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Court Denies Roofer's Request to Intervene in Personal Injury Lawsuit

Modern Office Building.jpgA federal trial court has denied a request by a roofer to participate in a lawsuit in federal court stemming from exposure to fumes from repair work at a medical office building. The United States District Court for the District of Maryland denied Ron Roofing, Inc.'s (RRR) motion to intervene in the personal injury lawsuit.

A motion to intervene is a request to enter a lawsuit that is already in progress generally made by a person or entity so that person can protect some right or interest that is allegedly affected by the proceedings, according to Barron's Law Dictionary. The request can be denied if it interferes excessively with the rights of the original parties to conduct the suit on their terms.

In a case acknowledged by the court as being a "procedural mess," several state court plaintiffs brought a lawsuit in Baltimore County Circuit Court against RRR for injuries and damages allegedly relating to their exposure to fumes from roofing repair work at a nearby medical office building. RRR, in turn, filed a third-party complaint against Garland, as a manufacturer and seller of the roofing products employed in the repair work. A separate state court case was filed by the same plaintiffs against Garland and Tamko Building Products, which may also be a potential source of the allegedly noxious roofing material. One of the cases was removed to federal court based on diversity jurisdiction.

RRR sought to intervene in the removed case and thereby consolidate all claims in the federal court. RRR contended that the court could exercise supplemental jurisdiction over its contribution claim against Garland without defeating diversity jurisdiction. A contribution claim is the legal right of one required to compensate a victim for his injury to demand reimbursement from another person jointly responsible for that injury.

The plaintiffs did not oppose the motion and agreed to dismiss their companion action against RRR pending in state court if the motion to intervene was granted. The Garland Company, Inc., choose not to oppose the motion if certain conditions were met. The United States District Court for the District of Maryland had other ideas.

In this case, the court noted, the non-diverse defendant intervenor sought to bring into federal court a non-diverse negligence action. RRR said its purpose was to make a contribution claim against Garland in the event RRR is found liable for the plaintiff's alleged injuries. But, the court said, the plaintiffs cannot sue RRR in federal court given the lack of diversity between the two sides. Consequently, although a stated goal of RRR's intervention was to consolidate all claims in the federal trial court, no subject-matter jurisdiction would exist over plaintiffs' claims against RRR. Not only would plaintiffs' claims be foreclosed against RRR if this were allowed, but RRR also would have no reason to seek contribution from Garland because RRR would be "off the hook," the court said. Intervention by RRR in federal court based upon dismissal of plaintiff's state court suit against RRR would nullify RRR's reason for being in the suit and would, therefore, be pointless, the court explained.

The plaintiffs cited a recent opinion by another judge in the federal trial court, where it was held that a non-diverse defendant intervenor who was not an indispensable party could intervene without destroying the court's diversity jurisdiction. But, the court said, that case is different from this case. The existence of a viable claim by plaintiffs against RRR is the critical difference between the present case and the other case.

RRR argued that intervention would only result in bringing its contribution claim against Garland to this court, but the implications of that contribution claim are that this court would wind up making a determination as to RRR's liability against Garland without an opportunity for plaintiffs to weigh in on whether RRR is a joint tortfeasor - two or more persons who owe to another person the same duty and whose negligence results in injury to the person owed a duty -- the court said. Garland is entitled to have plaintiffs' claims against it litigated in federal court. Subject-matter jurisdiction clearly exists, and no party is seeking remand to state court.

Plaintiffs, as masters of their complaints, knowingly brought two separate lawsuits against RRR, on the one hand, and Garland and Tamko, on the other hand, the court said. Garland knowingly subjected itself to litigating two related issues - its liability to plaintiffs and its liability to RRR - in two forums by removing plaintiff's direct case against it to the federal trial court. The two liability issues are not identical, however. If they were, then joinder of RRR under the federal rules and remand for lack of diversity jurisdiction would be required. Plaintiffs sued RRR for negligent repair work and sued Garland and Tamko for negligence in placing in the stream of commerce a defectively toxic product. Both RRR and Garland have an interest in having this court determine that plaintiffs' claimed damages were not proximately caused by the roofing repairs. The two causes of action ideally would be resolved in one forum because of their obvious relation to each other; nevertheless, they cannot be because of the limits on this court's jurisdiction.

The motion to intervene is denied, the court concluded.

The case is MaryBeth McMahon et al. v. The Garland Co., Inc. et al.

Baltimore, Mayland-based Belsky, Weinberg & Horowitz has been fighting for the victims of negligence for many years. Call us at 410-234-0100 or email us for a free consultation and let us help you.

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