OCEAN CITY – A wrongful death civil suit filed in federal court by the family of a local man struck and killed on Coastal Highway in 2017 could be heading back to Worcester after the plaintiffs acknowledged this week the Circuit Court is likely the more appropriate venue for the case.
During the October 2017 Endless Summer cruising event, Thomas Lawlor, 57, of Ocean City, attempted to cross Coastal Highway at 76th Street from west to east when he was struck by a Maryland State Police (MSP) vehicle allegedly traveling at a high rate of speed in response to another incident. Lawlor was struck by an MSP Ford Explorer
operated by Trooper James Price as he crossed the northbound lanes of Coastal Highway at 67th Street and ultimately succumbed to injuries sustained in the collision.
In May, the decedent’s wife, Rennae Lawlor, of Lewes, Del., and her two sons filed suit in U.S. District Court, naming Price, the MSP, the state of Maryland and the town of Ocean City as defendants. However, in June, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss the case, asserting, among other things, the U.S. District Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction because of the lack of diversity among the plaintiffs.
Federal district courts have jurisdiction based on diversity of citizenship when the parties are citizens of different states. In this particular case, the victim, Thomas Lawlor, lived in Ocean City at the time of the incident and his estate was probated in Worcester County. However, his wife Rennae Lawlor, who filed the suit in U.S. District Court, is a resident of Lewes, Del. The defendants in the case, particularly the Maryland State Police and the trooper behind the wheel during the collision, in June filed a motion to dismiss the case because of a lack of diversity among the plaintiffs.
“The plaintiffs bring various state tort claims based on negligence and gross negligence, but no federal claims,” the motion to dismiss reads. “Because there is a lack of complete diversity among the plaintiffs, and because the defendants are protected by immunity, the plaintiffs are not entitled to any relief in this court.”
The defendants’ motion to dismiss asserts while the plaintiffs in the case resided at different times in Delaware and New Jersey, the victim lived in Maryland and his estate was probated in Worcester County, which is why the case should be dismissed.
“In this case, although the Lawlors may indeed be residents of New Jersey and Delaware, complete diversity is lacking,” the motion to dismiss reads. “Mr. Lawlor at the time of his death was a resident of Ocean City Maryland. His estate was probated in Worcester County, Maryland. Because Mr. Lawlor was a resident of Maryland at the time of his death, there is
no complete diversity of citizenship among the parties and the court does not have jurisdiction in this case.”
This week, however, the plaintiffs filed a motion acknowledging the lack of diversity issues, but asked the federal court to remand the case to Worcester County Circuit Court rather than dismiss it entirely.
“The plaintiffs agree that complete diversity does not exist as the estate of Thomas Lawlor was probated in Worcester County, thereby depriving this court of subject matter jurisdiction,” the motion to remand the case to Circuit Court filed on Wednesday reads. “While this court could dismiss the case and allow the plaintiffs to file in state court, the court may transfer the case in lieu of dismissal.”
In short, the plaintiffs are now seeking to have the case sent back to Worcester County.