A federal judge in Pennsylvania has ruled that a products liability suit against Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. will remain in federal court because the plaintiffs’ motion to remand the case to state court was based on the joinder of a “non-existent” entity that was apparently the product of a typo on the Pennsylvania Department of State’s website.
U.S. District Judge Joel H. Slomsky of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania denied plaintiffs Shane Loveland and Jacob Summers’ motion to remand the case to the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, finding that the joinder of the defendant referred to as “Pennsylvania Goodyear” was improper—because, the judge said, there is no such entity.
According to Slomsky’s opinion, on May 1, 2015, Loveland and Summers were traveling in a 2003 Chevrolet Silverado when the right rear tire of the vehicle suffered a tread separation, which caused the driver to lose control of the vehicle. The vehicle crossed into the middle of the road and rolled over. Loveland sustained significant brain damage and other injuries, while Summers suffered orthopedic injuries.
Summers, along with Loveland’s mother, Rysta Leona Susman, sued Goodyear alleging the company designed, manufactured, marketed and distributed the tire involved in the accident.
The lawsuit was filed in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, but the co-defendant referred to as “Ohio Goodyear” removed the matter to federal court citing diversity of citizenship.
According to Slomsky, Daniel T. Young, assistant secretary of Ohio Goodyear, said in a sworn declaration that “although the Pennsylvania Department of State website lists Pennsylvania Goodyear as an active, domestic Pennsylvania corporation, the documents under the Pennsylvania Goodyear heading relate to Goodwear Tire & Rubber Company, a separate entity, and apparently were linked to Pennsylvania Goodyear in error.”
“He stated that to the best of his knowledge and belief, Ohio Goodyear ‘is not and has never been related to’ Goodwear and that the tire at issue was designed and manufactured by Ohio Goodyear,” Slomsky said.
The plaintiffs, however, argued that there were questions as to whether Pennsylvania Goodyear actually did exist and that because Goodwear is a Pennsylvania entity, removal to federal court is precluded under the forum defendant rule.
Slomsky, however, disagreed.
“In the instant case, Goodwear was fraudulently joined and can be disregarded for purposes of determining diversity jurisdiction because no reasonable basis in fact supports the claims against it,” Slomsky said. “As an initial matter, the court finds that the doctrine of fraudulent joinder applies in this case, even though Goodwear is a citizen of Pennsylvania and therefore a forum defendant. Although plaintiffs cite decisions from the Southern District of Illinois to argue that the doctrine should not apply, numerous courts in the Third Circuit have held that fraudulent joinder applies to forum defendants.”
Justin Kerner of DLA Piper in Philadelphia represents Goodyear and Daniel Sherry of Eisenberg, Rothweiler, Winkler, Eisenberg & Jeck represents the plaintiffs.
“This is likely one of the few cases where a corporate registration with the commonwealth of Pennsylvania was actually changed during Rule 12 Motion practice. Nevertheless, we respect Judge Slomsky’s ruling and are currently considering all options,” Sherry said.
Kerner did not respond to a request for comment.