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Hopkins v. Nationwide Agribusiness Insurance Co.

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

July 16, 2018

JOSH HOPKINS AND KRISTY HOPKINS Plaintiffs,
v.
NATIONWIDE AGRIBUSINESS INSURANCE COMPANY, et al. Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          KARON OWEN BOWDRE CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the court is Plaintiffs Josh and Kristy Hopkins' motion to remand this case to the Circuit Court of Marshall County, Alabama. (Doc. 4). On January 26, 2017, the Hopkinses sued Nationwide Agribusiness Insurance Company; Randy Jones & Associates, Inc.; Total Radio Service, Inc.; and the Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection & Insurance Company for state law claims arising out of an unpaid insurance claim on the Hopkinses' poultry houses. (Doc. 1-1). On February 28, 2018, Defendants Nationwide and Hartford removed the case to this court, arguing the Hopkinses engaged in bad faith to prevent the removal before that time. (Doc. 1).

         As explained below, the court finds that because this case was removed more than one year after Plaintiffs filed it in state court, and the Defendants have not shown that the Hopkinses wrongfully prevented the Defendants from removing the case to federal court, the motion to remand is due to be GRANTED. But the court also finds the Defendants did not lack an objectively reasonable basis for removing the action, so the Hopkinses' request for costs pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c) will be DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs Josh and Kristy Hopkins are poultry farmers who live and work in Alabama. (Doc. 4-2 at 2). In the spring of 2015, the Hopkinses purchased from Defendant Randy Jones & Associates an insurance policy to protect their poultry houses. (Id. at 9). The Hopkinses allege Jones & Associates served as a “front line underwriter” for Defendants Nationwide and Hartford. The policy that the Hopkinses purchased was issued by Nationwide, Hartford, or both, and covered the Hopkinses' four poultry houses from April 24, 2015, to April 24, 2016.

         In the summer of 2015, Defendant Total Radio Service performed electrical servicing work on three of the Hopkinses' poultry houses. (Id. at 2). The houses contain electrical equipment that monitors the temperature of the houses and sounds an alarm when the temperature rises to a level that is harmful to the chickens within them. (Id. at 3).

         In early September 2015, the Hopkinses experienced electrical problems with the controllers that regulate the houses' temperature and pressure control. (Id. at 3). The temperature within the houses rose to levels that the chickens could not endure, and because the sensors and alarms did not properly detect the temperature or alert the Hopkinses of the dangerous condition, approximately 20, 000 chickens perished. The Hopkinses filed a claim on their policy with Nationwide and Hartford, which was denied.

         The Hopkinses then sued Nationwide, Hartford, Jones & Associates, and Total Radio on June 30, 2016. (Doc. 4-1). Their amended complaint contains claims against the two insurers for breach of contract, bad faith, fraud, and conspiracy to fraudulently suppress information regarding their deductibles and benefits. Their claims against Jones & Associates allege that the company conspired with the insurance companies and negligently performed its duties in the underwriting inspection and in the procurement process. The Hopkinses also assert that Nationwide is vicariously liable for Jones & Associates' negligence. Finally, the Hopkinses sued Total Radio for negligently performing its work on the poultry houses' alarm equipment.

         II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         The Hopkinses filed their initial Complaint on June 30, 2016, and their Amended Complaint on January 26, 2017, in the Circuit Court of Marshall County, Alabama. Both contained counts against diverse Defendants Nationwide and Hartford, and non-diverse, Alabama corporate Defendants Jones & Associates and Total Radio. All four Defendants filed a joint motion to transfer the case from Marshall County, Alabama to Morgan County, Alabama on January 11, 2017, which the state court ultimately denied. (Doc. 1-5 at 42).

         During the state court litigation, the Hopkinses served Jones & Associates with three requests for production and a request for admission concerning the residency of one of its employees, but never noticed or deposed anyone from the company. (Doc. 1 at 13). However, the request for production did include a request for the company's entire file related to the Hopkinses, and a request for the company's underwriting guidelines. (Doc. 8 at 11).

         The Hopkinses' discovery requests to Total Radio in August 2016 were limited to two requests for production. (Docs. 8 at 11; 1 at 12). Those requests sought all of Total Radio's records related to the Hopkinses' farm and its insurance policy. The Hopkinses never noticed or deposed Total Radio's two experts.

         On December 4, 2017, the Hopkinses voluntarily dismissed Total Radio. (Doc. 1-14 at 83). Approximately two months later, on February 14, 2018, the Hopkinses voluntarily dismissed all their claims against Jones & Associates. (Doc. 1-14 at 121). After these dismissals, only the Hopkinses' claims against the diverse insurance companies remained, which gave rise to Nationwide and Hartford's removal of the case on February 28, 2018.

         III. ...


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