Lexington Federal Court Dismisses Claims Against Retail Store Employee in Product Liability Action

by Mandy Hicks

In Simmerman v. Ace Bayou Corp., the parents of a three-year-old sued several parties following the death of their child, who became trapped in a beanbag chair. The parents filed a product liability action against the manufacturer of the allegedly defective chair, the department store where they purchased the item, and the manager of the store in Fayette County Circuit Court. In response to the lawsuit, the defendants removed the case to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky in Lexington based upon diversity of citizenship. In general, a defendant may remove a case to federal court as long as the defendants are from different states than the plaintiff and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000.

Next, the parents filed a motion to remand the case back to Fayette County Circuit Court. Although the store manager was a resident of Kentucky, the remaining corporate defendants have main corporate headquarters in other states. According to the plaintiffs, the Kentucky manager destroyed diversity and required the case to be tried in state court. The store manager, however, countered that she was fraudulently joined in the case solely to defeat federal diversity jurisdiction.

The store manager asked the federal court to dismiss the cause of action that was filed against her due to the parents’ failure to state a claim for which relief may be granted. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) allows a federal court to dismiss a case on a defendant’s motion when the plaintiffs fail to assert any actionable claims.

First, the federal court in Lexington said a lawsuit that was filed in state court is only removable if it could have been brought in federal court in the first place. The court stated federal diversity jurisdiction is proper only when complete diversity of citizenship exists. The court also added that a lawsuit may be heard in federal court despite a lack of complete diversity in situations where a party was merely joined in an attempt to defeat diversity jurisdiction. Although any doubts regarding removal must be decided in favor of remanding the case, the court stated that adding a defendant the plaintiffs have no hope of recovering from was fraudulent.

Next, the federal court discussed the steps required to evaluate a motion to dismiss based on Rule 12(b)(6). According to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky, the rule was designed to allow a court to dismiss a meritless claim without unnecessarily wasting judicial resources. The federal court said the plaintiffs must allege sufficient facts to show a plausible claim against a defendant in order to survive such a motion. In addition, the federal court said it was obligated to accept the plaintiffs’ claims as true in order to determine whether they are entitled to relief. Despite this, the court stated it was not required to blindly accept legal conclusions that were asserted as if they were factual allegations.

The court then addressed the plaintiffs’ claim that the store manager failed to demonstrate she was fraudulently joined as a defendant. According to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District, the parents’ claims against the store manager were speculation and did not allege sufficient facts to keep the store manager as party to the case. In addition, the parents failed to cite any legal authority to support their assertion that a product liability claim may be extended to the employee of a retailer in Kentucky.

After examining relevant case law, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky granted the store manager’s motion to dismiss the bereaved parents’ claims against her. The federal court also held that the manager was fraudulently joined and denied the plaintiffs’ motion to remand the case back to Fayette County Circuit Court.

If you were hurt by a dangerous or defectively manufactured product in Kentucky, you should discuss your case with a skilled personal injury attorney. Call English, Lucas, Priest & Owsley, LLP at (270) 781-6500 today. You may also contact us through our website.

Additional Resources:

Simmerman v. Ace Bayou Corp., Dist. Court, ED Kentucky 2014