United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Aberdeen Division
B. BIGGERS, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
before the court are the plaintiffs' motions to remand.
Upon due consideration of the motions, responses, complaints
and applicable authority, the court is ready to rule.
and Procedural Background
Tina Cox, Lee Pegram, Eddie Sullivan, Jon Sullivan, and James
Rhea were formerly employed as insurance agents for GuideOne
America Insurance Company (“GuideOne”) in various
locations across Northern Mississippi. According to
Plaintiffs, Defendants GuideOne and Joey Blakeney,
GuideOne's Sales Director for Mississippi, induced them
to become agents by touting their “pay for
performance” commission structure, a program under
which money vested to Plaintiffs based on their in-force book
of insurance premiums. Plaintiffs further allege that
Defendants consistently represented to them that this vested
amount was a guaranteed retirement benefit.
decided to terminate Plaintiffs' employment in September
2017. At that time, Tina Cox had a vested amount of $301,
607.00; Lee Pegram had a vested amount of $173, 500.75; Eddie
Sullivan had a vested amount of $416, 000.00; Jon Sullivan
had a vested amount of $345, 728.36; and James Rhea had a
vested amount of $392, 513.74. Despite Defendants'
previous guarantees, however, Plaintiffs were given an
ultimatum: (1) keep the vested amount and forfeit their
entire book of business with GuideOne or (2) keep their book
of business with GuideOne and forfeit the vested amount.
Because the former would have effectively put them out of
business, Plaintiffs chose the latter and forfeited their
subsequently filed separate actions against Defendants,
asserting claims for fraud, conversion, breach of contract,
unjust enrichment, negligent infliction of emotional
distress, and unconscionability. Defendants promptly removed
the actions to this court on the basis of diversity
jurisdiction. Because Plaintiffs' separate cases are
essentially identical, the court entered an order
consolidating them. Plaintiffs now move to remand.
for Removal and Remand
civil action brought in a State court of which the districts
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. §
statutes are to be construed strictly against removal and in
favor of remand.” Eastus v. Blue Bell Creameries,
L.P., 97 F.3d 100, 103 (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 court.” Garcia v. Koch
Oil Co. of Texas, Inc., 351 F.3d 636, 638 (citing
St. Paul Mercury Indem. Co. v. Red Cab Co., 303 U.S.
283, 288 (1938)).
removing party bears the burden of establishing the basis of
federal 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 Supp. 2d 722,
730 (E.D. Tex. 1999)(citing Vasquez v. Alto Bonito Gravel
Plant Corp., 56 F.3d 689, 694 (5th Cir. 1995)).
moving to remand, Plaintiffs argue that the court lacks
diversity jurisdiction because the parties are not completely
diverse. Complete diversity “requires that all persons
on one side of the controversy be citizens of different
states than all persons on the other side.”
McLaughlin v. Mississippi Power Co., 376 F.3d 344,
353 (5th Cir. 2004) (citing Harrison v. Prather, 404
F.2d 267, 272 (5th Cir. 1968)). Plaintiffs are citizens of
Mississippi. Defendant GuideOne, as a citizen of Iowa, is
diverse from Plaintiffs. Defendant Joey Blakeney, however, is
a citizen of Mississippi. Consequently, unless some exception
applies, the parties are not completely diverse, and this
court lacks jurisdiction.
contends that the court may disregard the citizenship of
Blakeney because he has been improperly joined in this action
to defeat federal jurisdiction. 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). To that end, courts place a heavy burden of
persuasion upon those asserting improper joinder. Griggs
v. State Farm Lloyds, 181 F.3d 694, 701 (5th Cir. 1999).
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
701). Under the second prong, the removing party must show
that there is no reasonable basis for the court to predict
that the plaintiff might be able to recover against the
non-diverse defendant. Smallwood v. Illinois ...