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Bankhead v. West Point Mobile Home Park, LLC

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

May 15, 2019

TERRI BANKHEAD PLAINTIFF
v.
WEST POINT MOBILE HOME PARK, LLC And JOHN DOES 1-5 DEFENDANTS

          ORDER

          MICHAEL P. MILLS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This cause comes before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion to Remand to State Court. [Doc. #7]. The Court, having reviewed the motion, the parties' submissions, and applicable law, is now prepared to rule.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff initiated this cause in the Circuit Court of Clay County, Mississippi on May 15, 2017. In her original state court complaint, Plaintiff alleged that on or about “December 28, 2015” she fell in the entrance of one of Defendant's lots, specifically lot #887, and suffered “severe injuries” after “a rail and/or step broke.” [Doc. #2]. The relief sought in her original state court complaint was “an amount less than $75, 000.00 as determined by a jury, together with all damages allowed by law, and such other relief as this Court may deem just and proper.” Id.

         On May 31, 2018-approximately two weeks after the one-year anniversary of her initial filing-Plaintiff filed a Motion for Leave to Amend her Complaint in the state court. In her motion for leave to amend, Plaintiff sought to change two items from her original complaint: (1) the date of the accident, which had been incorrectly stated as December 28, 2015 in the original complaint, would be amended to read “January 28, 2016”; and (2) the relief sought would now be “an amount that is fair and reasonable as determined by a jury . . ..” [Doc. #10]. Review of the state court docket, submitted as Exhibit A to Defendant's Notice of Removal [Doc. #1], suggests that Defendants did not object to Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to Amend her Complaint and the state court granted the motion on August 24, 2018. Plaintiff filed her amended complaint with the state court on September 10, 2018.

         Two days later, on September 12, 2018, Defendant West Point Mobile Home Park, LLC removed the case to the Northern District of Mississippi. The notice of removal alleges that “the claim as presently filed by the Plaintiff … states a claim to damages which satisfies the amount in controversy requirement … sufficient to invoke the jurisdiction of this Court, in that the amount sought by the Plaintiff now … exceeds” $75, 000, and that the plaintiff's initial state court complaint which stated that the relief sought was “an amount less than $75, 000 as determined by a jury…” was “an action ‘in bad faith in order to prevent (the) defendant from removing the action (to this Court).” [Doc. #1].

         On September 18, 2018, the Plaintiff filed the present motion, her Motion to Remand to State Court [Doc. #7], on grounds that Defendant sought removal “more than sixteen months after the case was filed in State Court” and that a remand is warranted because Defendant has failed to establish the existence of any bad faith in the filing of the original complaint.

         II. STANDARD

         “On a motion to remand, ‘[t]he removing party bears the burden of showing that federal jurisdiction exists and that removal was proper.'” Barker v. Hercules Offshore, Inc., 713 F.3d 208, 212 (5th Cir. 2013) (citing Manguno v. Prudential Prop. & Cas. Inc. Co., 276 F.3d 720, 722 (5th Cir. 2002)). Ultimately, “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) (citing Shamrock Oil & Gas Corp. v. Sheets, 313 U.S. 100, 108-09, 61 S.Ct. 868, 872, 85 L.Ed. 1214 (1941)). And “[a]ny ambiguities are construed against removal.” Manguno, 276 F.3d at 723 (citing Acuna v. Brown & Root, Inc., 200 F.3d 335, 339 (5th Cir. 2000)).

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b), a defendant must file notice of removal within thirty days after being served with a copy of the initial pleading. However, “if the case stated by the initial pleading is not removable, a notice of removal may be filed within thirty days after receipt by the defendant, through service or otherwise, of a copy of an amended pleading, motion, order, or other paper from which it may first be ascertained that the case is one which is or has become removable.” 28 U.S.C § 1446(b)(3).

         When removal is based on diversity jurisdiction, the case “may not be removed . . . more than 1 year after commencement of the action, unless the district court finds that the plaintiff has acted in bad faith in order to prevent a defendant from removing the action.” 28 U.S.C. § 1446(c)(1). “Conduct rises to the level of ‘bad faith' when a party makes a ‘transparent attempt to avoid federal jurisdiction.'” Kidwai v. Fed. Nat'l Mortg. Ass'n¸ Civil Action No. SA-13-CV-972-XR, 2014 WL 252026, at *2 (W.D. Tex. Jan. 22, 2014). “If . . . the district court finds that the plaintiff deliberately failed to disclose the actual amount in controversy to prevent removal, that finding shall be deemed bad faith.” 28 U.S.C. § 1446(c)(3)(B). Ultimately, a court must “determine whether bad faith exists on a case-by-case basis” and must balance this equitable exception with “the general rule that removal jurisdiction is to be strictly construed [in favor of remand], as its application ‘deprives a state court of a case properly before it and thereby implicates important federalism concerns.” Kidwai, 2014 WL 252026, at *2 (quoting Carey v. Allstate Ins. Co., 2:13-CV-2293, 2013 WL 5970487, at *3 (W.D. La. Nov. 7, 2013)).

         III. DISCUSSION

         In its Notice of Removal, West Point alleges that removal, though done more than one year after the commencement of the action, is proper because Plaintiff engaged in bad faith in order to prevent West Point from removing the case to federal court. Plaintiff, in her motion to remand, argues that Defendant's removal is improper and a remand is warranted because Defendant sought removal “more than sixteen months after the case was filed in State court, ” Defendant fails to establish that Plaintiff engaged in bad faith when filing the initial complaint, and because a change of courts at this juncture would be inefficient as the case has progressed significantly.

         After review of the parties' submissions, the Court is perplexed by the progression of this case and the relevant dates. There is no doubt that removal occurred past the one-year anniversary of the commencement of this case. ...


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