Earnest et al v. Great West Casualty Company et al

Filing 73

ORDER granting 6 Motion to Remand. The Clerk of Court is DIRECTED to close this case. Signed by Judge William T. Moore, Jr on 9/29/17. (jlm)

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IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF GEORGIA SAVANNAH DIVISION MARK EARNEST, as heir at law of Jerry Wayne Earnest, deceased, and as Co- U. S. DISTRICT COURT Southern District of GA Filed In Office Administrator of the Estate M of Jerry Wayne Earnest, and 20 JEFF EARNEST, as heir at law of Jerry Wayne Earnest, deceased, and as Co- Deputy Clerk Administrator of the Estate of Jerry Wayne Earnest, Plaintiffs, CASE NO. CV416-278 V, GREAT WEST CASUALTY COMPANY; GEORGIA FREIGHTWAYS CORPORATION; CMA-CGM (AMERICA), LLC; SOUTH ATLANTIC CONSOLIDATED CHASSIS POOL LLC; CONSOLIDATED CHASSIS MANAGEMENT LLC; INTERPOOL, INC., d/b/a Trac Intermodal; DIRECT CHASSISLINK, INC.; and DAVID J. GIBBONS; Defendants. ORDER Before the Court is Plaintiffs Mark Earnest and Jeff Earnest's Motion to Remand. (Doc. 6.) For the reasons that follow. Plaintiffs' Motion is GRANTED IN PART and this case is REMANDED to the State Court of Chatham County, Georgia. Because this case is remanded to the State Court, all pending motions (Doc. 39; Doc. 47) are DISMISSED AS MOOT. The Clerk of Court is DIRECTED to close this case. BACKGROUND This case involves the tragic death of Jerry Wayne Earnest in a horrible vehicle accident caused by a tractor trailer colliding with stopped traffic along Interstate-15 at the interchange with Interstate-95. (Doc. 6 at 2.) The tractor trailer was being driven by Defendant Gibbons, whom was employed by Defendant Georgia Freightways Corporation. (Doc. 1 at 90-91.) Defendant Great West Casualty Company provided insurance coverage for Defendant Georgia Freightways. (Id. at 90.) The remaining defendants all had some connection to the shipping container. (Id. at 91-96.) In the complaint. Plaintiffs allege that Defendant Gibbons negligently operated the tractor trailer, which resulted in the collision, and that Defendant Georgia Freightways is responsible as Defendant Gibbons's employer. (Id. at 90-91.) Plaintiffs maintain that Defendants Direct Chassislink, Inc., South Atlantic Consolidated Chassis Pool LLC, and Interpool, Inc. are liable because Defendant Gibbons qualifies as their statutory employee by operation of several federal regulations setting forth requirements for intermodal equipment providers. (Id. at 91.) Finally, Plaintiffs contend that Defendant CMA-CGM (AMERICA), LLC is vicariously liable "as an ocean coitimon carrier by virtue of 46 use § 40102(6)(A) Defendants (1^ at 94.) removed this case from the Chatham County on the grounds that the State Court of complaint raised substantial questions of federal law, specifically whether Defendants violated the Shipping Act of 1984 or the Federal Motor Carrier Sli 9-10.) Safety Administration Defendants reason that Regulations. because (Doc. resolution 1 of Plaintiffs' negligence claims will require interpretation of federal empowered statutes to and adjudicate regulations, Plaintiffs' this claims Court under is its federal question jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. § 1331. In his Motion to Remand, Plaintiffs argue that the Shipping Act, Motor Carrier Act, and associated regulations do not create independent federal causes of action. (Doc. 6 at 3-5.) According to Plaintiffs, reference to these federal sources does not operate to turn his basic state-law negligence claim into a substantial federal question sufficient to trigger this Court's jurisdiction. (Id.) ANALYSIS I. COLLATERAL ESTOPPEL In this case. Plaintiffs filed a Supplemental Memorandum in Support of Motion to Remand. (Doc. 31.) In that filing. Plaintiffs argue that this Court is bound by a previous ruling remanding a related case. (Id. at 2.) That case is one defendants. around the of six Those same that cases time, involves were and all also the same filed removed in to facts state federal and court court around the same time. The Clerk of Court assigned five of those cases to this Court, while one case was assigned to Judge Wood. Ultimately, Judge Wood granted the plaintiff's motion to remand (CV416-276, Doc. and 28.) remanded that Plaintiffs case argue to state that court. collateral estoppel applies to preclude any different outcome in any of the related cases, including this one. (Doc. 31 at 2.) Therefore, Plaintiffs "respectfully urge[s] that the Court enter an order consistent with Judge Wood's order." (Id.) After being directed to file a response. Defendants responded in opposition to Plaintiffs' request. (Doc. 64.) After careful consideration, the Court easily concludes that collateral estoppel is inappropriate in this case. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals recognizes that [b]oth issue preclusion and claim preclusion operate across a two—lawsuit continuum. First, parties litigate a dispute to a final judgment on the merits. Second, in a later, separate suit between the parties, one party brings to court evidence of an earlier judgment and contends that issue or claim preclusion should apply to prevent her opponent from litigating a previously decided issue or cause of action. Graham v. R.J. (11th Cir. Reynolds 2017). litigation, but a Tobacco Co., 857 Judge Wood's F.3d was case contemporaneously filed 1169, 1214 not case. prior In other words, the case pending before this Court is not "a later, separate suit between the parties". Id. Accordingly, collateral estoppel does not operate to bar the Court from considering the merits of Plaintiffs' Motion to Remand because no prior decision existed at the time Plaintiffs filed this case. II. MOTION TO REMAND A defendant who removes a case to federal court bears the burden of proving the propriety of federal jurisdiction. Adventure Outdoors, Inc. v. Bloomberg, 552 F.3d 1290, 1294 (11th Cir. 2008) (quoting Leonard v. Enter. Rent a Car, 279 F.3d 967, 972 (11th Cir. 2002)). If a district court has reservations as to the existence of federal jurisdiction, that doubt must be resolved in favor of remanding the case to state court. Id. (citing Diaz v. Sheppard, 85 F.3d 1502, 1505 (11th Cir. 1996)). Congress has conferred to federal district courts original jurisdiction over "all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 1331. The most obvious example of a case arising under federal law is where a plaintiff pleads a cause of action that is created by federal law. See Merrell Dow Pharm. Inc. v. Thompson^ also Grable & Mfq., 545 U.S. claim need Sons not Metal Prods., Inc. 312 (2005). However, 308, be district alleging a created court's 478 U.S. 804, 814 (1986); see Darue a by federal law to jurisdiction. claim may still Enq^g & plaintiff's A original state-law v. invoice the complaint invoke federal jurisdiction if "a well-pleaded complaint establishes . . . that the plaintiff's right to relief necessarily depends on resolution of a substantial question of federal law." Empire Healthchoice Assurance, Inc. v. McVeigh, 547 U.S. 677, 690 (2006) (quoting Franchise Tax Bd. of Cal. v. Constr. Laborers Vacation Trust for S. Cal., 463 U.S. 1, 27-28 (1983)). While not an automatic grant of jurisdiction, a state-law claim may fall under the original jurisdiction of federal district courts if the court must interpret an important federal law when deciding whether a plaintiff is entitled to relief. Id. The Supreme Court has crafted a two-part test for determining whether interpretation of a a state-law federal claim law that requires triggers federal jurisdiction. First, the state—law claim must require the resolution of a substantial and disputed question of federal law. Grable, 545 U.S. at 314; Adventure Outdoors, 552 F.3d at 1295. Second, a district court must not upset "any congressionally approved balance of federal and state judicial responsibilities" in adjudicating the dispute. Grable, 545 U.S. at 314; Adventure Outdoors, 552 F.3d at 1295. The Supreme Court has noted that it is a slim category of cases that will meet this test. Empire, 547 U.S. at 701. In determining whether a claim requires the resolution of a substantial and disputed question of federal law, the Supreme Court has looked to whether interpretation of the federal issue state-law would claim. Id. resolve In an essential fact, the element of interpretation the of a federal statute in Grable was the "only legal or factual issue contested in the case." Id. Also, a federal question is substantial and important where "its resolution is both dispositive numerous of the other case cases." and would Empire, 547 be controlling U.S. at 700. in In addition, the Supreme Court has looked to the interest of the federal government in a proper and consistent interpretation of the federal issue. Grable, 545 U.S. at 315. To assess whether asserting jurisdiction would upset the balance of federal and state responsibilities, the Supreme Court has considered the frequency that state—law issues find will be decided jurisdiction. warranted if it in Id. would federal Federal result court should the jurisdiction in traditional court is not state-law issues being routinely litigated in federal courts. Also, the Supreme Court has looked at whether a state court is competent to interpret and apply any relevant federal law when adjudicating a traditionally state-law claim. Empire, 547 U.S. at 701. Both Grable and Empire illuminate the distinctions between substantial and unsubstantial federal questions. In Grable, the plaintiff initiated an action to quiet title to real property purchased by the defendant at an IRS tax delinquency sale. 545 U.S. at 310-11. The IRS served plaintiff with notice, via certified mail, that it was seizing his property. at 311. The plaintiff filed the quiet—title action in state court, arguing that the sale was ineffective § 6335(a), because the required that governing statute, 26 U.S.C. he be personally served with notice. Id. Defendant removed the case to federal court, asserting because that federal resolution of question the case jurisdiction depended existed on the interpretation of the federal statute. Id. After crafting the two—part test, the Supreme Court held that the district court properly exercised federal jurisdiction. Id. The Court noted that "[t]he meaning of the federal tax provision is an important issue of federal law that sensibly belongs in a federal court." Id. at 315. In addition, the Court observed that the federal government has a strong interest in preserving its ability to collect delinquent taxes by seizing and selling real property. Id. Also, the plaintiff's right to relief turned on only the resolution of a singular legal issue—the interpretation of the federal statute. Id. The interpretation of the federal question was not a fact-bound determination, and "was both dispositive of the case and would be controlling in numerous other cases." Empire, 547 U.S. at 700 (discussing Grable). In Empire, the plaintiff was an insurance carrier that managed a health plan for federal employees, making it subject to the Federal Employees Health Benefits Act ("FEHBA"), 5 U.S.C. §§ 8901-8914. 547 U.S. at 683. The defendant, an insured under the health plan, negotiated a settlement with the parties responsible for his injuries after he received payment from the insurer under the plan's terms. Id. The insurer filed suit in federal court seeking reimbursement for medical care provided under the terms of the plan. The defendant argued that the federal court lacked subject matter jurisdiction because the cause of action was for breach of contract—a state-law claim. The plaintiff asserted that federal question jurisdiction was proper because a determination of plaintiff's right to relief depended on an interpretation of the FEHBA, which required the application of federal common law. In Empire, the Supreme Court applied the Grable test and found that federal question jurisdiction did not exist. The Court observed that the controversy in Empire concerned a settlement agreement between private parties, not an action by a government agency. Id. at 700. Also, the Court noted that resolution of the federal question in Empire would be "fact-bound and situation-specific," rather than the pure issue of law presented in Grable. Empire, 547 U.S. at 700. Therefore, resolution of the federal question in Empire would not have the same conclusory effect on other similar cases. Id. In addition, the Court was concerned that exercising federal jurisdiction in Empire may upset the delicate federal-state balance envisioned by Congress by moving personal injury claims, typically litigated in state courts, to federal courts. Id. While this case lies somewhere in between Grable and Empire, the factors outlined by the Supreme Court place it far closer to Empire. An analysis of the factors as they relate to this case indicate 10 that Plaintiffs' right to relief does not "necessarily depend[] on resolution of a substantial question of federal law." Empire, 547 U.S. at 690. A simple interpretation of whether Defendants violated a federal issue in statute this assessing resolution or case, but only Plaintiffs' of these regulation one negligence claims is not the dispositive analytical step toward based involves claims. Ultimate substantial issues of state law, a task best left to state courts. This is far from the singular dispositive issue of federal law presented in Grable, where the federal issue was "the only legal or factual issue contested in the case." 545 U.S. at 315. Also, it is unlikely that this Court's interpretation of the relevant statutes and regulations would be either dispositive in this case or controlling in many others. Unlike Grable, this Court would be required to make several determinations based on facts unique to this case. For example. Plaintiffs' theories of negligence also rely on a multitude of state laws. As a result, any decision by the Court with respect to the federal statutes and regulations may ultimately play little part in determining the negligence of any single Defendant. Therefore, this Court's resolution of the controversy 11 presently before it is unlikely to be controlling in other cases because of the factually sensitive nature of the inquiry. Finally, while the Federal Government does have some interest in the outcome of this case, the Government's interest here is significantly less that its interest in Grable. In this case, the dispute is exclusively between private parties and chiefly concerns the negligence of numerous parties based on a variety of theories. Again, this stands in stark contrast to Grable, where the dispute "centered on the action of a federal agency (IRS) and its compatibility with a federal statute." Adventure Outdoors, 552 F.3d at 1296. This case also fails the second prong of the Grable test because allowing Defendants to remove this case to federal court would upset the "congressionally approved balance of federal and state judicial responsibilities." 545 U.S. at 315. The Supreme Court has been explicit in addressing the responsibilities balance of federal relating to and negligence state judicial claims invoking federal law: [A] complaint alleging a violation of a federal statute as an element of a state cause of action, when Congress has determined that there should be no private, federal cause of action for the violation, does not state a claim "arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States." 12 Merrell, 478 § 1331)). U.S. 804, Allowing 817 (1986) Defendants (quoting to 28 remove U.S.C. Plaintiffs' straightforward negligence claims to federal court based on a possibility federal law that would their disturb resolution the balance might touch articulated upon by the Supreme Court by allowing a broad category of traditionally state-law claims to be brought in a federal forum. See Empire, 547 U.S. at 700 (expressing concern that permitting personal injury claims to be removed would upset delicate federal-state balance envisioned by Congress). For all reservations of these about its reasons, power to this Court has adjudicate serious Plaintiffs' claims. Because Defendants have failed to meet their burden of establishing federal jurisdiction, this Court must grant Plaintiff s Motion to Remand and return this case to the State Court of Chatham County, Georgia.^ CONCLUSION After careful consideration. Plaintiffs' Motion to Remand to State Court (Doc. 6) is GRANTED and this case is REMANDED to the State Court of Chatham County, Georgia. Because this case is remanded to the State Court, all ^ Plaintiff withdrew the request for attorney's fees included in their Motion to Remand. (Doc. 69.) Therefore, the Court will not discuss Plaintiff's entitlement to fees in this case. 13 pending motions (Doc. 39; Doc. 47) are DISMISSED AS MOOT, The Clerk of Court is DIRECTED to close this case. SO ORDERED this ^ /— day of September 2017. WILLIAM T. MOORE, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT SOUTHERN 14 DISTRICT OF GEORGIA

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