A federal appeals court on Tuesday refused to consider whether two risk retention groups could be reimbursed for the settlement they paid in connection with a fire that killed four residents, based on the same “citizenship” of the parties in the case.
In 2017, a fire at the Barclays Friends assisted living facility in West Chester, Pennsylvania, caused the deaths of four residents, according to the decision of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia in Peace Church Risk Retention Group (a mutual) as subrogation to Barclay Friends; Caring Communities (a mutual) as a surrogate for Barclay Friends. v. Johnson Controls Fire Protection LP, FKA SimplexGrinnell LP
The estates of the slain residents sued Barclay Friends and Boca Raton-based Johnson Controls, formerly known as SimplexGrinnell, which had maintained and monitored the facility̵7;s fire suppression system.
Barclay Friends’ two risk retention groups, Burlington, Vermont-based Peace Church and Liberty, Illinois-based Caring Communities, settled with the estate for an undisclosed amount, then sued Johnson Controls in US District Court in Philadelphia, alleging its behavior caused the fire and the resident’s death and sought compensation for the settlement.
After the district court denied Johnson Controls’ motion to dismiss the case, the company appealed to the district court. A three-judge panel said it could not decide the case at this time because of a diversity statute that says litigants in federal lawsuits cannot be citizens of the same state.
While Peace Church is organized under Vermont’s laws, and Caring Communities under District of Columbia’s, they have subscribers in states, including Delaware and Wisconsin, the ruling said. And Johnson Controls, a limited partnership, also has members in Delaware and Wisconsin.
“In short, diversity jurisdiction appears to be lacking,” the ruling said. “We are not prepared to rest on appearances when further fact-finding is clearly necessary,” it said, as the case was remanded to the lower court to evaluate the matter.
Attorneys in the case did not respond to requests for comment.