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Hilliard v. Satellites Unlimited, LLC

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

October 2, 2017

CATRINA HILLIARD PLAINTIFF
v.
SATELLITES UNLIMITED, LLC, F/K/A SATELLITES UNLIMITED, INC.; STEPHEN BAPTISTE; AND JOHN DOES 1-10 DEFENDANTS

          ORDER

          Daniel P. Jordan III, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Catrina Hilliard seeks remand of this case. Defendant Satellites Unlimited, LLC, f/k/a Satellites Unlimited, Inc. (“SU”) removed the case, alleging that Stephen Baptiste, the non-diverse defendant, was improperly joined to defeat diversity jurisdiction. The Court's review of the briefs suggests that jurisdiction may be lacking for a reason neither party addresses. As discussed below, SU's improper-joinder argument may rely on a defense that is common to Baptiste's and its liability. See Smallwood v. Ill. Cent. R. Co., 385 F.3d 568, 571 (5th Cir. 2004) (en banc) (“Smallwood II”). This issue should be addressed before the Court rules on Hilliard's Motion to Remand [13] or her Motion to Amend [15].[1]

          I. Facts and Procedural History

         Hilliard says that, in or around August 2016, Baptiste and another employee of SU inspected her home and serviced her existing DISH satellite equipment. According to her, “said servicing and installation involved drilling holes in [Hilliard's h]ome and running wires and/or cables throughout the [h]ome.” Compl. [1-1] ¶ 12. She says the work was “performed negligently, ” leading to a September 10, 2016 fire that destroyed the home. Id. ¶¶ 13-14.

         Hilliard filed her Complaint against SU, Baptiste, and John Doe Defendants in Copiah County Circuit Court on June 12, 2017. She asserts claims for negligence; gross negligence; respondeat superior; negligent hiring, retention, and supervision; and punitive damages. Asserting that Baptiste was improperly joined to defeat diversity jurisdiction, SU removed the case to this Court on July 10, 2017. In particular, SU says:

The only facts alleged which purportedly support the Plaintiff's claims against Mr. Baptiste state that he is a technician of Satellites Unlimited, LLC, who inspected the Plaintiff's residence and/or installed new satellite equipment in or around the month of August, 2016. Mr. Baptiste serviced the Plaintiff's residence prior to the fire loss, but the last occasion he did so was on April 18, 2016, more than four months before the Plaintiff claims and almost five months before the fire. As a result, Mr. Baptiste was not present at the time the Plaintiff contends these negligent acts occurred.

Not. of Removal [1] ¶ 6 (citations omitted). In response to Hilliard's motion to remand, SU clarifies that neither Baptiste nor any other SU personnel have “been dispatched” to Hilliard's home since April 18, 2016. Peacock Aff. [16-2] ¶ 5.

         For her part, Hilliard says she has pleaded plausible claims against Baptiste:

[T]he only fact that Defendants point to in support of piercing the pleadings is the exact date of the alleged acts by the defendants and, once again, Plaintiff submits that, at worst, Plaintiff's alleged date of Defendants' negligence is five (5) months off and, at best, discovery will show that the date initially alleged is accurate. Even assuming that the alleged date in the original complaint is five months off, Defendant Baptiste would still be potentially liab[le] for his negligence acts and omissions.

Pl.'s Reply [19] at 5. In light of the potential inaccuracy of the initial Complaint, Hilliard now seeks leave to amend to clarify that Baptiste's call to her home during which he negligently serviced her DISH equipment occurred “[d]uring 2016.” Proposed Am. Compl. [15-1] ¶ 11.

         The Court concludes that neither the motion to remand nor the motion to amend should be considered until the Smallwood II issue is addressed.

          II. Analysis

         SU premises federal jurisdiction on 28 U.S.C. § 1332, under which the district court has jurisdiction over civil actions between “citizens of different States.” 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1). The statute requires complete diversity between all named plaintiffs and all named defendants. E.g., Lincoln Prop. Co. v. Roche, 546 U.S. 81, 84 (2005).

         The improper-joinder rule “is a narrow exception to the rule that diversity jurisdiction requires complete diversity.” Smallwood v. Ill. Cent. R.R. Co., 352 F.3d 220, 222 (5th Cir. 2003) (“Smallwood I”). Improper joinder can be established by showing the “inability of the plaintiff to establish a cause of action against the non-diverse party in state court.” Travis v. Irby, 326 F.3d 644, 646-47 (5th Cir. 2003) (citing Griggs v. State Farm Lloyds, 181 F.3d 694, 698 (5th Cir. 1999)). In evaluating a claim of improper joinder, the “appropriate test is whether there is any reasonable basis for predicting the plaintiffs might be able to recover against . . . the ins-state defendant.” Jones v. Gen. ...


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