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Delta State University Foundation v. Global Synthetic Environmental, LLC

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

March 27, 2018

DELTA STATE UNIVERSITY FOUNDATION and DELTA STATE UNIVERSITY PLAINTIFFS
v.
GLOBAL SYNTHETIC ENVIRONMENTAL, LLC, d/b/a GEOSURFACES and GEO-SURFACES DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          NEAL B. BIGGERS, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This cause comes before the court upon the plaintiffs' motion to remand. Upon due consideration of the motion, response, exhibits, and supporting and opposing authority, the court is ready to rule.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         The instant dispute arises out of a contract entered into on June 11, 2014, between Plaintiff Delta State University Foundation, Inc. (“Foundation”) and Defendant Global Synthetic Environmental, LLC, d/b/a Geosurfaces and Geo-Surfaces (“Geosurfaces”). Pursuant to the contract, Geosurfaces was to construct and install an artificial turf football field on the property of Plaintiff Delta State University (“DSU”). Geosurfaces additionally issued to DSU an express warranty as to the field's construction.

         Shortly after completion, the field began to deteriorate and Geosurfaces has since performed numerous repairs to temporarily cure the various defects. In June of 2017, DSU, as warranty holder, contacted Geosurfaces and requested that it provide DSU with a plan to permanently correct the field's problems. Geosurfaces rejected DSU's request and proposed, instead, to perform additional work at an additional cost as a temporary solution.

         On July 13, 2017, one day after its proposal, Geosurfaces filed suit against the Foundation and DSU in the Nineteenth Judicial District Court for the Parish of East Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and asserted claims for breach of contract and declaratory relief.

         The Foundation removed the Louisiana suit to the District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana. In support of removal, the Foundation argued, in pertinent part, that the Louisiana state court lacked personal jurisdiction and that DSU had been improperly joined because DSU was not a signatory to the underlying contract, had no affirmative obligations under the contract, and, consequently, could not be held liable for any alleged breach.

         On July 21, 2017, the Foundation and DSU filed the instant suit in the Circuit Court of Bolivar County, Mississippi. The Foundation and DSU assert seven claims against Geosurfaces under contract, tort, and warranty theories. Geosurfaces promptly removed the action to this court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. The Foundation and DSU now move to remand.

         Standard for Removal and Remand

         “[A]ny civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction, may be removed by the defendant or defendants, to the district court of the United States for the district and division embracing the place where such action is pending.” 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). A district court has “original jurisdiction of all civil actions where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs, and is between . . . citizens of different States.” 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1) (emphasis added).

         “[R]emoval statutes are to be construed strictly against removal and in favor of remand.” Eastus v. Blue Bell Creameries, L.P., 97 F.3d 100, 106 (5th Cir. 1996) (citing Shamrock Oil & Gas Corp. v. Sheets, 313 U.S. 100, 108-09 (1941)). “The intent of Congress drastically to restrict federal jurisdiction in controversies between citizens of different states has always been rigorously enforced by the courts.” Garcia v. Koch Oil Co. of Texas, Inc., 351 F.3d 636, 638 (5th Cir. 2003) (quoting St. Paul Mercury Indem. Co. v. Red Cab Co., 303 U.S. 283, 288 (1938)). The removing party bears the burden of establishing the basis for diversity jurisdiction. Id., See also De Aguilar v. Boeing Co., 47 F.3d 1404, 1408 (5th Cir. 1995). Further, should the court have any doubts about its jurisdiction, “it should resolve those doubts by ordering a remand.” Dardeau v. West Orange-Grove Consolidated Independent School Dist., 43 F.Supp.2d 722, 730 (E.D. Tex. 1999) (citing Vasquez v. Alto Bonito Gravel Plant Corp., 56 F.3d 689, 694 (5th Cir. 1995)). In deciding a motion to remand, the court may, under certain circumstances, pierce the pleadings and consider “summary judgment-type evidence.” Davidson v. Georgia-Pacific, LLC, 819 F.3d 758, 765 (5th Cir. 2016).

         When a court's jurisdiction is premised on diversity jurisdiction, “[t]he improper joinder doctrine constitutes a narrow exception to the rule of complete diversity.” McDonal v. Abbott Laboratories, 408 F.3d 177, 183 (5th Cir. 2005). The removing party bears a heavy burden in demonstrating improper joinder. Griggs v. State Farm Lloyds, 181 F.3d 694, 701 (5th Cir. 1999). To establish improper joinder, the party seeking removal must demonstrate either “(1) actual fraud in the pleading of jurisdictional facts, or (2) 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, 647 (5th Cir. 2003) (citing Griggs, 181 F.3d at 699). Under the second prong, the removing party must demonstrate that there is no reasonable basis for the court to predict that the non-diverse plaintiff might be able to recover against the defendant. Smallwood v. Illinois Central R.R. Co., 385 F.3d 568, 573 (5th Cir. 2004). Courts normally examine a claim of improper joinder by conducting a Rule 12(b)(6)-type analysis. Id.

         Analysis

         The parties concede that no federal question has been raised. Thus, for the court to have jurisdiction over this matter, it must be based on diversity of citizenship. Diversity jurisdiction exists only when the action is one between “citizens” of different states. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1). “[I]t is beyond peradventure that ‘a state is not a citizen for purposes of diversity jurisdiction, '” and, therefore, diversity jurisdiction is lacking when a state is a party. Hood ...


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