United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Monroe Division
JARRELL E. GODFREY, JR., ET AL., Plaintiffs
FIRST AMERICAN TITLE INSURANCE CO., Defendant
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
H.L. Perez-Montes, United States Magistrate Judge
the Court is a Motion to Remand (Doc. 14) filed by
Plaintiffs, Jarrell E. Godfrey, Jr. (“Godfrey”)
and Margaret Anne Hines (“Hines”) (collectively
referred to as “Plaintiffs”). Plaintiffs claim
the Court lacks diversity jurisdiction over this action.
(Doc. 14). Defendant First American Title Insurance Company
(“First American”) opposes the motion. (Doc. 23).
Because there is complete diversity of citizenship among the
parties and the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000, it is
recommended that Plaintiffs' Motion to Remand (Doc. 14)
filed a Petition in the Sixth Judicial District Court,
Tensas Parish, against First American. (Doc. 1-1).
Plaintiffs' Petition was jointly filed by Godfrey, pro
se, and through counsel for Hines. (Doc. 1-1). Plaintiffs
allege Godfrey and Hines are married but separate in
property. (Doc. 1-1). Plaintiffs claim they purchased as
undivided owners lots 61, 62, and 63 (“Lots
61-63”) of the Osceola Subdivision, Second Addition,
Tensas Parish, Louisiana from Michael and Jennifer Jenkins
(the “Jenkinses”). (Doc. 1-1). Plaintiffs assert
First American issued them a title insurance policy
(“the Policy”) through its agent, Marathon Title
Company, LLC (“Marathon”). (Doc. 1-1). Plaintiffs
further assert the Policy guaranteed Plaintiffs' title to
Lots 61-63 was good, valid, and merchantable. (Doc. 1-1).
Plaintiffs claim Section 7 of the Policy is an unenforceable
adhesion provision, included in the terms of the contract
they did not sign. (Doc. 1-1). Plaintiffs seek a declaratory
judgment striking Section 7 from the policy.
claim they acquired Lot 60 from the Jenkinses on July 21,
2007. (Doc. 1-1). Plaintiffs allege Marathon issued a First
American title insurance commitment (“the
Commitment”) guaranteeing the Lot 60 title was good,
valid, and merchantable. (Doc. 1-1). Plaintiffs claim neither
Marathon nor First American have issued a policy for Lot 60
to date. (Doc. 1-1). Plaintiffs seek a mandatory injunction
requiring First American to issue to Plaintiffs a title
insurance policy covering Lot 60. (Doc. 1-1). Alternatively,
Plaintiffs seek the value of their loss with respect to Lot
60, plus damages, penalties, and attorney's fees under
La. R.S. 22:1973 C. (Doc. 1-1).
allege First American became aware of defects in the title to
Lots 60-63 on about March 11, 2018 when its in-house counsel
was advised of the defects by Marathon representatives. (Doc.
further claim Gloria Hill Harper (“Harper”)
acquired full ownership of Lots 57-66 from Osceola
Development Company, LLC on August 17, 2004. (Doc. 1-1).
Plaintiffs allege Harper transferred fifty percent of Lots
57-66 to the Kenneth J. Smith and Elizabeth Adams Smith (the
“Smiths”) on August 27, 2004. (Doc. 1-1).
Plaintiffs claim the Jenkinses acquired Lots 57-66 from the
Smiths and Harper on December 19, 2004. (Doc. 1-1). However,
Plaintiffs allege Harper was married to A. Delbert
“Buddy” Harper, III (“Mr. Harper”),
and that there was no claim that her interest sold was her
separate property. (Doc. 1-1).
claim that in all acts of acquisition or ownership, Harper
stated her status to be a “married woman.” (Doc.
1-1). Plaintiffs allege Mr. Harper did not consent to, and
was not aware of, Harper's sales of Lots 57-66. (Doc.
1-1). The Harper marriage ended in divorce on March 30, 2007,
with a settlement of community property. (Doc. 1-1). Mr.
Harper died in July of 2008. (Doc. 1-1). Mr. Harper was
survived by Harper and two children of the marriage, Jennifer
Harper Hudak (“Mrs. Hudak”) and Stanley Delbert
Harper (“Stanley Harper”). (Doc. 1-1). Plaintiffs
allege no succession has been opened for Mr. Harper's
estate. (Doc. 1-1). Plaintiffs allege Mrs. Hudak and Stanley
Harper were not aware of the sales prior to March of 2018.
claim they were advised by First American's in-house
counsel on March 13, 2018 that they need not take any action,
as any claims to set aside the transfers of Harper's
community interest in Lots 57-66 had prescribed. (Doc. 1-1).
Plaintiffs further allege they were told any claim filed with
First American would be denied as there was no defect in the
title. (Doc. 1-1).
claim they filed a formal notice of claim with First
American, with sufficient proof of loss, dated March 16,
2018. (Doc. 1-1). Plaintiffs allege First American
acknowledged that it received the claim on March 20, 2018,
via letter dated April 2, 2018. (Doc. 1-1). Plaintiffs claim
they filed an additional proof of claim on April 11, 2018 and
amended on April 19, 2018. (Doc. 1-1). Plaintiffs allege
First American acknowledged the two additional proofs of
claim via email on April 19, 2018. (Doc. 1-1). Plaintiffs
claim First American has yet to send them a claims
determination letter. (Doc. 1-1).
allege First American breached its fiduciary duty as an
insurer to its policyholders, as set forth in La. R.S.
22:1973(B)(4)-(6). (Doc. 1-1). Plaintiffs seek penalties
under La. R.S. 22:1973, and reasonable attorney's fees.
seek a mandatory injunction against First American requiring
it to issue a title insurance policy covering Lot 60 pursuant
to the Commitment. (Doc. 1-1). Alternatively, Plaintiffs seek
a reformed or restated Commitment into a standard form First
American title insurance policy, or that First American pay
them the full value of their loss suffered with respect to
Lot 60. (Doc. 1-1). Plaintiffs also seek damages compensating
them for losing ownership of an undivided one-half (50%)
ownership interest in Lots 60-63; emotional distress from
others having an ownership interest or actionable claims to
their retirement home; reasonable attorney's fees and
costs for this action and any curative actions; and
reasonable attorney's fees for any action against
Plaintiffs seeking partition of Lots 60-63. (Doc. 1-1).
Plaintiffs also seek a declaratory judgment striking Section
7 from the Policy. (Doc. 1-1).
7, 2018, First American was served with the Petition and
Citation through the Louisiana Secretary of State. (Doc.
1-2). On June 26, 2018, Plaintiffs moved for entry of default
judgment against First American. (Doc. 1-3). On July 3, 2018,
the Sixth Judicial District Court entered a judgment of
default against First American. (Doc. 1-3).
6, 2018, prior to confirmation of default in state court,
First American answered and asserted various affirmative
defenses. (Doc. 1-4). On that same date, First American
removed the action based on diversity jurisdiction and
removal jurisdiction. (Doc. 1). First American asserts the
amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000.00, exclusive of
interest and costs. Specifically, First American asserts
Plaintiffs claim damages based on its title insurance policy,
which has a limit of $180, 000. (Doc. 1). First American
asserts Plaintiffs claim at least half of that amount, as
they allege they do not have title to fifty percent of the
undivided ownership of the property covered by the policy.
(Doc. 1). First American asserts Plaintiffs also claim
penalties and attorney's fees under La. R.S. 22:1892 and
22:1973. (Doc. 1). First American states Exhibit G to
Plaintiffs' Petition asserts damages in the amount of
$845, 241.56 in lost property interests, emotional distress,
and attorney's fees; $796, 356.92 in improvements to the
property; and/or potential liability to others in the amount
of $976, 730.14. (Doc. 1).
American further asserts the parties are completely diverse
in citizenship. (Doc. 1). First American alleges Plaintiffs
are domiciliaries of Louisiana. (Doc. 1). First American
further alleges it is a company incorporated under the laws
of Nebraska, with its principal place of business in
California. (Doc. 1).
responded to removal with a “Motion to Amend/Correct
Complaint” under Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2) (Doc. 13), and a
Motion to Remand (Doc. 14), both filed August 4, 2018.
Plaintiffs assert their First Amended Complaint adds new
facts and allegations, but no additional parties. (Doc. 13).
Plaintiffs assert their First Amended Complaint has no effect
on jurisdiction. (Doc. 13). The Court granted leave on ...