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Hooten v. Boyer

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division

July 23, 2015

SIDNEY HOOTEN, individually and as an incapacitated person by and through his next friend Nicole Harris, Plaintiff,
v.
BRIAN KEITH BOYER, et al., Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

MYRON H. THOMPSON, District Judge.

Plaintiff Sidney Hooten brings this action against defendants Brian Keith Boyer, the State of Arkansas, and Arkansas State University (Boyer's employer), claiming that Boyer's negligent, reckless, and wanton conduct caused a car crash in which Hooten sustained severe injuries including brain trauma. This case was removed from state to federal court based on diversity-of-citizenship jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332, 1447.

The cause is before the court on Hooten's motion for remand as well as the State of Arkansas and Arkansas State University's motions to dismiss. For reasons that follow, the remand motion will be granted and the dismissal motions will be left for resolution after remand.

I. REMAND STANDARD

Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375 (1994); Burns v. Windsor Ins. Co., 31 F.3d 1092, 1095 (11th Cir. 1994), abrogated on other grounds by, 28 U.S.C. § 1446. A federal court may hear a case only if it is authorized to do so by federal law. Kokkonen, 511 U.S. at 377. The party seeking removal has the burden of establishing it. Burns, 31 F.3d at 1095. The removal statute must be strictly construed because it raises significant federalism concerns. Shamrock Oil & Gas Corp. v. Sheets, 313 U.S. 100 (1941). All doubts about federal-court jurisdiction should be resolved in favor of a remand to state court. Burns, 31 F.3d at 1095.

II. BACKGROUND

This case arises from a car crash on an Alabama road in February 2014 between defendant Boyer and plaintiff Hooten, in which Hooten suffered traumatic brain injury. (While the complaint refers to the defendant as Boyer and Boyers, the court will use "Boyer" for consistency.) Hooten claims that Boyer's negligence, recklessness, and wantonness caused the crash. At the time of the crash, Boyer was employed as a basketball coach for Arkansas State University, a public university in Arkansas, and was travelling for work. Hooten is a citizen of Alabama, and Boyer is a citizen of Arkansas.

Hooten sued Boyer in state court in April 2014, and Boyer removed the case to federal court the following month. In November 2014, Hooten took Boyer's deposition, in which Boyer explained that he was traveling in Alabama as part of a road trip for his basketball team. In March 2015, three days before the scheduling-order deadline, Hooten moved for leave to file a third amended complaint, which added Arkansas and its university as defendants. The court granted the motion but provided Boyer time to object. Boyer did not object, Hooten filed the third amended complaint, and the two new defendants were served in late March 2015.

The State of Arkansas moved to dismiss on an Eleventh Amendment ground, and Hooten followed a day later with a motion to remand. The university then filed a motion to dismiss the same week. These three motions are now before the court.

III. DISCUSSION

Hooten moves to remand the case to state court, contending that, because the State of Arkansas and Arkansas State University do not count as citizens for purposes of diversity jurisdiction, there is no longer complete diversity.

28 U.S.C. § 1332 governs diversity-of-citizenship jurisdiction in federal court. It states, in relevant part, that a federal court can have jurisdiction if the amount in controversy is above $75, 000 and the lawsuit is between "citizens of different states." This diversity must be complete-that is, "the allegations must show that the citizenship of each plaintiff is different from that of each defendant." Algoma Properties, LLC v. Purcell, 2010 WL 3283396, at *1 (M.D. Ala. 2010) (Thompson, J.) (citing Strawbridge v. Curtiss, 7 U.S. (3 Cranch) 267 (1806)). Id . Although a public entity or political subdivision of a State is a citizen of that State for purposes of diversity jurisdiction, "an arm or alter ego of the State" is not a citizen of that State. Univ. of S. Ala. v. Am. Tobacco Co., 168 F.3d 405, 412 (11th Cir. 1999) (internal quotation marks omitted). A party that is not a citizen of any State destroys complete diversity. Id.

Both parties agree, with good reason, that adding the State of Arkansas and Arkansas State University destroys complete diversity. See Am. Tobacco Co., 168 F.3d at 412 (analogizing to Eleventh Amendment analysis to find that a State and its public universities are alter egos of the State and thus not citizens for diversity-of-citizenship purposes). The State of Arkansas and the university, however, argue that they do not destroy jurisdiction in this case because Hooten joined them as parties after removal.

It is generally the case that, in determining whether the pleadings support removal, "the critical time is the date of removal, " Leonard v. Enter. Rent a Car, 279 F.3d 967, 972 (11th Cir. 2002). However, "[i]f after removal the plaintiff seeks to join additional defendants whose joinder would destroy subject matter jurisdiction, the court may ...


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