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Fortenberry v. Prine

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Eastern Division

July 2, 2014

ASHLEY FORTENBERRY, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
CHRIS E. PRINE, et al., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

KEITH STARRETT, District Judge.

For the reasons stated below, the Court denies the Plaintiffs' Motion to Remand [16]. Defendant Greater East Lampton Church, Inc. is dismissed as improperly joined. The parties shall immediately contact the chambers of the Magistrate Judge to schedule a case management conference.

I. BACKGROUND

This is an insurance dispute arising from an automobile accident that occurred in Marion County, Mississippi. On August 15, 2010, Plaintiffs were on their way to a church choir event when a vehicle turned in front of them, causing an accident. All Plaintiffs were injured. The other driver, Chris Prine, was killed.

Defendant Church Mutual Insurance Company ("Church Mutual") provided automobile insurance - including uninsured motorist coverage - to Greater East Lampton Church, Inc. ("Greater East Lampton"), the church upon whose behalf Plaintiffs claim to have traveled. Accordingly, Plaintiffs' counsel submitted a claim on the Church Mutual policy, arguing that Plaintiffs were "insureds" under the policy's terms and entitled to uninsured motorist coverage for their injuries. Church Mutual denied Plaintiffs' claim.

Plaintiffs filed a Complaint in the Circuit Court of Marion County, Mississippi, on July 29, 2013. They named Prine, Greater East Lampton, and Church Mutual as Defendants, and alleged that they had suffered various severe bodily injuries. They alleged that Prine was negligent in the operation of his vehicle, and that his insurance coverage was not sufficient to cover their damages. Therefore, they claimed Church Mutual was liable under the uninsured motorist provision of its policy issued to Greater East Lampton.

On April 8, 2014, Plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint, naming the same parties as Defendants. They asserted claims of negligence, negligence per se, and loss of consortium against Prine, and they asserted claims of breach of contract, bad faith, and breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing against Church Mutual. They demanded compensatory damages for their physical and emotional injuries, punitive damages, fees, costs, and interest.

On April 25, 2014, Church Mutual removed the case to this Court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. Church Mutual contends that Greater East Lampton was improperly joined to defeat diversity jurisdiction, and that Chris Prine's former residency must be disregarded because he died prior to Plaintiff's initial filing. On May 23, 2014, Plaintiffs filed a Motion to Remand [16], which the Court now considers.

II. DISCUSSION

"Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, having only the authority endowed by the Constitution and that conferred by Congress." Halmekangas v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 603 F.3d 290, 292 (5th Cir. 2010). This Court has removal jurisdiction in any case where it has original jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a), and it has "original jurisdiction of all civil matters where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs, and is between... [c]itizens of different States...." 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). Because federal courts have limited jurisdiction and removal raises significant federalism concerns, "any doubt as to the propriety of removal should be resolved in favor of remand, " Gutierrez v. Flores, 543 F.3d 248, 251 (5th Cir. 2008), and the "removal statutes are to be construed strictly against removal and for remand." Eastus v. Blue Bell Creameries, L.P., 97 F.3d 100, 106 (5th Cir. 1996).

A. Timeliness of Removal

First, Plaintiffs argue that Church Mutual's removal was untimely. The removal statute provides:

(1) The notice of removal of a civil action or proceeding shall be filed within 30 days after the receipt by the defendant, through service or otherwise, of a copy of the initial pleading setting forth the claim for relief upon which such action or proceeding is based, or within 30 days after the service of summons upon the defendant if such initial pleading has then been ...

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