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James v. Brierfield Insurance Co.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

December 6, 2017

WILLIE JAMES
v.
BRIERFIELD INSURANCE COMPANY, RIEMANN FUNERAL HOMES, INC. LOUISIANA FARM BUREAU CASUALTY INSURANCE COMPANY, AND PAMELA BLAYLOCK

         SECTION "N" (2)

          ORDER AND REASONS

          KURT D. ENGELHARDT UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Presently 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.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The 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).

         Further, 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. 4).

         Thereafter, 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 claim[1]against 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.[2] (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).

         Plaintiff 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).

         Further, Plaintiff maintains that there is a reasonable basis of recovery against Louisiana defendant, Farm Bureau, given the uncertainty of his injuries[3] 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 time.” (Id.).

         In 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).

         Next, 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).

         II. LAW AND ANALYSIS

         a. Removal

         “[A]ny 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 ...


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