United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
GREG GILBERT, as administrator of the Estate of James Allman, deceased; and SONJA TODD, as personal representative for Estate of Barbara Piper Allman, deceased, Plaintiffs,
ALARM ONE INC., and ADT LLC, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
action is before the Court on a motion to remand. (Doc. 9).
The plaintiffs, as personal representatives of the estates of
James Allman and Barbara Piper Allman, allege that Alarm One,
Inc. and ADT, LLC, installers and providers of home
monitoring services, are liable for the deaths of James and
Barbara Allman in a March 19, 2017 fire. The plaintiffs
assert five state law causes of action against the
defendants: negligence, wantonness, breach of contract,
breach of the Alabama Extended Manufacturers Liability
Doctrine, and breach of warranty. (Doc. 1-2, pp. 2-9).
the presence of Alarm One, a non-diverse defendant, ADT
removed the plaintiffs' complaint to federal court on the
basis of diversity jurisdiction. (Doc. 1). In its notice of
removal, ADT argues that the plaintiffs fraudulently joined
Alarm One as a defendant to destroy federal jurisdiction.
(Doc. 1, p. 4, ¶ 10). The plaintiffs disagree. (Doc. 9).
For the reasons described below, the Court grants the
plaintiffs' motion to remand.
FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
plaintiffs allege that the ADT system installed at the
decedents' home caused the deaths of James and Barbara
Allman during a fire. (Doc. 1-2, p. 3, ¶¶ 1-2). On
March 11, 2002, the Allmans bought from Alarm One an ADT
system equipped with a heat detector and fire alarm. (Doc.
1-2, p. 5, ¶¶ 15-19). The plaintiffs allege that
the Allmans paid all monthly charges related to the alarm
system. (Doc. 1-2, p. 5, ¶ 20).
March 19, 2017 a fire started in the Allmans' kitchen.
(Doc. 1-2, p. 5, ¶ 21). The plaintiffs allege that the
alarm system did not alert Mr. and Mrs. Allman of the fire or
notify authorities. (Doc. 1-2, p. 5, ¶¶ 22, 24).
The plaintiffs allege that Mr. and Mrs. Allman died because
of “the negligence and breach of contract of [ADT and
Alarm One].” (Doc. 1-2, pp. 5-6, ¶¶ 24, 26).
action, the plaintiffs seek punitive damages for the deaths
of Mr. and Mrs. Allman. In their initial state court complaint,
the plaintiffs named as defendants ADT Alabama, Corp., Alarm
One, Inc., and multiple fictitious defendants. (Doc. 1-1, pp.
3-5). In their first amended complaint, the plaintiffs
eliminated as a named defendant Alabama ADT and added
defendant ADT, LLC, alleging that ADT, LLC is a
“foreign corporation with its principal place of
business in Boca Raton, Florida.” (Doc. 1-1, pp. 34-35;
Doc. 1-2, pp. 2-4). The plaintiffs allege that Alarm One and
ADT are liable for negligence, wantonness, breach of
contract, breach of Alabama's Extended Manufacturers
Liability Doctrine, and breach of warranty. (Doc. 1-2, pp.
28 U.S.C. §§ 1332 and 1441, ADT removed this action
to federal court. (Doc. 1). ADT contends that Alarm One is
not a legitimate defendant because Alarm One assigned all
contractual rights and liabilities to ADT before the fire.
(Doc. 1, p. 4). ADT also contends that Alarm One is a
non-existent company and therefore not a proper party in
interest. (Doc. 1, p. 4). The plaintiffs ask the Court to
return this action to state court. (Doc. 9).
federal jurisdiction to exist under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a),
there must be complete diversity of citizenship, and the
amount in controversy must exceed $75, 000.00, exclusive of
interest and costs. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a);
Underwriters at Lloyd's, London v.
Osting-Scwinn, 613 F.3d 1079, 1085 (11th Cir. 2012).
“[D]iversity jurisdiction is determined at the time of
filing the complaint or, if the case has been removed, at the
time of removal.” PTA-FLA v. ZTE USA, Inc.,
844 F.3d 1299, 1306 (11th Cir. 2016). Generally, when
jurisdiction is lacking because, for example, a defendant is
a citizen of the state in which the plaintiff filed suit,
then a district court must remand the action to state court.
But “if a defendant shows that ‘there is no
possibility the plaintiff can establish a cause of action
against the resident defendant,' then the plaintiff is
said to have fraudulently joined the non-diverse
defendant.” Florence v. Crescent Resources,
Inc., 484 F.3d 1293, 1297 (11th Cir. 2007) (quoting
Henderson v. Washington Nat. Ins. Co., 454 F.3d
1278, 1281 (11th Cir. 2006)) (footnote omitted). “In
that situation, the federal court must dismiss the
non-diverse defendant and deny any motion to remand the
matter back to state court.” Florence, 484
F.3d at 1297; see also Henderson, 454 F.3d at 1281.
Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has identified three
scenarios in which a non-diverse defendant may be
fraudulently joined: (1) “when there is no possibility
that the plaintiff can prove a cause of action against the
resident (non- diverse) defendant”; (2) “when
there is outright fraud in the plaintiff's pleading of
jurisdictional facts”; and (3) “where a diverse
defendant is joined with a non-diverse defendant as to whom
there is no joint, several or alternative liability and where
the claim against the diverse defendant has no real
connection to the claim against the non-diverse
defendant.” Triggs v. John Crump Toyota, Inc.,
154 F.3d 1284, 1287 (11th Cir. 1998) (citations omitted). The
removing party bears the heavy burden of proving fraudulent
joinder. Crowe v. Coleman, 113 F.3d 1536, 1538 (11th
Cir. 1997); see generally Tapscott v. MS Dealer Serv.
Corp., 77 F.3d 1353 (11th Cir. 1996), abrogated on
other grounds, Cohen v. Office Depot, Inc., 204
F.3d 1069 (11th Cir. 2000).
deciding a motion to remand, a district court must resolve
jurisdictional doubts in favor of remand. Scimone v.
Carnival Corp., 720 F.3d 876, 882 (11th Cir. 2013)
(“[A]ll uncertainties as to removal jurisdiction are to
be resolved in favor of remand.”). With respect to the
first fraudulent joinder scenario, the district court may
deny a motion to remand when the defendants prove “by
clear and convincing evidence that there is no possibility
that [the plaintiff] can establish a cause of action against
the resident defendant.” Henderson, 454 F.3d
at 1283 (internal citations omitted). A plaintiff does not
have to a have winning case; “he need only have a
possibility of stating a valid cause of action in order for
the joinder to be legitimate.” Triggs, 154
F.3d at 1287. “In making its determination, the
district court must evaluate factual allegations in the light
most favorable to the plaintiff and resolve any uncertainties
about the applicable law in the plaintiff's favor.”
Pacheco de Perez v. AT&T Co., 139 F.3d 1368,
1380 (11th Cir. 1998).
Sufficiency of the Complaint
plaintiffs assert both tort and contract claims. In their
amended complaint, the plaintiffs do not indicate which
defendant is alleged to have committed each act. (Doc. 1-2).
ADT argues that “each of plaintiff's claims does
nothing more than generally incorporate the same fact
allegations and recite legal conclusions, preventing ADT and
the Court from deciphering Alarm One's alleged role in
Plaintiff's loss.” (Doc. 20, p. 10). But a state
court plaintiff does not have to comply with federal pleading
standards when filing a state court complaint. See
Henderson, 454 F.3d at 1284 (“[T]he decision as to
the sufficiency of the pleadings is for the state courts, and
for a federal court to interpose its judgment would fall
short of the scrupulous respect for the institutional
equilibrium between the federal and state judiciaries that
our federal system demands.”). Because the plaintiffs
originally filed this action in an Alabama state court, this
Court must apply Alabama's notice-pleading standard to
evaluate the amended complaint. Ala. Rules of Civ. Pro. Rule
8 (a); see Mitchell v. Mitchell, 506 So.2d 1009,
1010 (Ala. 1987) ...