Knight et al v. Smith et al
ORDER granting in part and denying in part 6 Motion to Remand. Plaintiffs' claims against Defendant Byron L. Smith shall be severed and immediately remanded to the Circuit Court of Covington County, Mississippi. The Court will retain Plaintiffs' claims against Safeway Insurance Company. Signed by District Judge Keith Starrett on 7/3/2017 (srd)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF MISSISSIPPI
TERRIANA KNIGHT &
CIVIL ACTION NO. 2:17-CV-54-KS-MTP
BYRON L. SMITH &
SAFEWAY INSURANCE COMPANY
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
This matter is before the Court on Plaintiffs’ Motion to Remand . For the reasons below,
the motion is granted in part and denied in part. Plaintiffs’ claims against Defendant Byron L.
Smith (“Smith”) shall be severed and remanded immediately to the Circuit Court of Covington
County, Mississippi. The Court will retain Plaintiffs’ claims against Defendant Safeway Insurance
Terrianna Knight and Terry Knight (“Plaintiffs”) initiated this action in the Circuit Court
of Covington County, Mississippi on January 26, 2016. Defendant Safeway filed a Notice of
Removal  in this Court on April 24, 2017. Plaintiffs filed their Motion to Remand  on May
18, 2017. The Motion  has been briefed by both parties and is now ripe for consideration.
This action arises out of a motor vehicle collision between Plaintiff Terriana Knight and
Defendant Smith on January 24, 2016. At the time of the collision, Plaintiffs allege that Smith was
uninsured and that they held an uninsured motorist policy issued by Safeway. (Compl. [4-1] at ¶¶
14, 22.) In their Complaint [4-1], Plaintiffs state separate claims against Smith for negligence
related to the motor vehicle collision and against Safeway for various wrongs, including bad faith,
economic duress, fraud, and negligence, related to Safeway’s alleged failure to pay claims under
the uninsured motorist policy.1
“Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction; without jurisdiction conferred by statute,
they lack the power to adjudicate claims.” In re FEMA Trailer Formaldehyde Prods. Liab. Litig.,
668 F.3d 281, 286 (5th Cir. 2012) (citing Kokkonen v. Guar. Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375,
377, 114 S. Ct. 1673, 128 L. Ed. 2d 391 (1994); Stockman v. Fed. Election Comm'n, 138 F.3d 144,
151 (5th Cir. 1998)). “Defendants may remove an action on the basis of diversity of citizenship if
there is complete diversity between all named plaintiffs and all named defendants, and no
defendant is a citizen of the forum State.” Lincoln Property Co. v. Roche, 546 U.S. 81, 84, 126 S.
Ct. 606, 163 L. Ed. 2d 415 (2005). In this case, Plaintiffs and Defendant Smith are all citizens of
Mississippi, while Defendant Safeway is a citizen of Illinois. As a result, there is not complete
diversity of citizenship sufficient for diversity jurisdiction. However, Defendants argue that the
claims against Smith and Safeway are fraudulently misjoined. (Notice of Removal  at ¶ VII.)
In determining if claims are fraudulently misjoined, the Court asks whether “there is a
reasonable possibility that the state court would find joinder proper.” Palermo v. Letourneau
Techs., Inc., 542 F. Supp. 2d 499, 524 (S.D. Miss. 2008). If there is such a reasonable possibility,
the Plaintiff’s choice of forum prevails and the Court will remand. Id. If there is not, the Court will
sever the claims and remand those over which it does not have jurisdiction. Id.
Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 20(a) allows parties to be joined as defendants in the
same action “if there is asserted against them . . . any right to relief in respect of or arising out of
the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences, and if any question of
It is telling that Plaintiffs’ claim of negligence against Smith is not listed as a numbered count of the Complaint while
Plaintiffs’ claims against Safeway are listed in numbered counts. (Compl. at ¶ 17.)
law or fact common to all defendants will arise in the action.” Miss. R. Civ. P. 20(a) (emphasis
added). To satisfy the “same transaction or occurrence” portion of Miss. R. Civ. P. 20, there must
be a “distinct litigable event linking the parties.” Miss. Farm Bureau Fed’n v. Roberts, 927 So. 2d
739, 741 (Miss. 2006) (citing Wyeth-Ayerst Labs. v. Caldwell, 905 So. 2d 1205, 1208 (Miss.
To determine if a distinct litigable event linking the parties exists, the courts should
consider: whether a finding of liability for one plaintiff essentially establishes a finding for
all plaintiffs, indicating that proof common to all plaintiffs is significant. The
appropriateness of joinder decreases as the need for additional proof increases. If plaintiffs
allege a single, primary wrongful act, the proof will be common to all plaintiffs; however
separate proof will be required where there are several wrongful acts by several different
actors. The need for separate proof is lessened only where the different wrongful acts are
similar in type and character and occur close in time and/or place. Also, when determining
if joinder is appropriate, it is important to consider whether the proof presented to the jury
would be confusing due to the multiplicity of facts.
Hegwood v. Williamson, 949 So. 2d 728, 730-31 (Miss. 2007) (formatting and citations omitted).
This reasoning has also been applied to joinder of defendants under Miss. R. Civ. P. 20(a). See,
e.g., Palermo, 549 F. Supp. 2d at 524, Hegwood, 949 So. 2d at 730.
In Hegwood v. Williamson, the Mississippi Supreme Court held that claims against a driver
and an insurer arising out of an automobile accident and a subsequent unpaid insurance claim
should have been severed because the claims arose out of separate litigable events and involved
different issues of law and fact. Id. at 731. The court reasoned that a negligence claim against a
driver and a bad faith claim against an insurer, though related to the same accident, allege
wrongdoing occurring at different times and require different witnesses and evidence. Id.
Like in Hegwood, Plaintiffs assert claims arising out of separate litigable events. Plaintiffs’
claim of negligence against Defendant Smith arises out of alleged wrongdoing at the time of the
motor vehicle collision and will require evidence of what occurred at the time of the collision.
Plaintiffs’ claims against Defendant Safeway arise out of the alleged actions of Safeway during
the formation of any contract related to the uninsured motorist policy and the alleged actions of
Safeway in response to the claim filed by Plaintiffs under that policy. Those claims will require a
great deal of evidence that is unrelated to the collision. The claims involve different actors and
different legal standards. The claims against Defendants arise out of different litigable events. As
a result, the first requirement of Miss. R. Civ. P. 20(a) is not satisfied. There is no reasonable
possibility that the Mississippi courts would find joinder proper; the claims against Defendants are
fraudulently misjoined and should be severed.
Plaintiffs make an additional argument that claims against Defendants are somehow
properly joined because Miss. R. Civ. P. 57(b)(2) allows parties to seek a declaratory judgment
against insurers who have denied that a contract covers a party’s claim against an insured. (Br.
Supp. Pls’ Mot. Remand at p. 8.) The Court rejects this argument outright for two reasons. First,
Plaintiffs do not seek a declaratory judgment against Safeway anywhere in their Complaint.
Second, whether the Plaintiffs have a right to bring a declaratory judgment action against Safeway
does not resolve the issue at hand, which is whether the claims against Defendants Smith and
Safeway are properly joined.
IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that the Motion to Remand  is
granted in part and denied in part. Plaintiffs’ claim against Defendant Byron L. Smith shall be
severed and immediately remanded to the Circuit Court of Covington County, Mississippi. The
Court will retain Plaintiffs’ claims against Safeway Insurance Company.
SO ORDERED AND ADJUDGED, on this, the 3rd day of July, 2017.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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