Although it is uncommon for premises liability cases to find their way to federal court, the specifics of a case occasionally make resolution in the federal setting possible. When such federal adjudication is accessible, litigants will often strategically use the availability of the federal forum – and, more importantly, the differences in its rules – to their advantage. A recent case from the Southern District of Florida, Fink v. Burlington Coat Factory of Florida, LLC, provides an example of this strategic use of forum selection.
Fink arose from a slip and fall accident at the Burlington Coat Factory in Sawgrass Mills Mall. As a result of the fall, the plaintiff suffered a variety of severe injuries, and she decided to bring a premises liability suit against Burlington Coat Factory and several other defendants. In her complaint, the plaintiff made somewhat conclusory allegations of negligence. Specifically, the plaintiff stated that the defendants negligently maintained the floor in a bumpy and unsmooth condition, which was characterized by unsafe protrusions. However, the plaintiff did not state any particular condition or characteristic that existed and directly caused her fall. The plaintiff originally brought her suit in state court in Broward County, but the defendants, recognizing that the action could have been brought in federal court, had the case removed to the Southern District of Florida pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). After removing the case to federal court, the defendants brought a motion to dismiss, arguing, in part, that the plaintiff’s pleadings were insufficient to maintain her cause of action based on the federal pleading standards delineated in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009).
For many standard causes of action, both state and federal procedural rules provide form documents outlining the essential facts and allegations one can plead to bring a case. In the instant case, the plaintiff’s complaint was substantially similar to the form pleadings for “fall-down negligence” claims provided by the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure. See Fla. R. Civ. P. Form 1.951. Although the action had been brought in state court, where such pleading would have been sufficient, the defendants nonetheless argued that Florida form pleading was insufficient under federal pleading standards. One can see the irony of this argument, considering it was the defendants who brought the case to federal court. However, despite the defendants’ calculated use of the federal removal statute, the court determined that, irrespective of the heightened pleading standard in federal court, the plaintiff’s factual allegations were sufficient to overcome the motion to dismiss.