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Phillips v. R.R. Dawson Bridge Company, LLC

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division

August 12, 2014

LISA PHILLIPS, et al., Plaintiffs;
v.
R.R. DAWSON BRIDGE COMPANY, LLC, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OF OPINION

L. SCOTT COOGLER, District Judge.

Plaintiffs Lisa Phillips, Deborah Phillips, Lomax Phillips, Jr., Deangila Phillips, and Keira Phillips (collectively, the "Plaintiffs") filed this action in state court, seeking damages stemming from the death of Lomax Phillips. Defendant Miller Formless Co. ("Miller Formless") removed the case to this Court, and the Plaintiffs have moved to remand the case back to state court. (Doc. 8.) Miller Formless has also filed a motion to remand one of the claims but asks the Court to retain jurisdiction over all other claims. (Doc. 12.) For the reasons stated below, the Plaintiffs' motion to remand is due to be granted, and the motion to sever is due to be rendered moot.

I. BACKGROUND[1]

Lomax Phillips ("Phillips") worked for Defendant R.R. Dawson Bridge Company, LLC ("R.R. Dawson"), in Bessemer, Alabama. As part of his job, Phillips worked on a bridge construction project along Interstate 85 in Montgomery County, Alabama. On January 8, 2014, he was working in an overhead bridge wagon lift (the "Lift") approximately 90 feet above the ground when the Lift lost support and crashed to the ground. Phillips was killed in the incident, and the Plaintiffs have brought this suit as the heirs to his estate.

The Plaintiffs filed suit on January 10, 2014, in the Circuit Court of Jefferson County, Alabama. The complaint alleges a variety of state law claims against Miller Formless, R.R. Dawson, and Defendant Samuel Poynter ("Poynter"). According to the complaint, Miller Formless improperly designed, manufactured, and distributed the Lift. Additionally, the Plaintiffs contend that R.R. Dawson and Poynter failed to properly inspect and maintain the Lift. Finally, the Plaintiffs have pursued a workers' compensation claim against R.R. Dawson.

Miller Formless removed the action to this Court on March 18, 2014, invoking the Court's diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. According to the notice of removal, the Plaintiffs are all citizens of Alabama. Defendant R.R. Dawson is a citizen of Kentucky, and Miller Formless is a citizen of Illinois. However, like the Plaintiffs, Poynter is a citizen of Alabama. The notice of removal suggests that the claims against Poynter and the workers' compensation claim are fraudulently joined with the other claims in this action. On June 9, 2014, the Plaintiffs filed a motion to remand the entire case, contesting these two issues.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

"Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, ' possessing only that power authorized by Constitution and statute.'" Gunn v. Minton, ___ U.S. ___, 133 S.Ct. 1059, 1064 (2013) (quoting Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377, 114 S.Ct. 1673, 1675 (1994)). In the removal context, a defendant or defendants may generally remove to federal court any civil action filed in a state court if the federal court has original jurisdiction over the action. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). However, "[a] removing defendant bears the burden of proving proper federal jurisdiction.'" Adventure Outdoors, Inc. v. Bloomberg, 552 F.3d 1290, 1294 (11th Cir. 2008) (quoting Leonard v. Enter. Rent a Car, 279 F.3d 967, 972 (11th Cir. 2002)). This Court must construe the removal statute narrowly and resolve all doubts as to jurisdiction in favor of remand. Diaz v. Sheppard, 85 F.3d 1502, 1505 (11th Cir. 1996).

III. DISCUSSION

First, the Court turns to the workers' compensation claim. Phillips died while on the job, and thus the Plaintiffs brought a claim against R.R. Dawson under the Alabama Workers' Compensation Act, Ala. Code §§ 25-5-1 et seq. Congress proscribes the removal of such actions, providing that "[a] civil action in any State court arising under the workmen's compensation laws of such State may not be removed to any district court of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 1445(c). This provision is "a jurisdictional-based limitation on the district court's removal power." New v. Sports & Recreation, Inc., 114 F.3d 1092, 1097 (11th Cir. 1997); see also Alansari v. Tropic Star Seafood Inc., 388 F.App'x 902, 905-06 (11th Cir. 2010) (concluding that a district court should have remanded a workers' compensation claim to state court even though it was raised over 30 days after removal because § 1445(c) is a jurisdictional statute). Both parties agree that this claim is due to be remanded, but Miller Formless contends that this Court should retain jurisdiction over the other claims.

According to Miller Formless, the Plaintiffs have attempted to fraudulently join the non-removable workers' compensation claim in an action that would otherwise be removable on the basis of diversity. "Fraudulent joinder is a judicially created doctrine that provides an exception to the requirement of complete diversity." Triggs v. John Crump Toyota, Inc., 154 F.3d 1284, 1287 (11th Cir. 2011). Thus, joinder is fraudulent when a plaintiff names an in-state defendant against whom there is no possible cause of action or when a plaintiff fraudulently pleads jurisdictional facts regarding an in-state defendant. Stillwell v. Allstate Ins. Co., 663 F.3d 1329, 1332 (11th Cir. 2011). Additionally, fraudulent joinder exists "where a diverse defendant is joined with a nondiverse defendant as to whom there is no joint, several or alternative liability and where the claim against the diverse defendant has no real connection to the claim against the nondiverse defendant." Triggs, 154 F.3d at 1287. This basis for fraudulent joinder exists in "egregious" cases of misjoinder. See Tapscott v. MS Dealer Serv. Corp., 77 F.3d 1353, 1360 (11th Cir. 1996) (overruled on other grounds in Cohen v. Office Depot, Inc., 204 F.3d 1069, 1072-73 (11th Cir. 2000)). As to the workers' compensation claim, Miller Formless raises only this third basis for fraudulent joinder. In order to establish that joinder is fraudulent, Miller Formless has the burden of proving the "fraud" by clear and convincing evidence. See Stillwell, 663 F.3d at 1332.

If joinder is appropriate under Rule 20 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure ("Rule 20"), joinder is not fraudulent. Brooks v. Paulk & Cope, Inc., 176 F.Supp.2d 1270, 1274 (M.D. Ala. 2001). The Plaintiffs may join multiple parties as defendants if:

(A) any right to relief is asserted against them jointly, severally, or in the alternative with respect to or arising out of the same transaction, occurrence, or ...

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