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Grice v. Toney

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Shreveport Division

January 9, 2018






         This is one of several suits filed in state and federal courts arising from a multi-vehicle accident on Interstate 20 in Webster Parish. The Plaintiff in this case is Charlie Grice, a Louisiana citizen, who filed suit in the Webster Parish state court against the driver, owner, and insurer of a tractor-trailer rig. Mr. Grice also named as a defendant the State of Louisiana, through the Department of Transportation and Development (“DOTD”).

         The trucking company and insurer removed the case based on an assertion of diversity jurisdiction. They alleged facts to show diversity of citizenship except between Mr. Grice and the State of Louisiana, but they argued that the presence of the State could be ignored because it was improperly joined.[1] Before the court is Plaintiff's Motion to Remand (Doc. 14) that challenges the improper joinder plea. For the reasons that follow, it is recommended that the Motion to Remand be granted.

         Improper Joinder

         Congress has provided a statutory framework for removal of certain cases where there is diversity of citizenship. Those statutes have been interpreted by the courts to require complete diversity; jurisdiction is lacking if any defendant is a citizen of the same state as any plaintiff. That strict requirement would, on its face, permit a plaintiff to name as a defendant any citizen of his home state and defeat removal. To prevent such shams, the “judge-imported concept of fraudulent joinder” has developed. Bobby Jones Garden Apartments, Inc. v. Suleski, 391 F.2d 172, 176 (5th Cir. 1968). The Fifth Circuit has since adopted the term “improper joinder” to describe the doctrine. Smallwood v. Illinois Central R.R. Co., 385 F.3d 568 n. 1 (5th Cir. 2004) (en banc).

         The most common way a defendant shows improper joinder is to demonstrate the inability of the plaintiff to establish a cause of action against the non-diverse party in state court. The defendant must show that there is no reasonable basis for the district court to predict the plaintiff might be able to recover against the in-state defendant. Smallwood, 385 F.3d at 573; Travis v. Irby, 326 F.3d 644, 646-47 (5th Cir. 2003).

         The “no reasonable basis” contest may take place in two different settings: (1) a challenge to the pleadings alone or (2) an effort to pierce the pleadings and demonstrate by summary judgment-type evidence that the plaintiff is unable to prove all of the facts necessary to prevail. The first method, the pleadings challenge, is primarily at issue here. The court conducts a Rule 12(b)(6)-type analysis to determine whether the complaint states a claim under state law against the in-state defendant. Smallwood, 385 F.3d at 573. Any ambiguities in state law must be resolved in favor of the plaintiff. Gray v. Beverly Enterprises-Mississippi, Inc., 390 F.3d 400, 405 (5th Cir. 2004).

         The Petition

         Mr. Grice alleges in his petition that he was operating a Ford F-150 pickup truck going east on I-20 in Webster Parish. At the same time, Roosevelt Toney was operating a Kenworth tractor-trailer rig going in the same direction. Petition, ¶ 5. Mr. Toney's tractor-trailer rig “struck several vehicles in the rear including the vehicle being operated by [Mr. Grice].” The impact to Grice's vehicle forced it to strike another vehicle that was “positioned in front of him” on the interstate. ¶ 6. Grice alleges that the accident was the fault of Mr. Toney for following too closely, operating his vehicle in a careless and reckless manner, and failing to see what he should have seen. ¶ 7.

         Mr. Grice alleges, in the alternative, that the accident was solely or partially due to the fault of the DOTD. That fault allegedly includes DOTD failing to provide appropriate safety measures in a construction zone, failing to provide appropriate warning measures in a construction zone, failing to take adequate measures to alert motorists to a stalled traffic queue ahead, failing to institute an adequate traffic control plan to ensure proper traffic flow, failing to employ adequate signage and notice to timely alert motorists that the area tapered traffic into a single lane, failing to use changeable message signs to alert motorists of upcoming single-lane traffic, and not providing the required public notice regarding planned interstate lane closures. ¶ 9.

         The allegations imply that Mr. Grice was slowed or stopped because of construction, but the petition never says so directly. Grice's attorney states in his memorandum that the accident occurred during peak traffic times when a road construction job caused traffic in a 70-mile-per-hour zone to use a single lane of travel, and traffic was stopped and backed up for a significant distance in front of ...

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