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Steed v. Hartford Underwriters Insurance Carrier

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Greenville Division

May 28, 2015

SANDRA STEED, Plaintiff,
v.
HARTFORD UNDERWRITERS INSURANCE CARRIER; EMMA BASSETT, Defendants.

ORDER GRANTING REMAND

DEBRA M. BROWN, District Judge.

This personal injury and insurance dispute arises from a parking lot collision between Plaintiff Sandra Steed and an automobile driven by Defendant Emma Bassett. Doc. #2. Plaintiff seeks to recover compensatory damages from her insurance carrier, Defendant Hartford Underwriters Insurance Carrier ("Hartford"), and from Bassett. Id. The case was removed on October 15, 2014, and is before the Court on Plaintiff's motion to remand. Doc. #1; Doc. #5.

I

Procedural History

On October 9, 2013, Plaintiff filed a complaint against Hartford and Bassett in the Circuit Court of Humphreys County, Mississippi. Doc. #2. In her complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Bassett, "an under insured motorist, " negligently struck Plaintiff in a parking lot and that Hartford, Plaintiff's insurance carrier, is liable to her for uninsured driver benefits.[1] Id. at ¶¶ 10, 15. According to the complaint: (1) Hartford has its principal place of business in Connecticut; (2) Plaintiff is a resident of Mississippi; and (3) Bassett is a resident and citizen of Mississippi. Id. at ¶¶ 1-3.

Both Defendants were served with a summons and copy of the complaint on November 5, 2013. Doc. #3-6; Doc. #3-7. Hartford answered the complaint on February 10, 2014. Doc. #3-10. Bassett never answered or otherwise responded to the complaint. Despite Bassett's failure to respond, Plaintiff has not sought default against Bassett.

On October 15, 2014, Hartford removed the state action to this Court. Doc. #1. The notice of removal contains no jurisdictional allegation as to Hartford, [2] but alleges that Plaintiff[3] and Bassett[4] are Mississippi "resident[s]." Id. at ¶ 6.

In its notice of removal, Hartford "acknowledge[]d that technically... diversity of citizenship does not... exist in this case to satisfy removal to federal court." Id. at 4. However, Hartford stated that "[t]his Notice, in essence, is based on fraudulent joinder grounds in that it is obvious at this point that Plaintiff never intended on pursuing Defendant Bassett as evidenced by Bassett taking no action in this lawsuit [and] Plaintiff [having] failed to timely pursue default proceedings...." Id.

On November 7, 2014, Plaintiff filed a motion to remand. Doc. #5. In her motion, Plaintiff argues that Basset was properly joined and, therefore, remand is required. Id. Plaintiff also seeks recovery of costs and expenses related to the motion to remand. Id.

II

Removal and Improper Joinder

Diversity jurisdiction requires that there be: (1) complete diversity between the parties; and (2) an amount in controversy in excess of $75, 000. 28 U.S.C. § 1332. "Complete diversity requires that all persons on one side of the controversy be citizens of different states than all persons on the other side." Harvey, 542 F.3d at 1079 (internal quotation marks omitted).

Pursuant to the forum-defendant rule of 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b)(2), "[a] civil action otherwise removable solely on the basis of [diversity] jurisdiction... may not be removed if any of the parties in interest properly joined and served as defendants is a citizen of the State in which such action is brought." The requirement of proper joinder is reflective of the rule that "[t]he Federal courts should not sanction devices intended to prevent the removal to a Federal court where one has that right...." Smallwood v. Illinois Cent. R. Co., 385 F.3d 568, 573 (5th Cir. 2004). "The doctrine of improper joinder rests on these statutory underpinnings, which entitle a defendant to remove to a federal forum unless an in-state defendant has been properly joined.'" Id. Thus, under the improper joinder rule, "a court may disregard the citizenship of parties that have been improperly joined." Gavelston Bay Biodiesel, L.P. v. Ace American Ins. Co., 719 F.Supp.2d 736, 738 (S.D. Tex. 2010) (citing Smallwood, 385 F.3d at 572-73).

In support of her motion to remand, Plaintiff argues that remand is required under the forum-defendant rule.[5] Doc. #8 at 2. There is no dispute that Bassett is a citizen of Mississippi. Accordingly, unless Bassett's citizenship may be disregarded under the ...


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