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Lonidier v. National Casualty Co.

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

April 19, 2018

RACHAEL LONIDIER
v.
NATIONAL CASUALTY CO.

          HICKS MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          Mark L. Hornsby I U.S. Magistrate Judge.

         Introduction

         Rachael Lonidier (“Plaintiff”) and her minor child were injured in a multi-vehicle accident on I-20 in Bienville Parish. Plaintiff, on behalf of herself and her son, filed suit in state court against three other drivers, their employers, and their insurers. Defendants removed the case based on an assertion of diversity jurisdiction.

         Plaintiff's petition does not show complete diversity of citizenship; Plaintiff and defendant-driver Roderick Minnieweather are both Louisiana citizens. Defendants argue that removal is nonetheless allowed because Minnieweather was improperly joined as a party. Plaintiff filed a Motion to Remand (Doc. 15) and challenged the improper joinder plea. For the reasons that follow, it is recommended that the motion be granted and that this case be remanded to state court.

         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” was 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). That is the burden the defendants shoulder in this case.

         The Facts

         A. Plaintiff's Petition

         Plaintiff and her son were traveling westbound on I-20 in a Honda CRV. Plaintiff was driving in the left lane behind a tractor-trailer (eighteen wheeler) driven by Angelo Fields. In front of Mr. Fields was a Jeep Grand Cherokee driven by Rodney Luckett. Directly behind Plaintiff in the left lane was a tractor-trailer driven by Angel Cruz. Petition, ¶¶ 6-16.

         At about the same time, Roderick Minnieweather was driving a tractor-trailer in the right lane. Minnieweather was, like the others, traveling westbound. His rig was positioned somewhere to the right of the tractor-trailer driven by Mr. Cruz. ¶¶ 17-19. Accordingly, the line of vehicles in the left lane was headed by Mr. Luckett's Jeep Grand Cherokee, followed by Mr. Fields in a tractor-trailer, followed by Plaintiff in her Honda CRV, followed by Mr. Cruz in a tractor-trailer. To the right of Mr. Cruz was Mr. Minnieweather in his tractor-trailer. The petition includes a drawing, borrowed from an accident report, that depicts those positions. ¶ 20.

         A vehicle in front of Mr. Luckett slowed suddenly to avoid a tire carcass in the left lane. Mr. Luckett slowed his Jeep Grand Cherokee to avoid hitting that vehicle. Mr. Fields could not or did not stop his tractor-trailer in time and hit Mr. Luckett's Jeep. Those two vehicles came to a stop in the left lane of I-20. ¶¶ 21-23.

         Plaintiff was able to come to a controlled stop behind Mr. Fields' tractor-trailer. As Mr. Cruz (left lane) and Mr. Minnieweather (right lane) approached the location of the accident in their tractor-trailers, Mr. Cruz attempted to change lanes to the right lane, but sideswiped Mr. Minnieweather's tractor-trailer before veering back to the left lane and striking Plaintiff's Honda CRV. The impact smashed Plaintiff's vehicle into the rear of Mr. Fields' tractor-trailer. The impact ripped off the doors of the small SUV, shattered its windows, and spun it around. The SUV ended up pinned ...


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