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Lillie M. Middlebrooks v. Godwin Corporation

November 9, 2011

LILLIE M. MIDDLEBROOKS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
GODWIN CORPORATION DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Beryl A. Howell United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Presently before the Court are the defendant's motions to reconsider this Court's Orders granting the plaintiff's motions to remand these two related cases to the Superior Court for the District of Columbia. For the reasons discussed below, the defendant's motions are granted and the orders to remand these cases to Superior Court are vacated. In addition, the Court will consolidate the two separate actions brought by the plaintiff against the defendant into a single action. Finally, the Court will strike the plaintiff's two existing complaints for failure to provide a short and plain statement of the plaintiff's claims to relief, as required by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The Court will give the plaintiff 30 days to file a single, revised complaint in the consolidated action.

I.BACKGROUND

On April 20, 2011, plaintiff Lillie M. Middlebrooks, who is proceeding pro se in this action, filed two complaints against her previous employer, Godwin Corporation, in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.*fn1 Compl. ¶ 1. These actions arise out of Godwin's response to a subpoena served on it in a prior litigation involving plaintiff and another former employer, St. Coletta of Greater Washington, Inc. Def.'s Mem. in Supp. of its Mot. To Dismiss ("Def.'s Mem."), ECF No. 5, at 4. Plaintiff contends that Godwin wrongfully produced her employment records in response to that subpoena. Id.

The defendant removed the actions from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia to this Court based upon alleged diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). See Notice of Removal, ECF No. 1, at 1, 5-9. Diversity jurisdiction exists where an action is between citizens of different states and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). In this Notice of Removal, Godwin asserted that diversity exists because Godwin is incorporated and has its principal place of business in Maryland, and Middlebrooks is a Virginia "resident." Id. at 6-7.

The plaintiff responded to the Notice of Removal with a motion to remand to Superior Court. See Pl.'s Mot. to Remand, ECF No. 8. The plaintiff argued, inter alia, that the defendant's Notice of Removal failed to properly allege diversity because it only asserted the plaintiff's residency and not her citizenship. Id. ¶¶ 37-39, 41. The plaintiff's argument was correct. "[A]n allegation of residence alone is insufficient to establish the citizenship necessary for diversity jurisdiction." Novak v. Capital Mgmt. and Dev. Corp., 452 F.3d 902, 906 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (quotation omitted). Since the defendant had failed to allege the plaintiff's citizenship in its Notice of Removal -- and also did not address this defect in responding to the plaintiff's motion for remand or otherwise move to cure it -- the Court granted the plaintiff's motion for remand to Superior Court on October 19, 2011. Order Granting Mot. to Remand, ECF 10. In response, on October 21, 2011, the defendant submitted a motion for reconsideration, which is presently before the Court.*fn2

II.DISCUSSION

A.Motion for Reconsideration

In moving for reconsideration of the Court's order to remand this case to Superior Court, Godwin states that its reference to plaintiff's "residence" instead of her "citizenship" was merely inadvertent and a mistake. Def.'s Mot. for Reconsid., ECF No. 11, at 1. Further, the defendant contends that there is no dispute that the plaintiff is a citizen of Virginia and that diversity therefore exists in this matter. Id. Accordingly, the defendant argues that its motion for reconsideration should be granted and the motion for remand should be denied. Id. at 3.

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(1) states that the court may relieve a party from an order for "mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect."*fn3 FED. R. CIV. P. 60(b)(1). This Court has held that Rule 60(b) "was intended to preserve the 'delicate balance between the sanctity of final judgments ... and the incessant command of the court's conscience that justice be done in light of all the facts.'" Norris v. Salazar, No. 09-01042, 2011 WL 4926096, at *3 (D.D.C. Oct.18, 2011) (quoting Good Luck Nursing Home, Inc. v. Harris, 636 F.2d 572, 577 (D.C. Cir. 1980)). The determination of "excusable neglect" is an equitable matter that requires consideration of, inter alia, the risk of prejudice to the non-movant and whether the movant acted in good faith. FG Hemisphere Assocs., LLC v. Dem. Rep. Congo, 447 F.3d 835, 838 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (citing Pioneer Inv. Servs. Co. v. Brunswick Assocs. Ltd. P'ship, 507 U.S. 380, 395--97 (1993)); see also Elec. Privacy Info. Ctr. v. U.S. Dep't of Homeland Sec., No. 09-2084, 2011 WL 4014308, at *5 (D.D.C. 2011) ("Relief under Rule 60(b)(1) turns on equitable factors, notably whether any neglect was excusable.") (citing Pioneer Inv. Servs. Co., 507 U.S. at 392). A district court's decisions on Rule 60(b) motions are reviewed for abuse of discretion. FG Hemisphere Assocs., 447 F.3d at 838.

Under the standard discussed above, the Court will grant the defendant's motion for reconsideration under Rule 60(b)(1). First, the Court accepts the defendant's explanation that its references to residence instead of citizenship were not willful. Rather, it is evident from the motion for reconsideration that the defendant intended to allege the plaintiff's citizenship, but used the term "resident" mistakenly. The defendant now asserts that the plaintiff is a "resident, domiciliary, and citizen of Virginia," and that, therefore, diversity is clearly present. Def.'s Mot. for Reconsid. at 3. The Court is satisfied that Godwin Corporation intended to allege such diversity, and the inaccuracy in its Notice of Removal was an inadvertent error, and thus, not a willful action that precludes the granting of reconsideration.

Furthermore, granting defendant's motion for reconsideration will not prejudice the plaintiff. The plaintiff will still have a full opportunity to proceed upon her case in federal court, to the extent that her claims are viable. Moreover, granting the motion for reconsideration will preserve judicial economy since the defendant would likely attempt to remove this case again given its contention that diversity of citizenship exists. Accordingly, the Court finds that the defendant's use of the term "resident" instead of "citizen," in the context of this case, constitutes the type of mistake or excusable neglect which permits the Court to exercise its discretion to grant relief under Rule 60(b)(1).

B.Defendant's Removal Was Proper

Before granting reconsideration and denying remand, the Court also must consider the other arguments for remand that the plaintiff raised in her motion. Citing 28 U.S.C. 1446(b), the plaintiff also contends that removal was improper because Godwin Corporation removed the case before it was properly served in Superior Court. According to the plaintiff, a foreign corporation conducting business in the District of Columbia must be served within the District itself, but Godwin Corporation was only served in the state of Delaware. Pl.'s Mot. to Remand, ECF No. 8, at 5 (citing D.C. Code ยง13-334). Therefore, the ...


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