United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division
ANDREW J. EATON PLAINTIFF
GUIDEONE AMERICAN INSURANCE COMPANY & JOEY BLAKENEY DEFENDANTS
P. JORDAN III, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Andrew J. Eaton asks the Court to remand this action to the
Circuit Court of Rankin County, Mississippi. See
Mot. to Remand . Defendant GuideOne American Insurance
Company (“GuideOne”) and Defendant Joey Blakeney
(collectively “Defendants”) oppose the motion.
For the reasons stated, the Court finds Eaton improperly
joined Blakeney to defeat diversity jurisdiction; the motion
to remand is denied.
suit seeks damages he allegedly suffered when GuideOne
terminated his employment as an insurance agent. According to
Eaton, GuideOne induced him to become an agent in 1987 by
offering a program under which money vested to Eaton based on
his in-force book of insurance premiums. Eaton believes
GuideOne guaranteed this vested amount as a retirement
benefit. But when GuideOne terminated Eaton's employment
in September 2017, it gave him a choice: (1) keep the vested
amount and forfeit his in-force book of business or (2) keep
the in-force business and forfeit the vested money. Eaton
chose the latter and forfeited the vested money.
Eaton brought claims for fraud, breach of contract,
conversion, unjust enrichment, negligent infliction of
emotional distress, and unconscionability against Defendants
in Rankin County Circuit Court. Compl. [1-1]. As to Blakeney,
GuideOne's sales director for Mississippi, Eaton
generally says he incentivized agents by referencing the
vesting program. See Id. ¶ 17. Defendants
removed the case on November 9, 2018, asserting that Eaton
improperly joined Blakeney to defeat federal diversity
jurisdiction. Notice of Removal  ¶¶ 6, 7.
28 U.S.C. § 1441, “any 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” to federal district court. 28 U.S.C. §
1441(a). Defendants premise federal jurisdiction on 28 U.S.C.
§ 1332, under which district courts have jurisdiction
over civil actions between “citizens of different
States.” 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1). The diversity
statute requires complete diversity between all named
plaintiffs and all named defendants. See,
e.g., Lincoln Prop. Co. v. Roche, 546 U.S.
81, 84 (2005).
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). To that end, “[t]he
burden is on the removing party; and the burden of
demonstrating improper joinder is a heavy one.”
Cuevas v. BAC Home Loans Servicing, LP, 648 F.3d
242, 249 (5th Cir. 2011). In evaluating a claim of improper
joinder, “we examine if there is arguably a reasonable
basis for predicting that the state law might impose
liability on the facts involved.” Smallwood,
352 F.3d at 223 (citation omitted and punctuation altered).
But “[a] ‘mere theoretical possibility of
recovery under local law' will not preclude a finding of
improper joinder.” Smallwood v. Ill. Cent. R.R.
Co., 385 F.3d 568, 573 n.9 (5th Cir. 2004) (en banc)
(quoting Badon v. RJR Nabisco, Inc., 236 F.3d 282,
286 n.4 (5th Cir. 2000)).
the case was properly removed is determined by reference to
the allegations in a plaintiff's state court
pleading.” Tedder v. F.M. C. Corp., 590 F.2d
115, 116 (5th Cir. 1979) (citing Pullman Co. v.
Jenkins, 305 U.S. 534, 537 (1939)); see also Gardner
v. Cooksey, No. 2:11-CV-255-KS-MTP, 2012 WL 968026, at
*2 (S.D.Miss. Mar. 21, 2012) (“This court must refer to
the allegations made in the original pleading to determine
whether the plaintiff can make out a viable claim against the
resident defendant.”) (citations omitted).
district court should ordinarily resolve an improper-joinder
claim by conducting Rule 12(b)(6)-type analysis.
Smallwood, 385 F.3d at 573. The Court “must
then evaluate all of the factual allegations in the light
most favorable to the plaintiff, resolving all contested
issues of substantive fact in favor of the plaintiff.”
B., Inc. v. Miller Brewing Co., 663 F.2d 545, 549
(5th Cir. 1981). Similarly, the Court must resolve all
ambiguities in controlling state law in the plaintiff's
favor. Travis v. Irby, 326 F.3d 644, 649 (5th Cir.
2003) (citations omitted).
“there are cases, hopefully few in number, in which the
plaintiff has stated a claim, but has misstated or omitted
discrete facts that would determine the propriety of
joinder.” Smallwood, 385 F.3d at 573. In such
cases, the district court has the discretion to “pierce
the pleadings” and conduct a summary inquiry.
Id. Here, Defendants ask the Court to pierce the
pleadings and consider Blakeney's affidavit. Defs.'
Mem.  at 7. As addressed later, the outcome would be the
same under either approach.
say there is no reasonable basis to predict that state law
would impose liability on Blakeney because “[t]he
claims for conversion, breach of contract, unjust enrichment
and unconscionability apply only to GuideOne” and the
claims for negligent infliction of emotional distress and
fraud fail to ...