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Ruffin v. Clark

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

October 25, 2018

LASHAWNDA RUFFIN, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
WILLIAM EDWARD CLARK, et al., Defendants.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          SONJA F. BIVINS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This case is before the Court on Plaintiff Casey Evans' motion to remand. (Doc. 6). The motion, which has been fully briefed and is ripe for resolution, has been referred to the undersigned for a report and recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule 72(a)(2)(S). Upon consideration of all matters presented, the undersigned RECOMMENDS, for the reasons stated herein, that Plaintiff's motion to remand (Doc. 6) be GRANTED.

         I. Background.

         This personal injury litigation arises from a February 21, 2017, motor vehicle accident on Highway 10 in Choctaw County, Alabama. Plaintiffs Lashawnda Ruffin (“Ruffin”) and Casey Evans (“Evans”) commenced this action by filing a complaint in the Circuit Court of Choctaw County, Alabama on October 5, 2017. (Doc. 1-1 at 2). Plaintiffs allege that William Edward Clark (“Clark”), while driving eastbound on Highway 10 behind Ruffin's vehicle, was distracted and did not stop in time, and as a result, he “negligently and/or wantonly” collided with Ruffin's vehicle, and thereby caused Ruffin's vehicle to strike the driver's side of Evans' vehicle, which was traveling in the opposite direction. (Id. at 3). Plaintiffs further allege that at the time of the accident, Clark was acting in the line and scope of his employment with Kinder Morgan, Inc. (“Kinder Morgan”). (Id.).

         In their complaint, Plaintiffs also allege:

Due to the negligence and/or wantonness of Defendant Clark and Defendant Kinder Morgan, Plaintiffs Ruffin and Evans suffered the following injures [sic]:
a. Injuries to the back, head, hip, arm and body as a whole;
b. Cuts and bruises all over their bodies;
c. Past and future pain and suffering;
d. Past and future mental anguish;
e. Past and future medical expenses; and,
f. Past and future loss [sic] wages.

(Id.). While Plaintiffs list various categories of damages in their complaint, they do not specify the amount of their damages. (Id.).

         Plaintiffs also asserted uninsured and/or underinsured motorist claims against their respective insurance carriers, State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company (“State Farm”) and ALFA Mutual Insurance Company (“ALFA”). (Id. at 4-6). Both insurers exercised their rights under Alabama law to opt out of the litigation. Once State Farm and ALFA opted out of the litigation, they became nominal parties whose citizenship could be disregarded for purposes of diversity jurisdiction analysis and who were not required to join in a removal of the case to federal court. See Wilson v. Chester Bross Constr. Co., 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 40265, at *29, 2011 WL 1380052, at *10 (S.D. Ala. Apr. 12, 2011); Oliver v. Rodriguez, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 27724, at *5, 2008 WL 928328, at *2 (M.D. Ala. Apr. 4, 2008) (holding that ALFA was a nominal party whose citizenship was not to be considered in the complete diversity analysis because ALFA “has elected to opt out of the litigation completely and to be bound by the verdict and judgment of liability and damages”). Because the citizenship of ALFA, an Alabama citizen, could be disregarded, complete diversity was created, as Plaintiffs are citizens of Alabama, Clark is a citizen of Mississippi, and Kinder Morgan is deemed a citizen of Texas.

         On May 17, 2018, Clark and Kinder Morgan filed a notice of removal with this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1441 and 1446. (Doc. 1). Defendants assert the existence of diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. In their notice, Defendants contend that this case did not become removable based on diversity of citizenship until the state court granted ALFA's motion to opt out on April 26, 2018. Defendants also allege that they first learned from Plaintiffs' responses to Kinder Morgan's requests for admissions on May 3, 2018, that Plaintiffs were seeking punitive damages - as punitive damages were not mentioned in the complaint - and that Plaintiffs were unwilling to admit or deny that their damages are less than $75, 000.[1] Defendants rely on the following to establish the requisite amount in controversy:

a. the allegations in the Complaint, including the alleged severity of Plaintiffs' injuries;[2]
b. the fact Plaintiff Evans has had to undergo [left shoulder arthroscopy] surgery;
c. Plaintiff Evans' claim she is allegedly still unable to return to ...

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