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Guillory v. Courtney Hawkins

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Lake Charles Division

September 23, 2019


          JAMES D. CAIN, JR., JUDGE



         Before the court is a Motion to Remand filed by plaintiff Rokeshia Guillory. Doc. 12. This motion has been referred to the undersigned for review, report, and recommendation in accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636.

         For the reasons stated below, IT IS RECOMMENDED that the Motion to Remand be DENIED and that all claims against the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (“DOTD”) be DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE.



         The case arises from an accident that occurred on February 1, 2018, when plaintiff, while crossing an interstate highway, was struck by a 2016 Freightliner Cascadia. Doc. 1, att. 1, p. 5; Doc. 12, att. 6, p. 6. The freightliner was owned by United Business Freight Forwarders, LLC (“United”), and driven by Courtney Hawkins who was, at the time of the accident, insured by Hartford Fire Insurance Company (“Hartford”) and acting in the course and scope of her employment with EZ Worldwide Services, Inc. (“EZ Worldwide”). Id. at 5-7. On January 10, 2019, plaintiff filed suit in the 14th Judicial District Court, Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana. Made defendants therein were Courtney Hawkins, United, EZ Worldwide, Hartford, and the DOTD. Id. at 5. Specifically against DOTD, plaintiff alleges “DOTD had custody of the roadway” and that it failed to take adequate measures to protect pedestrians in that area. Id. at 7.

         On March 14, 2019, defendants Courtney Hawkins and Hartford removed the suit to this court, allegedly with EZ Worldwide and United's consent. See Doc. 1, pp. 1-2. The removing defendants claim that complete diversity exists[1" name="FN1" id= "FN1">1] between plaintiff and all defendants except DOTD which, they assert, is improperly joined. Id. at 4. Plaintiff filed the instant motion for remand on April 12, 2019, and claims he has stated a valid cause of action against DOTD. Doc. 12.


         Law & Analysis

         District courts have original jurisdiction over all civil actions between citizens of different states where the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1). This diversity provision requires complete diversity among the parties. Caterpillar Inc. v. Lewis, 117 S.Ct. 467');">117 S.Ct. 467, 472 (1996). This means that there must be complete diversity between all named parties. Jernigan v. Ashland Oil Inc., 12');">989 F.2d 812, 814 (5th Cir.1993). “The improper joinder doctrine constitutes a narrow exception to the rule of complete diversity.” McDonal v. Abbot Labs., 177');">408 F.3d 177, 183 (5th Cir.2003). If removal is based on a claim that a non-diverse party has been improperly joined, then the removing party must establish either “actual fraud in the pleading of jurisdictional facts” or the “inability of the plaintiff to establish a cause of action against the non-diverse party in state court.” Smallwood v. Ill. Cent. R.R. Co., 385 F.3d 568, 573 (5th Cir.2004) (citing Travis v. Irby, 326 F.3d 644, 648 (5th Cir.2003)). No fraud is alleged; accordingly, the only relevant issue is “whether the defendant has demonstrated that there is no possibility of recovery by the plaintiff against an in-state defendant, which stated differently means that there is no reasonable basis for the district court to predict that the plaintiff might be able to recover against an in-state defendant.” Id.

         In order to assess a plaintiff's possibility of recovery against the non-diverse defendant, the court conducts “a Rule 12(b)(6)-type analysis, looking initially at the allegations of the complaint to determine whether [it] states a claim under state law against the in-state defendant.” Id. This inquiry “depends upon and is tied to the factual fit between the plaintiffs' allegations and the pleaded theory of recovery.” Griggs v. State Farm Lloyds, 181 F.3d 694, 701 (5th Cir.1999) (citations omitted). “Ordinarily if a plaintiff can survive a Rule 12(b)(6) challenge, there is no improper joinder.” Smallwood, 385 F.3d at 573. In some cases, however, the analysis should advance past the standards of Rule 12(b)(6). Id. This is appropriate where the plaintiff “has stated a claim, but has misstated or omitted discrete facts that would determine the propriety of joinder. In such cases, the district court may, in its discretion, pierce the pleadings and conduct a summary inquiry.” Id.

         Although DOTD was made a defendant in these proceedings, the removing defendants assert that there is no reasonable basis to predict that the plaintiff has a possibility of recovery against the DOTD. Doc. 18, p. 4. Plaintiff disagrees, he asserts that he has stated a valid claim of negligence against the DOTD [doc. 14] and that “recovery is not only possible, but probable.” Doc. 19, p. 3.

         “The threshold issue in any negligence action is whether the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff.” Travelers Property Cas. Co. of America v. Pratt, 940 So.2d 704, 707 (La.App. 2 Cir. 2006) (citations omitted). “[This] legal inquiry involves a determination of whether the duty of the particular defendant that has allegedly been breached extends to protect against the risk of harm suffered by the plaintiff.” Id. at 707-708 (citation omitted). When evaluating a defendant's duty it is important to note “under [Louisiana] jurisprudence, ‘causation' does not equal ‘duty.'” Continental Ins. Co. v. Three Seasons Pest Control Co., 1220');">649 So.2d 1220, 1222 (La.App. 3 Cir. 1995). A plaintiff does not prove that defendant had a duty to plaintiff simply by proving defendant was the cause-in-fact of plaintiff's injury. Id. “Whether a duty is owed is a question of law, ” [Brewer v. J.B. Hunt Transport, Inc., 35 So.3d 230, 240 (La. 2010) ...

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