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Goodman v. Nationwide Agribusiness Insurance Co.

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

April 26, 2019

ALBERTA GOODMAN
v.
NATIONWIDE AGRIBUSINESS INSURANCE COMPANY, ET AL.

          NOTICE AND ORDER

          ERIN WILDER-DOOMES, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         On January 18, 2017, plaintiff, Alberta Goodman (“Plaintiff”) filed a Petition for Damages against Nationwide Agribusiness Insurance Company (“Nationwide”), AG Logistics, LLC (“AG Logistics”), and Telly Georgetown (“Georgetown”) for damages allegedly sustained in a January 20, 2016 automobile accident.[1] On March 22, 2019, Plaintiff filed a First Supplemental and Amended Petition for Damages (the “Amended Petition”) adding James River Insurance Company (“James River”) as a defendant.[2] Thereafter, on February 19, 2019, Plaintiff entered into a “Gasquet Partial Settlement Agreement and Receipt and Release” (the “Partial Settlement”) with AG Logistics, Georgetown, and Nationwide.[3] On April 18, 2019, James River filed a Notice of Removal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332.[4]

         For the reasons set forth herein, the court sua sponte raises the issue of whether it may exercise diversity jurisdiction in this matter.

         With respect to the amount in controversy, Plaintiff alleges that she “sustained severe and disabling injuries” including severe headaches; blurred vision; neck, back, leg, and arm pain; and general soreness to her whole body.[5] Plaintiff seeks to recover for property damage as well as past, present, and future physical pain and suffering; mental pain, anguish and distress; loss of enjoyment of life; lost wages; disability; impairment of earning capacity; and medical expenses.[6]

         Per its Notice of Removal, James River asserts that although Plaintiff settled her claims against Nationwide, Georgetown, and AG Logistics for $925, 000.00, Plaintiff's medical records support James River's position that the amount in controversy requirement is met.[7] Specifically, James River explains that Plaintiff underwent a lumbar medial branch block and bilateral radiofrequency ablation prior to the Partial Settlement, that “[d]iagnostics (sic) studies reveal multiple disc bulges and an associated annular tear, ” and that Plaintiff's “surgeon has recommended spinal cord stimulation as an alternative to surgery.”[8] Despite reference to Plaintiff's medical records and treatment, there is no indication in the Notice of Removal as to Plaintiff's medical expenses, nor is there any information regarding Plaintiff's lost wages, property damage, or alleged disability. Significantly, other than citing one Louisiana district court judgment, [9] James River does not explain how the amount in controversy exceeds the jurisdictional threshold here considering the amounts already paid under the Partial Settlement.[10] Based on the information contained in the Amended Petition and the Notice of Removal, the court sua sponte raises the issue of whether it may exercise diversity jurisdiction in this matter, specifically, whether the amount in controversy requirement has been met.[11]

         With respect to the citizenship of the parties, James River alleges that Plaintiff is a Louisiana citizen and James River is an Ohio corporation with its principal place of business in Virginia.[12] Nationwide is alleged to be an Iowa corporation with its principal place of business in Iowa, while both Georgetown and AG Logistics are alleged to be Louisiana citizens.[13] Although James River recognizes that Plaintiff, Georgetown, and AG Logistics are not diverse from one another, James River contends that Plaintiff voluntarily terminated her claims against Nationwide, Georgetown, and AG Logistics via the Partial Settlement and that the citizenship of these nominal defendants should be disregarded.[14]

         “In determining diversity jurisdiction, ‘a federal court must disregard nominal or formal parties and rest jurisdiction only upon the citizenship of real parties to the controversy.'”[15] In the Fifth Circuit, “‘a case may be removed based on any voluntary act of the plaintiff that effectively eliminates the nondiverse defendant from the case.'”[16] Where a plaintiff has “effectively eliminated” the nondiverse defendant(s) via a settlement, the case becomes removable.[17] Here, James River contends that the Partial Settlement renders Nationwide, Georgetown, and AG Logistics nominal defendants whose citizenship may be disregarded for purposes of determining diversity jurisdiction.[18]

         IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that on or before May 10, 2019, James River Insurance Company shall file a memorandum and supporting evidence concerning whether the amount in controversy requirement of 28 U.S.C. § 1332 is met.

         IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that on or before May 24, 2019, Plaintiff shall file either: (1) a Notice stating that Plaintiff does not dispute that James River has established the jurisdictional requirements of 28 U.S.C. § 1332; or (2) a Motion to Remand.

         The case will be allowed to proceed if jurisdiction is adequately established.

---------

Notes:

[1] R. Doc. 1-1.

[2] R. Doc. 1-2.


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