United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana
ORDER AND REASONS
D. ENGELHARDT UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
before the Court is a Motion to Remand filed by Plaintiff,
Willie James (“Plaintiff”). (Rec. Doc. 7). The
motion is opposed by Defendants, Pamela Blaylock, Riemann
Funeral Homes, Inc., and Brierfield Insurance Company
(“Brierfield Defendants”). (Rec. Docs. 12 and
19). Having carefully considered the parties'
submissions, applicable law, and the record, IT IS
ORDERED that the Motion to Remand is
GRANTED for the reasons stated herein.
instant matter arises out of a motor vehicle accident that
occurred on U.S. 90 in Jefferson Parish on September 8, 2016.
(Rec. Doc. 1-2). On February 10, 2017, plaintiff, Willie
James, filed a Petition for Damages in the 40th Judicial
District Court for the Parish of St. John the Baptist,
seeking damages for injuries allegedly sustained in the
accident. (Id.). Plaintiff alleges that while he was
proceeding west-bound on U.S. 90 “a vehicle owned by
Riemann Funeral Homes, Inc. and being operated by Pamela
Blaylock, attempted to make a left turn then suddenly and
without warning swerved into petitioner's lane of travel
thereby striking petitioner's vehicle.”
(Id.). Plaintiff, a Louisiana citizen, named four
defendants in his state court petition: (1) Pamela Blaylock,
the allegedly negligent driver and a Mississippi citizen; (2)
Riemann Funeral Homes, Inc., the owner of the vehicle being
driven by Ms. Blaylock, Ms. Blaylock's employer, and a
Mississippi citizen; (3) Brierfield Insurance Company, the
insurer of the vehicle driven by Ms. Blaylock and a citizen
of Mississippi and Florida; and (4) Louisiana Farm Bureau
Casualty Insurance Company, the Plaintiff's
uninsured/underinsured motorist insurance carrier and a
Louisiana citizen. (Rec. Doc. 1 at pp. 6-7; see also
Rec. Doc. 1-2).
Plaintiff claims that the sole, proximate and/or contributing
cause of the accident is the negligence of Pamela Blaylock,
who was allegedly acting in the course and scope of her
employment with Riemann Funeral Homes, Inc. (Rec. Doc. 1-2 at
p. 3). Thus, Plaintiff contends that Riemann Funeral Homes,
Inc. is liable for the actions of its employee through the
doctrine of respondeat superior. (Id. at p.
on July 20, 2017, the Brierfield Defendants removed the
action to this Court, alleging that this Court has original
jurisdiction by virtue of 28 U.S.C. § 1332 because
“all properly joined parties are citizens of
different States, and the claims involve an amount in
controversy that exceeds $75, 000.00, exclusive of costs and
interest.” (Rec. Doc. 1 at p. 2). The Brierfield
Defendants contend that Louisiana Farm Bureau Casualty
Insurance Company (“Farm Bureau”),
Plaintiff's uninsured/underinsured motorist carrier and
only non-diverse defendant, is improperly joined because
Plaintiff has no possibility of further recovery against Farm
Bureau. In support of their improper joinder argument, the
Brierfield Defendants assert that the only remaining
claimagainst the non-diverse defendant is
Plaintiff's UM/UIM coverage claim that, based on
Plaintiff's alleged knee, neck, and back injuries,
“will not, and cannot, exceed [the] $6 million”
in underlying coverage. (Id. at p. 4). Further, the
Brierfield Defendants argue that because Farm Bureau is
improperly joined, its non-diverse citizenship can be
ignored; thus, there is complete diversity between the
properly joined parties and the federal court has subject
matter jurisdiction over the matter. (Id. at p. 5).
Accordingly, Defendants assert that “as an improperly
joined party, Farm Bureau need not consent to or join in the
removal.” (Id. at p. 6).
then filed the Motion to Remand presently before the Court,
alleging that removal of this action is not proper because it
was not timely filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1446 and
that there is not complete diversity under 28 U.S.C. §
1441 because plaintiff maintains the cause of action against
Farm Bureau, a Louisiana citizen. (Rec. Doc. 7).
Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that complete diversity is
lacking because Farm Bureau was properly joined. At the time
the petition was filed, Plaintiff argues that he had no
knowledge of the underlying policy limits due to Brierfield
Insurance Company's refusal to disclose such information.
(Id. at p. 5).
Plaintiff maintains that there is a reasonable basis of
recovery against Louisiana defendant, Farm Bureau, given the
uncertainty of his injuries and the uncertainty regarding the
extent of coverage of the Brierfield policy. Plaintiff
asserts that joinder of his UM carrier is proper to provide
recourse should Brierfield deny coverage: “Defendants
have not and will not stipulate that this insurance applies
to this accident and to these defendants because they wish to
maintain the possibility of denying coverage at a later
date.” (Rec. Doc. 7-2 a pp. 6-7). Therefore, Plaintiff
maintains that the proper joinder of his UM carrier, a
non-diverse defendant, precludes complete diversity of
citizenship such that the matter must be remanded to state
court. (Id. at p. 7). Finally, Plaintiff urges that
“removal statutes should be strictly construed and
[because] there is a substantial question of fact in this
matter, remand to the State court is appropriate at this
opposition, the Brierfield Defendants assert that
Plaintiff's Motion to Remand must be denied, arguing that
the Notice of Removal was timely because it was filed within
thirty days of receipt of notice that Farm Bureau had
satisfied Plaintiff's medical payment coverage claim,
which provided the basis for removal. (Rec. Doc. 12 at p. 3).
Further, the Brierfield Defendants maintain their argument
that Farm Bureau was improperly joined because there is $6
million in underlying coverage and, based on a “full
quantum analysis” of Plaintiff's injuries, taking
into account the highest damages awarded for similar
injuries, there is no possible recovery against Farm Bureau
because Plaintiff's damages cannot exceed $6 million.
(See Id. at pp. 4, 6-8).
Defendants argue that, contrary to Plaintiff's
assertions, they have sufficiently established the underlying
coverage. (Rec. Doc. 12 at p. 4). To support this contention,
Defendants reference the named insurance policies,
Defendants' admission that Ms. Blaylock was acting in the
course and scope of her employment, their representations of
$6 million in coverage, and failure to assert defenses
denying coverage. (Id. at pp. 4-5). Thus, the
Brierfield Defendants contend that the only relevant question
before the Court is “whether Plaintiff has a
possibility of recovering more than $6 million in this case,
i.e. whether plaintiff can recover from Louisiana Farm
Bureau;” which, based on their quantum analysis,
Plaintiff's deposition, and medical records, Defendants
assert is a threshold that Plaintiff cannot meet. (Rec. Doc.
12 at pp. 5-8; see also Rec. Doc. 16).
LAW AND ANALYSIS
civil action brought in a State court of which the district
courts of the United States have original jurisdiction, may
be removed by the defendant[s]…to the district
court…embracing the place where such action is
pending.” 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). If the initial
pleading is not removable, “a notice of removal may be
filed within 30 days of an amended pleading, motion, order or
other paper from which it may be first ascertained that the
case is one which is or has become removable.” 28
U.S.C. § 1446. The burden is on the removing party to
show “that federal jurisdiction exists [based on the
state court petition at the time of removal] and that removal
was proper.” Manguno v. Prudential Prop. & Cas.
Ins. Co., 276 F.3d 720, 723 (5th Cir. 2002). Further,
because federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction,
the removal statute is to be strictly construed; accordingly,
any ambiguities or ...