Diversity jurisdiction has been on our minds a lot lately. Last week, we wrote about a plaintiff who unsuccessfully tried to steer under the $75,000 amount in controversy requirement. As John Adams said, “facts are stubborn things,” and the existence of medical bills in excess of $75,000 refuted the plaintiff’s remand motion and permitted the defendants to keep the case in federal court.
Amount in controversy played only a minor role in this week’s episode of plaintiff resistance to federal diversity jurisdiction. The real issue was improper joinder of a non-diverse party in Porter v. Stryker Corp., 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 135859 (W.D. La. Aug. 12, 2019). The plaintiff had undergone robotic assisted knee replacement surgery. Following the surgery, the plaintiff sustained fractures in both knees and had to undergo additional medical treatment. The plaintiff lived in Louisiana and filed a complaint in Louisiana state court against the manufacturers/distributors of the robot surgical system, as well as the hospital. The hospital was in Louisiana. The theory against the hospital was that it failed to ensure “proper care, maintenance and performance” of the surgical system. The manufacturer/distributor defendants, all of whom were citizens of states other than Louisiana, removed the case to federal court. The plaintiff moved for remand. The key issue was whether the local hospital had been properly joined.
We say that improper joinder was the key issue. And so it was. Still, the amount in controversy was addressed by the court briefly. The complaint did not specify an amount in controversy. But even without facial evidence from the pleadings, the fact that the plaintiff had two additional major reconstructive knee surgeries convinced the court, if only as a matter of “common sense,” that the removing parties easily met their burden of establishing an amount in controversy in excess of $75,000.
Back to the issue of improper joinder. The diverse defendants argued that the plaintiff could not recover against the hospital because the claims against the hospital necessarily arose under the Louisiana Medical Malpractice Act, and the plaintiff had failed to exhaust administrative remedies under the Act. For instance, the plaintiff had not presented its claim to a medical review panel, which is “judicially necessary” before filing a claim in court.
In the complaint, the plaintiff couched his claims against the hospital in negligence. He expressly stated in the complaint that it was “not the intent of this suit to assert any cause against [the hospital] which falls under the Louisiana Medical Malpractice Act.” Nice try. If facts are stubborn things, so is the law. The law in Louisiana is clear that a claim against a medical provider for negligence allegedly causing personal injury from the provision of health care services must go through the Louisiana Medical Malpractice Act.
The Porter court collected extensive case law in support of its conclusion that the plaintiff’s claims against the hospital fell “squarely” under the Louisiana Medical Malpractice Act. (Indeed, key to the defense argument was the Flagg en banc Fifth Circuit case, which we blogged about https://www.druganddevicelawblog.com/2016/03/all-was-not-lost-fifth-circuit-issues.html.) Consequently, the exhaustion of administrative remedies requirement under the Act applied. The plaintiff had not met such requirement. That meant that the plaintiff could not possibly recover against the hospital. That, in turn, meant that the hospital had been improperly joined. The remaining defendants were diverse in citizenship. The case was properly in federal court, and the plaintiff’s remand motion was denied.