United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Eastern Division
MISTY D. MAYS, Administratrix and Personal Representative of the Estate of Johnny Lee Mays, Jr., Deceased, and as the Surviving Dependent Spouse of Decedent Johnny Lee Mays, Jr., and WILLIAM LEON BRYANT, JR., Plaintiffs,
GENERAL MOTORS LLC, HOWARD BENTLEY BUICK GMC, INC., and CAPITOL MACHINE & EQUIPMENT COMPANY, LLC, Defendants.
VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS United States District Judge
Complaint in this civil action alleges that Johnny Lee Mays,
Jr. and William Leon Bryant, Jr. were injured while working
as employees of Capitol Machine & Equipment Company, LLC.
(“Capitol”). According to the Complaint, Mays and
Bryant were riding in a pickup truck “manufactured,
assembled, sold, warranted and distributed” by General
Motors, LLC (“GM”) and Howard Bentley Buick GMC,
Inc. (“HBB”), when the truck “ignited on
fire, resulting in serious and traumatic injures, including
burn injuries to . . . Mays and to . . . Bryant, and
ultimately resulted in the death of . . . Mays.” (Doc.
1-2 at 7-8).
action was originally filed in the Circuit Court of Talladega
County, Alabama, on December 13, 2016, by Misty Mays, in her
capacity as the Administratrix and Personal Representative of
the Estate of Johnny Lee Mays, Jr., and also in her capacity
as the surviving spouse of Johnny Lee Mays, Jr. Bryant is
named as a co-Plaintiff and sues on behalf of himself alone.
The Plaintiffs named GM, HBB, and Capitol as Defendants. Mays
makes a claim against Capitol for her husband's
workers' compensation benefits. (Count Seven). Bryant
also makes a claim against Capitol for his own workers'
compensation benefits. (Count Twelve). Against GM and HBB the
Plaintiffs allege various tort law theories all arising out
of the truck fire. (Counts One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six,
Eight, Nine, Ten, and Eleven).
January 13, 2017, GM removed the case to this Court,
asserting subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 1332(a)(1), the diversity jurisdiction statute,
despite the fact that the Plaintiffs, and Defendants HBB and
Capitol, are all citizens of the state of Alabama. (Doc. 1).
On February 10, 2017, the Plaintiffs moved to remand,
asserting that there is not complete diversity of citizenship
in this case, and arguing that the removal was procedurally
defective. (Doc. 21). For the reasons stated herein, the motion
to remand will be GRANTED.
MATTER JURISDICTION AND FRAUDULENT JOINDER
is by now axiomatic that the inferior courts are courts of
limited jurisdiction. They are empowered to hear only those
cases within the judicial power of the United States as
defined by Article III of the Constitution, and which have
been entrusted to them by a jurisdictional grant authorized
by Congress.” Univ. of South Alabama v. The
American Tobacco Co., et al., 168 F.3d 405, 409 (11th
Cir. 1999) (internal citations omitted). “The
jurisdiction of a court over the subject matter of a claim
involves the court's competency to consider a given type
of case, and cannot be waived or otherwise conferred upon the
court by the parties. Otherwise, a party could ‘work a
wrongful extension of federal jurisdiction and give district
courts power the Congress denied them.'”
Jackson v. Seaboard Coast Line R.R., 678 F.2d 992,
1000-01 (11th Cir. 1982) (quoting American Fire &
Cas. Co. v. Finn, 341 U.S. 6, 18 (1951)) (internal
footnotes and citations omitted). Moreover, “[b]ecause
removal jurisdiction raises significant federalism concerns,
federal courts are directed to construe removal statutes
strictly.” Univ. of S. Ala., 168 F.3d at 411
(citing Shamrock Oil & Gas Corp. v.
Sheets, 313 U.S. 100, 108-09 (1941)).
jurisdiction exists where the suit is between citizens of
different states and the amount in controversy exceeds the
statutorily prescribed amount, in this case $75, 000.”
Williams v. Best Buy Co., 269 F.3d 1316, 1319 (11th
Cir. 2001) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)). The statute
“requires complete diversity-every plaintiff must be
diverse from every defendant.” Palmer v. Hosp.
Auth., 22 F.3d 1559, 1564 (11th Cir. 1994). As alluded
to above, in this case there is not complete diversity since
HBB and Capitol are Alabama citizens and so are both
states that this Court should ignore the citizenship of HBB
and Capitol because they have been “fraudulently
joined”-added solely to destroy complete diversity and
avoid removal of this case. “‘[W]hen a plaintiff
names a non-diverse defendant solely in order to defeat
federal diversity jurisdiction, the district court must
ignore the presence of the non-diverse defendant and deny any
motion to remand the matter back to state court.'”
Christopher M. Hunt, Sr. v. Nationstar Mortgage,
LLC, et al., No. 16-12832, 2017 WL 1325253, at *2 (11th
Cir. Apr. 11, 2017) (quoting Stillwell v. Allstate Ins.
Co., 663 F.3d 1329, 1332 (11th Cir. 2011)). Very
recently, a panel of the Eleventh Circuit noted:
Fraudulent joinder can be established under two
circumstances: (1) when there is no possibility that the
plaintiff can establish a cause of action against the
non-diverse defendant; or (2) the plaintiff fraudulently
pleaded jurisdictional facts specifically to bring the action
in state court and defeat diversity jurisdiction in federal
court. [Stillwell, 663 F.3d at 1332].
Hunt, 2017 WL 1325253, at *2-3. There is also
“a third situation in which the Eleventh Circuit has
recognized fraudulent joinder ‘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.'” Mabry v. Travelers Home &
Marine Ins. Co., No. 2:16CV680-CSC, 2017 WL
1160576, at *2 n. 2 (M.D. Ala. Mar. 28, 2017) (Coody, J.)
(quoting Triggs v. John Crump Toyota, Inc., 154 F.3d
1284, 1287 (11th Cir. 1998)); Alexander v. Whaley,
No. 216CV00921WHACSC, 2017 WL 694228, at *3 (M.D. Ala. Feb.
21, 2017) (Albritton, J.). This situation, referred to as
“fraudulent misjoinder, ” proceeds from the
requirement in Rule 20 of both the Alabama and Federal Rules
of Civil Procedure that persons may be joined in one action
as defendants if there is “asserted against them
jointly, severally, or in the alternative, ” any right
to relief in respect of or “arising out of the same
transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or
occurrences” and if “any question of law or fact
common to all defendants will arise in the action.”
See, Tapscott v. MS Dealer Serv. Corp., 77
F.3d 1353, 1360 (11th Cir. 1996) abrogated for other
reasons by Cohen v. Office Depot, Inc., 204
F.3d 1069 (11th Cir. 2000); Ala. R. Civ. P. 20(a);
Fed.R.Civ.P. 20(a). In Tapscott the Eleventh Circuit
was clear that “[w]e do not hold that mere misjoinder
is fraudulent joinder, ” but noted that misjoinder may
be “so egregious as to constitute fraudulent
joinder.” Tapscott, 77 F.3d at 1360. It is the
third type of fraudulent joinder (fraudulent misjoinder)
which GM claims is present here.
civil action in any State court arising under the
[workers'] compensation laws of such State may not be
removed to any district court of the United States.” 28
U.S.C. § 1445(c). “[T]he Eleventh Circuit has held
that federal courts lack subject matter jurisdiction over
removed [workers'] compensation claims.”
Formosa v. Lowe's Home Centers, Inc., 806
F.Supp.2d 1181, 1186 (N.D. Ala. 2011) (Blackburn, J.)
(citing Reed v. Heil Co., 206 F.3d 1055');">206 F.3d 1055, 
(11th Cir.2000)); New v. Sports & Recreation,
Inc., 114 F.3d 1092, 1097 (11th Cir. 1997)
(“Section 1445(c) is a jurisdictional-based limitation
on the district court's removal power.”);
Alansari v. Tropic Star Seafood Inc., 388
F.App'x 902, 905 (11th Cir. 2010) (“We have
concluded that, under section 1445(c), a district court lacks
subject-matter jurisdiction to review a retaliation claim
arising out of state workers' compensation laws.”)
(citing Reed). Because this Court has no
jurisdiction over the claims in Counts Seven and Twelve,
those claims must be remanded to the Circuit Court
of Talladega County, Alabama. The only issue is whether those
claims alone, or the entire case, must be remanded.
There Is No Fraudulent Misjoinder in This
Notice of Removal, GM argues that these claims have been
fraudulently misjoined, and therefore should be dismissed
from this case. (Doc. 1 at 7-9) . The Court does not agree.
“[I]n an action with a workers' compensation claim
and other tort claims seeking several liability for damages
in a work-related incident, joinder [is] proper because the
claims involve (1) several liability, and (2) common
questions of fact.” Watson v. Gen. Elec.,
Inc., No. CV 12 S 2661 NE, 2012 WL 5931884, at *5 (N.D.
Ala. Nov. 26, 2012) (Smith, J.); see also, Jernigan v.
City of Eufaula, Ala., 123 F.Supp.3d 1322, 1330 (M.D.
Ala. 2015) (Albritton, J.) (and cases cited therein);
Phillips v. R.R. Dawson Bridge Co., LLC, No.
2:14-CV-00480-LSC, 2014 WL 3970176, at *3 (N.D. Ala. Aug. 12,
2014) (Coogler, J.) (no fraudulent misjoinder of workers'
compensation claims and tort claims where “[a]ll of the
claims . . . stem from [the plaintiff's] death while on
the job”); Wingard v. Guillot Textilmaschinen
GMBH, No. 2:08-cv-342-WKW, 2008 WL 4368884, at *3
(M.D.Ala. Sept. 23, 2008) (Watkins, J.) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P.
20(a); Williams v. CNH America, LLC, 542 F.Supp.2d
1261, 1265 (M.D.Ala.2008) (Fuller, J.); Brooks v. Paulk
& Cope, Inc., 176 F.Supp.2d 1270, 1276 (M.D. Ala
2001)) (Albritton, J.).
contends that this case is different than those cited above
because both Mays and Bryant have sworn that the allegations
contained in Counts Seven and Twelve, respectively,
“are true and correct.” (Doc. 1-7 at 3, 4).
Therefore, the argument goes,
[t]here is no fact in dispute about the obligation of Capitol
. . . to pay workers' compensation benefits. Therefore,
there are no overlapping facts involving the workers'
compensation claims and the claims against GM. There is also
no common question of law between the Plaintiffs' claims
against Capitol . . . and their claims against GM.
(Doc. 1 at 8).
argument fails for two reasons. First, just because the
Plaintiffs believe and swear that their claims have
merit does not resolve any dispute. As noted by the
Plaintiffs, “if filing a verified complaint (which is
required under [Alabama law]) was sufficient to demonstrate
the absence of any dispute as to liability, there would never
be a contested workers' compensation claim in the state
of Alabama.” (Doc. 31 at 31). Second, Capitol,
through its insurer Argos Risk Management, has expressly
denied liability on Counts Seven and Twelve. (Doc. 31-7
at 2-4; doc. 31-8 at 2).
support of its fraudulent misjoinder argument, GM cites
Callen v. Daimler Trucks N. Am., LLC, No.
2:16CV311-WHA, 2016 WL 3566736, at *3 (M.D. Ala. June 29,
2016) (Albritton, J.) (doc. 1 at 8-9), another case in which
tort law claims against a diverse defendant were joined with
workers' compensation claims against a non-diverse
defendant, all of which arose out of the same work place
accident. In that case, Judge Albritton held that
because Worker's Compensation benefits were paid, the
undisputed evidence is that there are no additional benefits
at issue, and the benefits were being paid at the time the
Complaint was filed, there is no possibility that state law
would impose liability on, and ...