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Wilson v. Federal Express Corp.

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

October 26, 2017

GENORA WILSON PLAINTIFF
v.
FEDERAL EXPRESS CORP., et al. DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          KEITH STARRETT, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to File Amended Complaint [7], Motion to Remand [8] and Motion for Leave to File Affidavit and Proof of Residency of Bertha McCormick [26]. Having considered the parties' briefs, the record, and the applicable law, the Court finds that both the Motion for Leave to Amend and the Motion to Remand should be denied and that the Motion for Leave to File Affidavit should be denied as moot.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff, Genora Wilson, alleges that Defendant McCann, while driving a vehicle owned by Defendant Federal Express Corp. (“FedEx”), negligently rear-ended Plaintiff on July 6, 2015. Plaintiff is a resident of Mississippi. FedEx is incorporated in Delaware, with its principal place of business in Tennessee. While Plaintiff alleged that McCann is a resident of Mississippi in her Complaint, McCann avers that he is a resident of Ohio. Plaintiff filed suit on May 25, 2017 in the First Judicial District of Jasper County of Mississippi. Defendants removed on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. In their Answer [2], Defendants asserted that a third party, Bertha McCormick, was responsible for all of Plaintiff's damages, as McCormick allegedly swerved into Plaintiff's lane shortly before the accident. Plaintiff then moved to amend her Complaint to add McCormick as a defendant. Since McCormick is also a resident of Mississippi, Plaintiff also moved to remand, arguing that diversity jurisdiction would no longer exist once McComick was added as a defendant.

         II. Standard of Review

         “[F]ederal 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) (quoting Epps v. Bexas-Medina-Atascosa Ctys. Water Improvement Dist. No. 1, 665 F.2d 594, 595 (5th Cir. 1982)). Under 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a), this Court has removal jurisdiction of any case where it has original jurisdiction, and it has original jurisdiction in civil matters between citizens of different states where the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). Generally, “jurisdictional facts are determined at the time of removal, and consequently post-removal events do not affect that properly established jurisdiction.” Louisiana v. Am. Nat'l Prop. & Cas. Co., 746 F.3d 633, 636 (5th Cir. 2014) (citing Grupo Dataflux v. Atlas Global Grp., L.P., 541 U.S. 567, 569-70 (2004)).[1]

         There is, however, an exception to the rule that jurisdictional facts are determined at the time of removal. “If after removal the plaintiff seeks to join additional defendants whose joinder would destroy subject matter jurisdiction, the court may deny joinder, or permit joinder and remand the action to the State court.” 28 U.S.C. § 1447(e).[2] When faced with a request to add a non-diverse defendant that would destroy jurisdiction, a district court “should scrutinize that amendment more closely than an ordinary amendment” and apply the factors articulated in Hensgens v. Deere & Co., 833 F.2d 1179, 1182 (5th Cir. 1987).

         There are two competing interests that guide our analysis: the diverse defendant's interest in maintaining the federal venue and the risk of wasting judicial resources through maintaining parallel federal and state litigation. Id. In balancing these interests, the court must consider the four Hensgens factors: “(1) the extent to which the purpose of the amendment is to defeat federal jurisdiction, (2) whether the plaintiff has been dilatory in asking for amendment, (3) whether plaintiff will be significantly injured if amendment is not allowed, and (4) any other factors bearing on the equities.” Id. (enumeration added).[3]

         III. Analysis

         1. Plaintiff's Purpose in Seeking Amendment

         In analyzing Plaintiff's purpose in amending her Complaint, district courts often consider “whether the plaintiff knew or should have known of the identity of the non-diverse defendant when the original complaint was filed.” Sills v. Beal Bank, SSB, No. 2:15-cv-90-KS-MTP, 2015 WL 5642913, at *2 (S.D.Miss. Sept. 24, 2015); Anzures v. Prologis Tex. I LLC, 886 F.Supp.2d 555, 562 (W.D. Tex. 2012). “Where the plaintiff knew about the non-diverse party's activities at the time he filed suit but did not include that party as an original defendant, ‘courts have viewed any later attempt to add the nondiverse party as a defendant as nothing more than an attempt to destroy diversity.'” Wein v. Liberty Lloyds of Tex. Ins. Co., No. A-15-cv-19-ss, 2015 WL 1275915, at *5 (W.D. Tex. Mar. 19, 2015).

         There is no question that Plaintiff knew McCormick's identity on the date of the accident.[4]Nevertheless, when a plaintiff knows a potential defendant's identity but was unaware of facts giving rise to that defendant's liability, courts have made exceptions. Plaintiff unsuccessfully attempts to align herself with such cases by comparing her situation to that of the plaintiff in Lowe v. Singh, No. H-10-1811, 2010 WL 3359525 (S.D. Tex. Aug. 23, 2010). In Lowe, Plaintiff alleged that she was a passenger in a car driven by Banfield when it was struck by an 18-wheeler from behind. Id. at *1. Plaintiff sued the company that owned the 18-wheeler and the driver. Id. Defendants removed based on diversity. Id. Plaintiff then moved to join Banfield, based on Defendants' assertion in their answer that Banfied “may have stopped suddenly contributing to the cause of the collision.” Id. at *2. In analyzing the plaintiff's purpose, the Lowe court stated: “Here, though Plaintiff surely knew Banfield's identity as of the time of the accident, Plaintiff alleges that she desires to amend ‘because discovery has raised facts supporting the claims raised.'” Id. Plaintiff argues that her case is similar to Lowe because she “seeks to bring in McCormick due to Defendants [sic] allegations that McCormick was the sole proximate cause of the accident.” Reb. Supp. Leave Amend 14, ECF No. 20.

         Unlike Lowe, the Defendants' Answer was not the first time Plaintiff learned she may have had a claim against McCormick since such facts were contained in the accident report created the day of the accident. Anzures, 886 F.Supp.2d at 563 (distinguishing Lowe when plaintiff knew of the facts supporting proposed non-diverse defendant's liability since the beginning of litigation and finding the purpose of plaintiff's amendment was to destroy jurisdiction). Nor was there any discovery that raised new facts to support a claim against McCormick that Plaintiff previously did not know. Andrews Restoration Inc. v. National Freight Inc., No. 3:15-cv-1336-M, 2015 WL 4629681, at *4 (N.D. Tex. Aug. 4, 2015) (“Where a plaintiff ‘seek[s] to add nondiverse defendant shortly after removal, but prior to any additional discovery, [that] is further indication that the amendment is sought for the purpose of defeating diversity.”) (quoting Martinez v. Holzknecht, 701 F.Supp.2d 886, 889 (S.D. Tex. 2010)). Rather, Defendants' assertions in their Answer were based on the accident report that Plaintiff has had for the past two years.

         “However, courts have also recognized that when a plaintiff states a valid claim against a defendant, it is unlikely that the primary purpose of bringing those defendants into a litigation is to destroy diversity jurisdiction.” Schindler v. Charles Schab & Co., Inc., No. Civ.A.05-0082, 2005 WL 1155862, at *3 (E.D. La. May 12, 2005). Plaintiff therefore asserts that the only “real issue” is whether she has stated a viable claim against the proposed defendant. Reb. Supp. Leave Amend 5, ECF No. 20. Plaintiff primarily cites Andrews Restoration Inc. v. National Freight Inc. in support of her argument. While the validity of Plaintiff's claim is a relevant inquiry, the Andrews court recognized that whether the plaintiff has asserted a plausible claim is not the only consideration. Andrews Restoration Inc., 2015 WL 4629681, at *4 (stating that “if the plaintiff knew of the nondiverse defendant from the outset and chose to exclude him from ...


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