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Leonnet v. Sprouts Farmers Market, Inc.

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

August 15, 2019

ALICE LEONNET, Plaintiff,
v.
SPROUTS FARMERS MARKET, INC., HAJJAR MANAGEMENT COMPANY, INC., and ALAN WENTWORTH, MANAGER, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ROBERT C. BRACK SENIOR U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Ms. Alice Leonnet (Plaintiff) was injured by a runaway cart in the parking lot of a Sprouts Farmers Market, Inc. (Sprouts). She filed suit in state court against Sprouts and Hajjar Management Company, Inc. (Hajjar), the company that owns and operates the parking lot outside the Sprouts store. Plaintiff later added Mr. Alan Wentworth as a defendant, a New Mexico resident who she thought managed the Sprouts location. Sprouts removed the lawsuit to this Court and argues that Plaintiff fraudulently joined Mr. Wentworth to defeat diversity jurisdiction. Sprouts has moved to dismiss Mr. Wentworth (and any manager Plaintiff might name). Plaintiff denies that she fraudulently joined Mr. Wentworth and has moved to file a Second Amended Complaint to correct the name of the general manager.

         Having considered the submissions of the parties and the relevant law, the Court finds that Mr. Wentworth is an improper party, that Plaintiff did not fraudulently join the general manager, and that Plaintiff should be allowed to amend her complaint to join the correct general manager. Because the new manager is a New Mexico citizen, this case must be remanded to state court.

         I. Background[1]

         On September 3, 2016, Plaintiff, a resident of New Mexico, was struck and injured by a runaway cart in the parking lot of Sprouts, a national grocery store chain. (Doc. 27-A (2d Am. Compl.) ¶¶ 1-2, 9.) The cart was dislodged from the shopping cart corral when another shopper pulled a cart from the corral and entered Sprouts. (Id. ¶ 10.) Plaintiff alleges that there is a defect in the design or operation of Sprouts's cart corral and/or entryway, in Sprouts's policies and procedures for controlling carts (or the lack thereof), and/or in the design of Hajjar's parking lot that allows shopping carts to be pulled loose and roll toward pedestrians in the parking lot. (Id. ¶ 11.) Plaintiff further alleges in her Second Amended Complaint that Sprouts, its general manager, and Hajjar all knew about these defects but took no action to correct the issues. (See Id. ¶¶ 17-18.) Plaintiff asserts that Sprouts and its general manager have “control and authority over” the following:

a. Where the carts were stored;
b. How the entryway to the Store was monitored and managed;
c. How the entryway was constructed or designed including the slope of that entryway;
d. Whether the Store could or should place barriers or guides in the cart corral to mitigate the risk of runaway carts[; and]
e. Whether Sprouts took any action to work with Defendant Hajjar to address the issue of [runaway] carts once such carts left the entryway and rolled into the parking lot.

(See Id. ¶¶ 14-16.)

         Plaintiff filed her original complaint against Sprouts and Hajjar in the Second Judicial District Court, County of Bernalillo, State of New Mexico, on August 12, 2018. (See Doc. 1-A.) Sprouts is a Delaware corporation with its principle place of business in Arizona. (See 2d Am. Compl. ¶ 3.) Hajjar is a Massachusetts corporation with its principle place of business in Massachusetts. (Id. ¶ 4.) Plaintiff did not originally name Sprouts's general store manager as a defendant. (See Doc. 1-A.) She filed a notice of errata to correct the case caption on September 23, 2018, and an unopposed motion for the same purpose on September 26, 2018. See Leonett [sic] v. Sprouts Farmers Market Inc., D-202-CV-201805970, Notice (N.M. 2d Jud. Dist. Ct., Sept. 23, 2018) & Mot. (N.M. 2d Jud. Dist. Ct., Sept. 26, 2018) (moving to correct Plaintiff's last name in the case caption). On October 2, 2018, counsel for Sprouts emailed counsel for Plaintiff to provide notice that Sprouts planned to remove the lawsuit to federal court. (See Doc. 28-A.) On October 3, 2018, Plaintiff filed her First Amended Complaint in state court and added Mr. Wentworth, who she believed was the general manager of Sprouts. (See Doc. 1-B (1st Am. Compl.) at 1 & ¶ 6.) Mr. Wentworth is also a resident of New Mexico. (See Id. ¶ 6.)

         Sprouts removed the lawsuit to this Court on October 26, 2018. (See Doc. 1.) Sprouts contends that Plaintiff fraudulently joined Mr. Wentworth to defeat diversity jurisdiction. (See id. at 3.) Sprouts moves to dismiss Mr. Wentworth because it asserts he was not the general manager at the time of the incident (see Doc. 7) and a motion to dismiss any manager on the basis of fraudulent joinder (see Doc. 6). Plaintiff opposes both motions and moves to amend her complaint to name the correct general manager (Mr. Nathan Garcia). (See Docs. 19; 20; 27.)

         II. The Court will grant the motion to dismiss Mr. Wentworth as an improper party and deny the motion to dismiss ...


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