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Quarles v. Tennessee Steel Haulers, Inc.

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

January 25, 2018

LAURA QUARLES, as the Administratrix of the Estate of Gregory Quarles, deceased, Plaintiff,
v.
TENNESSEE STEEL HAULERS, INC., et al., Defendants.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          TERRY F. MOORER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), this case was referred to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge for review and submission of a report with recommended findings of fact and conclusions of law (Doc. 25, entered 7/11/17). Now pending before the Court is the Motion for Remand (Doc. 19, filed 6/8/17). The motion is fully submitted and ripe for review. For good cause shown, the Magistrate Judge recommends that the Motion for Remand be DENIED.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND [1]

         On January 31, 2017, Gregory Quarles drove his Jeep Cherokee in the right-hand lane of Interstate 85 Northbound near the Chantilly exit in Montgomery, Alabama. At approximately 5:50 p.m. Defendant Walter O. Griffin, Jr. (“Griffin”) and Defendant Pedro H. Fernandez (“Fernandez”) collided while driving on Interstate 85 Southbound near the Chantilly exit in Montgomery, Alabama.[2] Fernandez was driving an 18-wheeler on behalf of Defendant Trans Texas Express (“Trans Texas”). The collision caused Fernandez' vehicle to hit a 3rd vehicle. As a result of the accident, the 18-wheeler operated by Fernandez overturned into the median, lumber was scattered across the median, and the 3rd vehicle also came to rest in the median. As a result of that accident, significant cleanup had to take place which also partially blocked traffic on the Northbound side of Interstate 85. The cleanup included a number of first responder vehicles and a hazardous materials truck.

         Approximately two hours and forty minutes later around 8:31 p.m., Defendant Joshua Faircloth (“Faircloth”) was driving an 18-wheeler on behalf of Tennessee Steel Haulers (“TSH”) on Interstate 85 Northbound. Gregory Quarles was driving his Jeep Cherokee in the right-hand lane of I-85 Northbound. As a result of the cleanup due to the first accident on the southbound side, traffic had slowed to the point of almost a complete stop on the northbound side as well. Faircloth ultimately hit Quarles which pushed his jeep under the rear of another tractor trailer and pinned it against a guardrail. The ensuing explosion and fire killed Gregory Quarles. This lawsuit relates to the unfortunate and tragic events that lead to Gregory Quarles untimely death.

         II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff Laura Quarles (“Quarles” or “Plaintiff”), in her capacity as Administratrix of the Estate of Gregory Quarles, filed this in the Circuit Court of Montgomery County, Alabama on April 10, 2017. See Doc. 1, Exhibit A, Complaint. This wrongful death suit alleges five counts against defendants to include negligence, wantonness, and negligent entrustment. Id. Defendants are TSH, Faircloth, Griffin, Fernandez, Trans Texas, and fictitious defendants.[3] The allegations against all Defendants involved solely Alabama state law issues.

         Defendant TSH filed a Notice of Removal in this court based on an assertion of diversity jurisdiction. Doc. 1, generally. Faircloth consented in writing to the removal. Doc. 1, Ex. H. TSH avers that all remaining party defendants have been fraudulently joined and thus their consent is not required. Doc. 1 at p. 19-20. Regardless, Defendants Griffin, Fernandez, and Trans Texas filed their joinders and consent to removal. See Docs. 4-5. Defendant states in its Notice of Removal that the case is properly removable under 28 U.S.C. §1441 because the United States District Court now has original jurisdiction over this case under 28 U.S.C. §1332.

         Specifically, the TSH asserts diversity jurisdiction exists in this case because the amount in controversy exceeds the $75, 000 jurisdictional threshold and complete diversity of citizenship exists among the “true parties” when considering Defendants Griffin, Fernandez, and Trans Texas have been fraudulently joined. Quarles is an Alabama citizen. TSH is a foreign corporation with its principal place of business being located in Nashville, Tennessee. Faircloth is a resident of Grantville, Georgia. Fernandez is a resident of Laredo, Texas. Trans Texas is a foreign corporation with its principal place of business being located in Laredo, Texas. See Doc. 1 at p. 6; Doc. 1, Ex. A at p. 2. Griffin - one defendant which has allegedly been fraudulently joined - is a resident of Montgomery, Alabama which is the lynchpin of this jurisdictional argument as his presence is what would destroy diversity of citizenship among the parties.

         On June 8, 2017, Plaintiff timely filed her motion to remand. See Doc. 19. In the motion to remand, Plaintiff asserts Defendants Griffin, Fernandez, and Trans Texas were not fraudulently joined and therefore this case was not removable as there is not complete diversity of citizenship since Plaintiff and Defendant Griffin are both Alabama citizens. Plaintiff asserts claims of negligence and wanton conduct against Griffin, Fernandez, and Trans Texas for causing the first accident which she argues ultimately resulted in the accident that killed Gregory Quarles. Specifically, Plaintiff states the negligent and wanton operation of their vehicles resulted in their collision “which created a dangerous and hazardous road condition in both the northbound and southbound lanes of I-85.” Id. at p. 8. Further it “created an environment where drivers would be distracted that resulted in and was the proximate cause of the second accident that killed Mr. Quarles.” Plaintiff further argues TSH and Faircloth “have tacitly admitted that a dangerous condition existed by pleading ‘sudden emergency' as an affirmative defense in their Answer.” Id.

         TSH responded to the motion to remand arguing that Griffin, Fernandez, and Trans Texas were fraudulently joined because Plaintiff could not recover against them under Alabama law. Doc. 22; see also Doc. 1. Therefore, if fraudulently joined, the Court must disregard their citizenships when considering the existence of diversity of citizenship. TSH reiterates its arguments made in the Notice of Removal. Specifically, that the question of “foreseeability” is dispositive of the remand issue.

         Griffin also files a response in opposition to the motion to remand. See Doc. 23. Griffin further argues that the affidavit attached to the motion to remand does not contain information based upon the personal knowledge of the affiant. The video clips submitted were taken by an unknown passerby at an unknown time before the second accident. Further, Griffin argues that even if there were emergency vehicles on the opposing side of the freeway, Alabama law requires drivers to yield to emergency vehicles. Next, Griffin asserts Alabama cases do not recognize a cause of action for negligence/wantonness against a defendant who merely creates a distraction “near” the roadway as opposed to directly on the roadway itself. Finally, Griffin asserts the substantial period of time breaks the natural and probable consequences of the original act. Thus there is no proximate causation as to the first accident.

         After review of the various pleadings, motions, and responses, the Court determines the issues are fully briefed and no oral arguments are necessary. Thus, the jurisdictional question is ripe for review.

         III. ...


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