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Rabalais v. Strategic Restaurants Acquisition Co, LLC

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

August 9, 2019

DEREK RABALAIS ET AL
v.
STRATEGIC RESTAURANTS ACQUISITION CO, LLC, ET AL

          MAG. JUDGE PEREZ-MONTES

          MEMORANDUM RULING

          DEE D. DRELL JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT.

         Before the Court is a motion for expedited consideration and remand (Doc. 5) filed by Plaintiffs Derek Rabalais and his wife, Pamela Rabalais, individually and on behalf of their minor child, Addie Claire Rabalais. For the following reasons, the motion will be GRANTED.

         I. FACTS & PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiffs allege that Addie Rabalais contracted salmonella poisoning after eating undercooked chicken nuggets at a Burger King in Marksville, Louisiana.[1] They initially raised claims against Strategic Restaurants Acquisition Company, LLC D/B/A Burger King ("Burger King"), Jeremie Lavalais, Ashley Dufour, and Broadspire Services, Inc.[2] Significantly, Plaintiffs allege that Lavalais was employed as a cook by Burger King on the day of the incident and "admitted he 'pushed the wrong button' in preparing the chicken nuggets served to [Addie Rabalais], failing to cook them for the requisite period of time."[3] Lavalais is a resident of Marksville, Louisiana.[4]

         This suit was originally filed in the 12th Judicial District Court for the Parish of Avoyelles, State of Louisiana, on March 3, 2014.[5] In a third amended and supplemental petition for damages filed on June 24, 2019, Plaintiffs added a new defendant, Navigators Insurance Company ("Navigators").[6] On August 7, 2019, Navigators filed a notice of removal on the basis of diversity jurisdiction, [7] a mere five days before this five-year old case is set for a jury trial in state court on August 12, 2019.

         II. LAW & ANALYSIS

         A. Diversity Jurisdiction

         The diversity statute -28 U.S.C. § 1332-is satisfied upon a showing of: (1) diversity of citizenship between the parties; and (2) an amount in controversy in excess of $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs. "Complete diversity requires that all persons on one side of the controversy be citizens of different states than all persons on the other side." See Harvey v. Grey Wolf Drilling Co., 542 F.3d 1077, 1079 (5th Cir. 2008). The citizenship of an individual is his or her domicile, meaning the place where an individual resides and intends to remain. See Acridge v. Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Soc, 334 F.3d 444, 448 (5th Cir. 2003).

         As the effect of removal is to deprive the state court of an action properly before it, removal raises significant federalism concerns. The removal statute is therefore to be strictly construed, and any doubt about the propriety of removal must be resolved in favor of remand. Gasch v. Hartford Ace. & Indem. Co., 491 F.3d 278, 281-82 (5th Cir. 2007).

         B. Improper Joinder

         Navigators argues that Plaintiffs improperly joined Lavalais. To demonstrate improper joinder of resident defendants, the removing Defendants must demonstrate either: (1) actual fraud in the pleading of jurisdictional facts, or (2) the inability of Plaintiffs to establish a cause of action against the non-diverse party in state court. See Gasch, 491 F.3d at 281.

         Navigators relies on the second prong in this case. The threshold question is whether there is no reasonable basis for the district court to predict that Plaintiffs might be able to recover against an in-state Defendant. The burden of proof is on the removing party. See Gasch, 491 F.3d at 281. In deciding whether a party was improperly joined, the Court resolves all contested factual issues and ambiguities of state law in favor of Plaintiffs. See Gasch, 491 F.3d at 281.

         A court may predict whether a plaintiff has a reasonable basis of recovery under state law in one of two ways. The court may conduct a Rule 12(b)(6)-type analysis, looking initially at the allegations of the complaint to determine whether the complaint states a claim under state law against the in-state defendant. Ordinarily, if a plaintiff can survive a Rule 12(b)(6) challenge, there is no improper joinder. See Smallwood v. Illinois Cent. R. Co.,385 F.3d 568, 573 (5th Cir. 2004), cert, den., 544 U.S. 992 (2005). However, there are cases in which a plaintiff has stated a claim, but has misstated or omitted discrete facts that would ...


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