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James v. American Honda Motor Co., Inc.

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

July 29, 2019

CEAREY JAMES, ET AL., Plaintiffs
v.
AMERICAN HONDA MOTOR CO., INC., ET AL., Defendants

          DRELL JUDGE

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          JOSEPH H.L. PEREZ-MONTES UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Before the Court are three related motions filed by Plaintiff Cearey James (“James”), as the mother and natural tutor of the minor child Adaleigh Marie James (“Adaleigh”), individually and on behalf of the decedent, Brett T. Lasyone (“Lasyone”): (1) a Motion to Remand (Doc. 9); (2) a Motion for Leave of Court to file a Motion to Appoint a Legal Representative for the Estate of Emily Dauzart (“Dauzart”) (“the Dauzart estate”) and to file a First Supplemental and Amending Petition to add additional defendants (“Motion for Leave”) (Doc. 10); and (3) a Motion to Appoint a Legal Representative for the Estate of Emily Dauzart (“Motion to Appoint”) (Doc. 11). American Honda Motor Co., Inc. (“AHM”) opposes all three motions. (Docs. 15, 16, 17).

         James seeks to appoint a legal representative for the Dauzart estate, and then add as Defendants the legal representative of the Dauzart estate and Progressive Specialty Insurance Agency, Inc. (“Progressive”). (Docs. 10, 11). James asserts the Court should remedy the “defect” of lack of a succession representative for Dauzart, add the additional defendants, and remand this matter to the Ninth Judicial District Court, Rapides Parish, Louisiana. (Doc. 9). Because the Court lacks jurisdiction to appoint a legal representative for the Dauzart estate; because the proposed amendments to add additional defendants are both premature and futile; and because the Court retains diversity jurisdiction, James's motions (Docs. 9, 10, 11) should be DENIED.

         I. Background

         James, as natural tutor for the minor child Adaleigh, filed a wrongful death and survival action in the Ninth Judicial District Court, Rapides Parish, Louisiana, against Defendants AHM, Honda Motor Company, LTD. (“HMC”), Honda R&D Co., Ltd. (“Honda R&D”), and the Estate of Emily Dauzart (“Dauzart estate”) (collectively referred to as “Defendants”). (Doc. 1-2, pp. 4-5). James alleges Lasyone was a passenger in the Honda Accord driven by Dauzart. (Doc. 1-2, p. 6). James asserts AHM, HMC, and Honda R&D designed, developed, manufactured, marketed, assembled, and sold the 2008 Honda Accord. (Doc. 1-2, pp. 6-20). Dauzart was operating the 2008 Honda Accord on July 23, 2017, east on Louisiana Highway 112 when, for unknown reasons, it left the roadway and struck two trees. (Doc. 1-2, pp. 5-6). Dauzart was ejected, and Lasyone remained in the passenger seat. (Doc. 1-2, p. 6). The vehicle ignited and was engulfed in flames shortly after the accident. Id. Lasyone and Dauzart died as a result of injuries sustained in the accident. Id.

         James asserts product liability claims against AHM, HMC, and Honda R&D relating to the 2008 Honda Accord - specifically, the fuel system. (Doc. 1-2, pp. 6-20). James alleges unreasonably dangerous design defect, defective construction and composition, breach of express warranties, and inadequate warnings under the Louisiana Products Liability Act (“LPLA”). Id. James also asserts negligence and misrepresentation claims against AHM, HMC, and Honda R&D, and a negligence claim against the Dauzart estate. Id. James seeks compensatory damages, legal interest, and costs. (Doc. 1-2, pp. 20-21).

         Donna Kay Robinson (“Robinson”), tutor of the minor children Natalie Dauzart (“Natalie”) and Carter Dauzart (“Carter”), filed an intervening Petition, individually and on behalf of decedent Dauzart. (Doc. 1-2, pp. 26-48). Robinson names as Defandants-in-Intervention AHM, HMC, and Honda R&D. (Doc. 1-2, p. 27). Robinson asserts she is the duly-appointed tutor of Natalie and Carter. (Doc. 1-2, p. 28). Robinson alleges Dauzart is the mother of both Natalie and Carter. Id. Robinson asserts violations of the LPLA against AHM, HMC, and Honda R&D for unreasonably dangerous design defect, defective construction and composition, breach of express warranties, and inadequate warnings. (Doc. 1-2, pp. 29-46). Robinson also asserts negligence and misrepresentation claims against AHM, HMC, and Honda R&D. Id.

         AHM answered James's petition, asserting various affirmative defenses.[1](Doc. 1-2, pp. 55-69). AHM asserted Exceptions of No Right of Action and Improper Cumulation of Actions as to Robinson's intervening petition. (Doc. 1-2, pp. 70-80). AHM timely removed, asserting diversity jurisdiction. (Doc. 1, pp. 2-8).

         James filed this Motion to Remand (Doc. 9), which seeks remand contingent upon the Court appointing a legal representative for the Dauzart estate (Doc. 11) and granting leave to file a First Supplemental and Amending Petition to add Progressive and a legal representative for the Dauzart estate as defendants (Doc. 10). AHM opposes all three motions. (Docs. 15, 16, 17).

         II. Law and Analysis

         A. Standards governing the Motion to Remand.

         A federal court's jurisdiction is limited to areas authorized by the United States Constitution and acts of Congress. See Scarlott v. Nissan N. Am., Inc., 771 F.3d 883, 887 (5th Cir. 2014). A defendant may remove “any civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction.” 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a).

         When original jurisdiction is based on diversity of citizenship, the cause of action must be between “citizens of different States” and the amount in controversy must exceed the “sum or value of $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs.” 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). “Complete diversity requires that all persons on one side of the controversy be citizens of different states than all persons on the other side.” Harvey v. Grey Wolf Drilling Co., 542 F.3d 1077, 1079 (5th Cir. 2008) (citing Harrison v. Prather, 404 F.2d 267, 272 (5th Cir. 1968)) (internal citation and quotation omitted). The party invoking subject matter jurisdiction in federal court has the burden of establishing the court's jurisdiction. St. Paul Reinsurance Co., Ltd. v. Greenberg, 134 F.3d 1250, 1253-54 (5th Cir. 1998). Here, AHM bears that burden.

         Subject matter jurisdiction must exist at the time of removal to federal court, based on the facts and allegations contained in the complaint. See St. Paul Reinsurance Co. Ltd., 134 F.3d at 1253. “[S]ubject-matter jurisdiction, because it involves a court's power to hear a case, can never be forfeited or waived.” Arbaugh v. Y&H Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 514 (2006) (citing Ruhrgas AG v. Marathon Oil Co., 526 U.S. 574, 583 (1999)). The Court has “an independent obligation to determine whether subject-matter jurisdiction exists, even in the absence of a challenge from any party.” Id. Jurisdictional facts are determined at the time of removal, not by subsequent events. See La. v. Am. Nat'l Prop. & Cas. Co., 746 F.3d 633, 635 (5th Cir. 2014). Remand is required “[i]f at any time before final judgment it appears that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction.” 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c).

         B. Standards governing the Motion to Amend.

         Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(1) provides that:

a party may amend its pleading once as a matter of course within (A) 21 days after serving it, or (B) if the pleading is one to which a responsive pleading is required, the party may amend within 21 days after service of a responsive pleading or 21 days after service of a motion under Rule 12(b), (e), or (f), whichever is earlier.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(1). In all other cases, a party may amend its pleading only with the opposing party's written consent or the court's leave. Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). A court should freely give leave when justice so requires. Id.

         Although Rule 15(a) “evinces a bias in favor of granting leave to amend, ” the Court is entrusted with the discretion to deny a motion to amend if it is futile. See Marucci Sports, L.L.C. v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n, 751 F.3d 368, 378 (5th Cir. 2014). “An amendment is futile if it would fail to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion.” Id. A district court “acts within its discretion in denying leave to amend where the proposed amendment would be futile because it could not survive a motion to dismiss.” Rio Grande Royalty Co. v. Energy Transfer Partners, L.P., 620 F.3d 465, 468 (5th Cir. 2010) (citing Briggs v. Mississippi, 331 F.3d 499, 508 (5th Cir. 2003)). Relevant factors to consider include “undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice to the opposing party, and futility of the amendment.” Wimm v. Jack Eckerd Corp., 3 F.3d 137, 139 (5th Cir. 1993) (quotation omitted).

         However, when, after removal, a “plaintiff seeks to join additional defendants whose joinder would destroy subject matter jurisdiction, the court may deny joinder, or permit joinder and remand the action to State court.” 28 U.S.C. § 1447(e). When confronted with an amendment to add a non-diverse party after removal, courts are cautioned to use discretion in deciding whether to allow that party to be added. Hensgens v. Deere & Co., 833 F.2d 1179, 1182 (5th Cir. 1987). Amended pleadings in such cases are to be scrutinized “more closely than an ordinary amendment.” Id.

         The court must balance the “defendant's interests in maintaining the federal forum with the competing interest of not having parallel lawsuits.” Id. 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. Id. “The district court, with input from the defendant, should then balance the equities and decide whether amendment should be permitted. If it ...


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