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Staten v. Guardiola

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

April 15, 2019

CYNTHIA STATEN
v.
RICARDO GUARDIOLA, ET AL

          FOOTE JUDGE

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          MARK L. HORNSBY U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Introduction

         Cynthia Staten (“Plaintiff”), who was a passenger in a pickup truck, was injured in a two-vehicle accident. On October 30, 2018, she filed suit in state court against the driver of the other vehicle, his employer, and his insurer. Allied World Assurance Company, the insurer, removed the case based on diversity jurisdiction and specifically alleged in its answer that the accident was caused by the comparative fault of Plaintiff or the driver of the pickup truck in which she was a passenger.

         Plaintiff responded by filing a Motion for Leave to Amend Complaint (Doc. 15) to add as a defendant James Grayson, who was the driver of the pickup truck in which she was riding. Defendants argue that leave should be denied because Plaintiff is attempting to destroy diversity jurisdiction. For the reasons that follow, it is recommended that Plaintiff's motion be granted and that this civil action be remanded to state court.

         Hensgens and the Proposed Amendment

         If after removal a plaintiff seeks to join a new defendant whose joinder would destroy subject matter jurisdiction, the court may (1) deny joinder or (2) permit joinder and remand the case. 28 U.S.C. § 1447(e). The court's decision of the issue is guided by the factors set forth in Hensgens v. Deere & Co., 833 F.2d 1179 (5th Cir. 1987). See also Cobb v. Delta Exports, Inc., 186 F.3d 675, 678-79 (5th Cir. 1999). Although leave to amend is ordinarily freely granted, Hensgens instructs that when a district court is faced with an amendment that adds a non-diverse party it “should scrutinize that amendment more closely than an ordinary amendment.” Id. at 1182.

         The court must balance the defendant's interests in maintaining the federal forum with the competing interest of not having parallel lawsuits. Factors to be considered include (1) the extent to which the purpose of the amendment is to defeat federal jurisdiction, (2) whether the plaintiff has been dilatory in asking for the amendment, (3) whether the plaintiff will be significantly injured if the amendment is not allowed, and (4) any other factors bearing on the equities. Hensgens, 833 F.2d at 1182; Hawthorne Land Co. v. Occidental Chemical Corp., 431 F.3d 221, 227 (5th Cir. 2005).

         Relevant Facts

         Plaintiff alleged in her state court petition that she was a passenger in a Chevrolet Silverado being driven by James Grayson. The pickup was traveling westbound on I-20 in the right lane when Ricardo Guardiola, who was driving a Peterbilt tractor in the left lane, abruptly changed lanes and struck the driver's side of Mr. Grayson's pickup. Plaintiff alleged that Mr. Guardiola, who later pleaded guilty to improper passing, was negligent in causing the accident. Plaintiff named as defendants Mr. Guardiola, his employer (Lindamood Demolition Inc.), and his liability insurer (Allied World). She did not sue Mr. Grayson.

         Allied World removed the case on February 5, 2019 based on an assertion of diversity jurisdiction. Plaintiff is a citizen of Louisiana, and the other defendants are citizens of Delaware or Texas, and Plaintiff's counsel had advised that Plaintiff's damages exceed $75, 000.

         Mr. Guardiola and his employer filed an answer that included a standard affirmative defense that “contributory and/or comparative negligence of the plaintiff unnamed and parties (sic) as an absolute bar in reduction of any recovery herein.” The answer also asserted that if the court were to find that the fault of any other person, whether a party or not, contributed to the accident, then the liability of the named defendants should be proportionally reduced by the percentage of negligence attributed to that person. Doc. 7, First Affirmative Defense and ¶ 22.

         Allied World later filed a separate answer (Doc. 10) and was more specific about its allegation of third-party fault. Its First Defense (with emphasis added) asserted:

The alleged damages of the Plaintiff, if any, were not caused by any fault, negligence, liability attributable to Defendant, Allied World, but instead were caused solely and proximately through the negligence and/or comparative negligence of Plaintiff and/or of the driver of the vehicle in which Plaintiff was a passenger, a third-party for whom Defendant is not responsible, including, but not limited to, the acts of negligence listed below and others to be shown at the time of trial:
a) failing to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances prevailing at the ...

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