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On March 11, 2024, Liskow lawyers Kathryn Gonski and Melanie Derefinko secured the denial of a motion to remand on improper joinder grounds and the dismissal of an intentional tort claim against Methanex, a major Louisiana plant owner, in Knight v. Turner Industries Group, L.L.C., et al., No. 23-469 (M.D. La.).  The court’s rulings confirmed that conclusory allegations of intentional tort against an employer will not suffice to prevent the removal of an otherwise diverse action, nor can such allegations against non-employer defendants withstand Rule 12(b)(6) scrutiny.  Moreover, while the court allowed the plaintiff leave to amend as to the non-employers, it cautioned explicitly: “given the high bar involved with this claim, Plaintiff is reminded of his Rule 11 obligations.”  These rulings make clear that courts are taking a hard look at plaintiffs’ baseless attempts to plead around federal jurisdiction and are continuing to preclude inadequately pled claims from proceeding past the threshold pleading stage.      

Albert Knight filed this personal injury action in the 19th Judicial District Court for East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana, against Methanex USA, LLC, Methanex Louisiana, LLC (collectively “Methanex”), Turner Industries Group LLC (“Turner”), Scaffsource, LLC, and Brock Services, LLC.  Knight alleged that he sustained injuries while working for Turner at the Methanex plant in Geismar, Louisiana, when a valve that was being installed slipped from a crane due to the flagger and rigger not being qualified, among other safety concerns.  Knight asserted claims against all defendants for negligence, gross negligence, and intentional tort.

Methanex removed the matter to the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana, asserting that Turner, the only non-diverse defendant, was improperly joined, and thus, diversity jurisdiction existed.  Methanex asserted that the Louisiana Workers’ Compensation Act (LWCA) is the exclusive remedy against an employer like Turner and Knight’s conclusory allegations of intentional tort failed to state a cognizable exception to that exclusive remedy.  Methanex also moved to dismiss the intentional tort claim against it for failure to meet the pleading standards under Rule 12(b)(6).  The court agreed with Methanex in both regards.

The court first reasoned that while Knight claimed that Turner’s actions qualified for the intentional act exception under the LWCA because they were “substantially certain to result in harm,” the allegations amounted only to gross negligence rather than an intentional act. Knight failed to allege specific facts to support its claim that Turner knew the incident was substantially certain to occur, which is necessary to overcome the exclusivity provision of the LWCA. Declining to consider Knight’s conclusory intentional tort allegations as a viable exception to the LWCA, the court noted that it “now adds to its growing line of precedent that mere conclusory or catch-all allegations of an employer’s knowledge of the substantial certainty that a harm will occur, without specific facts to support such an assertion, do not constitute intent for the purposes of the LWCA.”

The court similarly found Knight’s allegations too conclusory to support an intentional tort claim against Methanex.  The court held that Knight failed to allege facts demonstrating that Methanex either desired to bring about the injury or knew with substantial certainty that the injury would occur. The court emphasized that allegations of mere knowledge of a dangerous condition or negligence do not rise to the level of an intentional act necessary for an intentional tort claim.  And while the court did provide Knight with time to attempt to amend, it explicitly cautioned: “given the high bar involved with this claim, Plaintiff is reminded of his Rule 11 obligations.”

Copies of these rulings can be found here.

For further questions regarding this topic, contact Liskow attorneys Kathryn Gonski and Melanie Derefinko.

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