United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
OWEN BOWDRE CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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).
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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).
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).
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.
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.