield, 490 U.S. 30, 48 (1989). For purposes of diversity jurisdiction, residency is not sufficient to establish citizenship. Axel Johnson, Inc. v. Carroll Carolina Oil Co., 145 F.3d 660, 663 (4th Cir. 1998). However, [p]hysical presence coupled with residency is ...

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