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Thomas v. Aigen

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

December 6, 2017

T'NELL THOMAS, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
DOUGLAS REED AIGEN, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiffs T'Nell Thomas and Clarence Joseph initiated this personal injury action on January 5, 2017, against Defendants Douglas Reed Aigen (“Mr. Aigen”) and Hi Mountain Trucking, Inc. (“Hi Mountain”). (Doc. 1). Pending before the Court is Plaintiffs' Motion for Leave To Amend Complaint (doc. 48) (the “Leave Motion”) filed on December 1, 2017, pursuant to Rule 15 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.[1]

         In their Leave Motion, Plaintiffs seek to add 3 new defendants to this litigation: Hi American Transportation, Inc. (“Hi American”), Dublin Logistics, Inc. (“Dublin”), and Qualitas Insurance Company (“Qualitas”). (Doc. 48 at 1 ¶ 3). Plaintiffs also seek to assert a declaratory judgment count relating to insurance coverage. (Doc. 48 at 2 ¶ 5). Mr. Aigen and Hi Mountain do not oppose Plaintiffs' Leave Motion. (Doc. 48 at 1 ¶ 1).

         Attached to the Leave Motion is Plaintiffs' proposed second amended complaint. (Doc. 48-1). Count One is a negligence claim asserted against Mr. Aigen, Hi Mountain, Hi American, and Dublin. (Doc. 48-1 at 4-5 ¶¶ 20-24). Count Two is a wantonness claim asserted against this same set of parties. (Id. at 5-7 ¶¶ 25-29). Count Three is a negligent and/or wanton hiring, training, and entrustment claim asserted against Hi Mountain, Hi American, and Dublin. (Id. at 7-8 ¶¶ 30-33). Finally, Count Four is a claim filed against Mr. Aigen, Hi Mountain, and Qualitas pursuant to the Declaratory Judgment Act (the “Act”), 28 U.S.C. § 2201(a), regarding insurance coverage for punitive damages. (Doc. 48-1 at 8-10 ¶¶ 34-39).

         For those reasons explained below, the Leave Motion is DENIED WITHOUT PREJUDICE to Plaintiffs' right to refile their motion, propose a new second amended complaint, and otherwise address the Court's jurisdictional/discretionary concerns as set out below.

         II. Standards

         A. General Principles Governing Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         Unlike state courts, federal tribunals are bodies of limited jurisdiction, meaning that the grounds for the Court's jurisdiction over the claims asserted by the plaintiff must be present at the time the complaint is filed and must be obvious on the face of the complaint. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a). The law is clear that Plaintiffs, the parties seeking to invoke federal jurisdiction in this case, have the burden to demonstrate that the Court has subject matter jurisdiction over each claim. See McNutt v. Gen. Motors Acceptance Corp. of Ind., 298 U.S. 178, 189, 56 S.Ct. 780, 785, 80 L.Ed. 1135 (1936) (“They are conditions which must be met by the party who seeks the exercise of jurisdiction in his favor …. [and a]s he is seeking relief subject to this supervision, it follows that he must carry throughout the litigation the burden of showing that he is properly in court.”).

         Further, “a federal court has an independent obligation to review its authority to hear a case before it proceeds to the merits.” Mirage Resorts, Inc. v. Quiet Nacelle Corp., 206 F.3d 1398, 1400-01 (11th Cir. 2000). Consequently, the Court cannot ignore jurisdictional concerns even if the parties have none.

         Relatedly, the parties can neither manufacture the existence nor waive a want of subject matter jurisdiction. See, e.g., Am. Fire & Cas. Co. v. Finn, 341 U.S. 6, 17-18, 71 S.Ct. 534, 542, 95 L.Ed. 702 (1951) (“The jurisdiction of the federal courts is carefully guarded against expansion by judicial interpretation or by prior action or consent of the parties.”); Sosna v. Iowa, 419 U.S. 393, 398, 95 S.Ct. 553, 556-57, 42 L.Ed.2d 532 (1975) (“While the parties may be permitted to waive nonjurisdictional defects, they may not by stipulation invoke the judicial power of the United States in litigation which does not present an actual ‘case or controversy, ' and . . . we feel obliged to address the question of mootness [or ripeness] before reaching the merits of appellant's claim.”) (citation omitted); Jackson v. Seaboard Coast Line R.R. Co., 678 F.2d 992, 1000 (11th Cir. 1982) (“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.”) (footnote omitted).

         B. Ripeness

         The Eleventh Circuit has explained that the doctrine of ripeness-one subset of Article III's framework for confirming the presence of a constitutionally-sound case or controversy-involves both constitutional and prudential considerations:

When determining if a claim is ripe for judicial review, we consider both constitutional and prudential concerns. In some circumstances, although a claim may satisfy constitutional requirements, prudential concerns “counsel judicial restraint.” See Digital, 121 F.3d at 589 (quoting Action Alliance of Senior Citizens v. Heckler, 789 F.2d 931, 940 n.12 (D.C. Cir. 1986)). Our inquiry focuses on whether the claim presented is “of sufficient concreteness to evidence a ripeness for review.” Id. Strict application of the ripeness doctrine prevents federal courts from rendering impermissible advisory opinions and wasting resources through review of potential or abstract disputes. See id.
Our ripeness inquiry requires a two part “determination of (1) the fitness of the issues for judicial decision and (2) the hardship to the parties of withholding court consideration.” Id. (citing Abbott Lab. v. Gardner, 387 U.S. 136, 148-49, 87 S.Ct. 1507, 1515-16, 18 L.Ed.2d 681 (1967)[, abrogated on other grounds by Califano v. Sanders, 430 U.S. 99, 105, 97 S.Ct. 980, 984, 51 L.Ed.2d 192 (1977)]; Cheffer v. Reno, 55 F.3d 1517, 1524 (11th Cir. 1995)). . . .
We have also recognized that the ripeness doctrine . . . protects courts from abusing their role within the government and engaging in ...

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