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Carter v. Lawhorn

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

November 8, 2018


         SECTION: “H” (4)



         Before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion to Remand (Doc. 5). For the following reasons, the Motion is DENIED.


         This is a civil action originally filed in the Civil District Court for the Parish of Orleans by Plaintiff Delories Carter on May 21, 2018. Defendant Government Employees Insurance Company (“GEICO”) removed the case to this Court, invoking diversity jurisdiction. Plaintiff Delories Carter (“Carter”) responded with the instant Motion to Remand on grounds that the parties lack complete diversity. GEICO responds, arguing that the actual parties in interest satisfy diversity requirements.

         This case arises out of an automobile accident that occurred in Orleans Parish on June 16, 2017, when an automobile owned and operated by Defendant Mateal Lawhorn (“Lawhorn”), a Louisiana resident and Plaintiff's sister, was struck by an automobile owned and operated by Albert Cornish (“Cornish”). Plaintiff was a passenger in Lawhorn's vehicle when the accident occurred, and she sued Cornish and his liability insurer, State Farm, in a separate proceeding. Cornish and State Farm accepted full responsibility for this accident, and State Farm paid its policy limits of $30, 000.00 to the injured parties.

         Defendant Lawhorn carries a policy of insurance with GEICO, and this policy includes uninsured motorist and underinsured motorist coverage (“UM/UIM”) for Lawhorn and her passengers if they meet certain requirements. The relevant requirements in the policy here are that the passenger must be related to Lawhorn and must also reside in the same household. Plaintiff alleges that because she is Lawhorn's biological sister and because she resides with Lawhorn, Plaintiff is insured under the policy and she may recover if, as she alleges here, her damages exceed the limits of the tortfeasor's policy.

         Plaintiff filed the instant suit on May 21, 2018, against Lawhorn and GEICO, alleging that the settlement of policy limits by State Farm was inadequate to compensate her for her injuries and damages caused by the accident and asserting bad faith claims against GEICO. Plaintiff has made a demand in this lawsuit for UM/UIM benefits under GEICO's policy by virtue of her status as a passenger in the Lawhorn vehicle.

         GEICO subsequently filed a Notice of Removal on diversity grounds. Plaintiff now seeks to remand this case arguing a lack of complete diversity between the parties. Specifically, Plaintiff notes that both Plaintiff and Lawhorn are residents of Louisiana and argues that GEICO is a resident of Louisiana for purposes of this lawsuit, as the holder of the insurance policy that covers Plaintiff. Defendant GEICO opposes this Motion, setting forth the following two arguments: (1) Lawhorn was improperly joined to this suit to defeat diversity, and (2) because Plaintiff seeks UM/UIM coverage, rather than liability insurance, Plaintiff's citizenship cannot be imputed to GEICO. GEICO argues, therefore, that complete diversity exists.


         Generally, a defendant may remove a civil state court action to federal court if the federal court has original jurisdiction over the action.[1] The burden is on the removing party to show “[t]hat federal jurisdiction exists and that removal was proper.”[2] When determining whether federal jurisdiction exists, courts consider “[t]he claims in the state court petition as they existed at the time of removal.”[3] Removal statutes should be strictly construed, and any doubt should be resolved in favor of remand.[4]


         For a matter to fall within the Court's diversity jurisdiction, the parties must be citizens of different states and the amount in controversy must exceed $75, 000.[5] The parties do not appear to dispute that the amount in controversy requirement is met. Likewise, the parties do not appear to dispute that Plaintiff is a citizen of Louisiana and Defendant Lawhorn is a citizen of Louisiana. The parties do, however, dispute the citizenship of Defendant GEICO and whether Defendant Lawhorn was properly joined. GEICO argues that the non-diverse defendant, Mateal Lawhorn, is fraudulently joined and that without her, diversity exists and jurisdiction is established. Plaintiff responds that Lawhorn was properly joined and that, at any rate, GEICO is also a citizen of Louisiana for the purposes of this lawsuit. This Court will consider each argument in turn.

         1. Defendant Mateal Lawhorn's ...

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