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Hudson v. Illinois Central Railroad Co.

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

January 24, 2018

KIMBERLY HUDSON and THOMAS EARL JACKSON, JR., as Temporary Guardians of Kendric Jackson, an Incapacitated person, Plaintiffs,
v.
ILLINOIS CENTRAL RAILROAD COMPANY, et al., Defendants.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          KATHERINE P. NELSON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on the Motion to Remand and Memorandum in Support filed by Plaintiffs Kimberly Hudson and Thomas Earl Jackson, Jr., as Temporary Guardians of Kendric Jackson (“Plaintiffs”). (Doc. 14, 14-1). This motion has been referred to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge for report and recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and S.D. Ala. GenLR 72(b). In reaching its decision, the Court considers the Notice of Removal (Doc. 1); the Motion to Remand and Memorandum in Support (Docs. 14-14-1); the Response in Opposition (Doc. 17) filed by Defendants Illinois Central Railroad Company and David W. Myers (collectively “Defendants” or “Removing Defendants”); Plaintiffs' Response to Defendants' Opposition (Doc. 14); and related exhibits. Upon consideration, and for the reasons stated herein, the undersigned RECOMMENDS that the Motion to Remand be DENIED.

         BACKGROUND

         On May 2, 2017, Plaintiffs Hudson and Jackson, filed this action in the Circuit Court of Mobile County, Alabama on behalf of their minor son Kendric Jackson (“Jackson”), against Defendants Canadian National Railway Company, Mississippi Export Railroad, Illinois Central Railroad Company, Illinois Central Corporation, Grand Trunk Corporation, David W. Myers, and Diamante Lockhart. (Doc. 1, Mobile County Circuit Court Civil Action No. CV-2017-901162.00).

         On February 3, 2017, there was a collision involving a train and a vehicle in which Jackson was a passenger. As a result of the accident, Plaintiffs allege that Jackson sustained serious, incapacitating injuries, including severe traumatic brain injury. Plaintiffs demand compensatory and punitive damages.

         Plaintiffs allege that Defendant Diamante Lockhart (“Lockhart”) was driving the vehicle at the time of the collision, and that he was negligent for failing to keep a proper lookout. Plaintiffs allege that Defendant Myers' (“Myers”) negligent and willful actions in operating the train proximately caused the accident. Plaintiffs further allege that the negligent or willful actions or inactions of one or more of the named railroad entities proximately caused the accident.

         On September 20, 2017, Defendants joined in timely removal of this case. (Doc. 1).[1] In the Notice of Removal, Defendants argue that Lockhart, the driver of the vehicle, was fraudulently joined in order to defeat the presence of diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. As grounds, Defendants explain that both Plaintiffs and Lockhart are citizens of Alabama, and that there is no possibility that Plaintiffs can succeed on their one claim for negligence against Lockhart. If Lockhart was not named as a Defendant, there would be complete diversity of citizenship between the parties as none of the remaining Defendants (Illinois Central Railroad Company, Illinois Central Corporation, Canadian National Railway Company, Grand Trunk Corporation, or Myers) are citizens of Alabama. Plaintiffs timely filed a motion to remand, arguing that Lockhart was not fraudulently joined, that the parties are not completely diverse, and that remand is proper as a result. (Doc. 14).

         ANALYSIS

         A. Jurisdictional Requirements

         Defendants predicate federal subject matter jurisdiction solely on the diversity provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1332. That section confers original jurisdiction on federal district courts to entertain civil actions between citizens of different states where the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs. See e.g., Underwriters at Lloyd's, London v. Osting-Schwinn, 613 F.3d 1079, 1085 (11th Cir. 2010) (“For federal diversity jurisdiction to attach, all parties must be completely diverse ... and the amount in controversy must exceed $75, 000.”) (citations omitted). The Eleventh Circuit has instructed that “[i]n light of the federalism and separation of powers concerns implicated by diversity jurisdiction, federal courts are obligated ... to scrupulously confine their own jurisdiction to the precise limits which the statute has defined.” Morrison v. Allstate Indem. Co., 228 F.3d 1255, 1268 (11th Cir. 2000) (citations omitted). A removing defendant must establish the propriety of removal under 28 U.S.C. § 1441 and, therefore, must demonstrate the existence of federal jurisdiction. See, e.g., Scimone v. Carnival Corp., 720 F.3d 876, 882 (11th Cir. 2013) (“the burden of establishing removal jurisdiction rests with the defendant seeking removal”); City of Vestavia Hills v. General Fidelity Ins. Co., 676 F.3d 1310, 1313 n.1 (11th Cir. 2012) (“The removing party bears the burden of proof regarding the existence of federal subject matter jurisdiction.”). This burden applies with equal force in the context of a motion to remand. See Connecticut State Dental Ass'n v. Anthem Health Plans, Inc., 591 F.3d 1337, 1343 (11th Cir. 2009) (“On a motion to remand, the removing party bears the burden of showing the existence of federal subject matter jurisdiction.”). Because removal infringes upon state sovereignty and implicates central concepts of federalism, removal statutes must be construed narrowly, with all jurisdictional doubts resolved in favor of remanding the action to state court. See, e.g., Scimone, 720 F.3d at 882 (“we strictly construe the right to remove and apply a general presumption against the exercise of federal jurisdiction, such that all uncertainties as to removal jurisdiction are to be resolved in favor of remand”) (citation and internal marks omitted).

         1. Amount in Controversy

         The parties do not dispute that the amount in controversy requirement has been met, and the Court's review of the Complaint leads to the same conclusion. Defendants' removal was pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b)(1), i.e. a “first paragraph removal.” (Doc. 1 at 4). The Complaint does not include a specific damages demand. In Roe v. Michelin North America, Inc., the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit summarized its precedent with regard to first paragraph cases in which the plaintiff does not make a specific damages demand as follows:

If a plaintiff makes “an unspecified demand for damages in state court, a removing defendant must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the amount in controversy more likely than not exceeds the ... jurisdictional requirement.” Tapscott v. MS Dealer Service Corp., 77 F.3d 1353, 1357 (11th Cir.1996), abrogated on other grounds by Cohen v. Office Depot, Inc., 204 F.3d 1069 (11th Cir.2000). In some cases, this burden requires the removing defendant to provide additional evidence demonstrating that removal is proper. See, e.g., Pretka v. Kolter City Plaza II, Inc., 608 F.3d 744 (11th Cir.2010). In other cases, however, it may be “facially apparent” from the pleading itself that the amount in controversy exceeds the jurisdictional minimum, even when “the complaint does not claim a specific amount of damages.” See Id. at 754 (quoting Williams v. Best Buy Co., Inc., 269 F.3d 1316, 1319 (11th Cir.2001)).
If a defendant alleges that removability is apparent from the face of the complaint, the district court must evaluate whether the complaint itself satisfies the defendant's jurisdictional burden. In making this determination, the district court is not bound by the plaintiff's representations regarding its claim, nor must it assume that the plaintiff is in the best position to evaluate the amount of damages sought. Id. at 771. Indeed, in some cases, the defendant or the court itself may be better-situated to accurately assess the amount in controversy. See Id. (explaining that “sometimes the defendant's evidence on the value of the claims will be even better ...

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