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Coffman v. Dutch Farms, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division

February 24, 2017

FLOYD COFFMAN and JEAN COFFMAN, citizens of the State of Indiana, Plaintiffs,
v.
DUTCH FARMS, INC. and BRIAN GARNER, a citizen of the State of Indiana, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          RUDY LOZANO, Judge United States District Court

         This matter is before the Court on: (1) Plaintiffs' Motion to Remand, filed on May 10, 2016 (DE #7); (2) Defendants' Motion for Leave to Amend the Notice of Removal, filed on July 1, 2016 (DE #15); and (3) Defendants' Motion for Leave to File a Surreply in Opposition to Plaintiffs' Motion to Remand, filed on July 1, 2016 (DE #16). For the reasons set forth below, the Defendants' Motion for Leave to Amend the Notice of Removal is DENIED, and Defendants' Motion for Leave to File a Surreply in Opposition to Plaintiffs' Motion is DENIED. Furthermore, the Plaintiffs' Motion to Remand is GRANTED and this case is REMANDED back to the Lake Superior Court of Lake County, Indiana. Additionally, Plaintiffs are AWARDED their just costs and actual expenses, including attorneys' fees, as a result of the removal.

         BACKGROUND

         On March 24, 2016, Plaintiffs Floyd and Jean Coffman filed their complaint for negligence against Defendants Dutch Farms, Inc. (“Dutch Farms”) and Brian Garner (“Garner”) in the Lake Superior Court. (DE #4). The Plaintiffs' complaint alleges that Dutch Farms was “negligent and/or reckless” when it breached its “duty to use reasonable care in the operation, entrustment, inspection, maintenance, and repair of the tractor-trailer, and in the hiring, training, retention, and/or supervision of the drivers chosen to operate it, ” in violation of Parts 390, 391, 392, 393, 395, and 396 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (“FMCSRs”), the provisions of which were adopted by reference as Indiana law. (Id. ¶¶ 7-10.). See I.C. § 8-2.1-24-18. Plaintiffs have alleged that Dutch Farms was negligent and reckless (Count I), that Dutch Farms is vicariously liable for the negligent and reckless conduct of its employee, Garner (Count II), and that Garner is liable for his own negligent and reckless conduct (Count III).

         The Defendants were served with the summons and complaint on April 5, 2016. On May 4, 2016, Defendants filed a notice of removal, alleging that this Court maintains jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and 28 U.S.C. § 1441(c). According to Defendants, the Plaintiffs' complaint alleges violations of federal law. (DE #1, ¶ 5). Specifically, the Plaintiffs allege numerous breaches of duty under the FMCSRs, particularly Parts 390, 391, 392, 393, 395 and 396. (Id. ¶ 4).

         The Plaintiffs filed the instant motion to remand on May 10, 2016. (DE #7). Plaintiffs allege that no federal claim under the FMCSRs was ever raised in their complaint, and that such a claim could not be made because the FMCSRs do not create a private right of action for personal injuries. Plaintiffs further allege that the state law claims pled in their complaint do not implicate any federal issues. Plaintiffs also seek attorneys' fees and costs incurred as a result of the removal, claiming that “this case was never removable and defendants lacked an objectively reasonable basis to remove this case.” (DE #7 at 2).

         The Defendants filed a response in opposition to Plaintiffs' Motion to Remand on June 10, 2016 (DE #13), to which the Plaintiffs filed a reply in further support of their motion on June 20, 2016. (DE #14). Defendants then filed a Motion for Leave to Amend the Notice of Removal and a Motion for Leave to File a Surreply in Opposition to Plaintiffs' Motion to Remand on July 1, 2016. (DE ##15, 16). Plaintiffs filed responses in opposition to both of these motions on July 7, 2016 (DE ##17, 18). Defendants filed a reply in support of the motion for leave to amend on July 13, 2016. (DE #19). Accordingly, the Plaintiffs' Motion to Remand, Defendants' Motion for Leave to Amend the Notice of Removal, and Defendants' Motion for Leave to File a Surreply in Opposition to Plaintiffs' Motion to Remand are ripe for adjudication.

         DISCUSSION

         A case may be removed from state court to federal court if it is based on statutorily permissible grounds and if it is timely. Boyd v. Phoenix Funding Corp., 366 F.3d 524, 529 (7th Cir. 2004). See also 28 U.S.C. § 1441; 28 U.S.C. § 1446. The Seventh Circuit has directed that, “[c]ourts should interpret the removal statute narrowly and presume that the plaintiff may choose his or her forum. Any doubt regarding jurisdiction should be resolved in favor of the states, and the burden of establishing federal jurisdiction falls on the party seeking removal.” Doe v. Allied-Signal, Inc., 985 F.2d 908, 911 (7th Cir. 1993)(citations omitted). The party seeking removal must demonstrate that removal is proper. Boyd, 366 at 529. When challenged, the party seeking federal jurisdiction bears the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that a case belongs in federal court. Meridian Sec. Ins. Co. v. Sadowski, 441 F.3d 536, 540-43 (7th Cir. 2006).

         A defendant can remove “any civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction.” 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). The district court has original jurisdiction over claims arising under federal law. 28 U.S.C. § 1331. “[T]he presence or absence of federal-question jurisdiction is governed by the ‘well-pleaded complaint rule, ' which provides that federal jurisdiction exists only when a federal question is presented on the face of the plaintiff's properly pleaded complaint.” Citadel Sec., LLC v. Chi. Bd. Options Exch., Inc., 808 F.3d 694, 701 (7th Cir. 2015)(citations omitted).

         A notice of removal must be filed “within 30 days after the receipt by the defendant, through service or otherwise, of a copy of the initial pleading setting forth the claim for relief upon which such action or proceeding is based….” 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b)(1). A plaintiff can move to remand within 30 days thereafter. 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). “In considering a motion for remand, the court must examine the plaintiffs' complaint at the time of the defendant's removal and assume the truth of all factual allegations contained within the original complaint.” Scouten v. MNL-FTS, LLC, 708 F.Supp.2d 729, 731 (N.D. Ill. 2010)(quotations and citation omitted).

         Plaintiffs' Motion to Remand

          Federal question jurisdiction arises where the well-pleaded complaint contains a federal cause of action or, alternatively, “requires resolution of a substantial question of federal law in dispute between the parties.” Baker v. Johnson & Johnson, 709 F.Supp.2d 677 (S.D. Ill. 2010)(quoting Franchise Ta Bde. Of State of Cal. v. Construction Laborers Vacation Trust for S. Cal., 463 U.S. 1, 13 (1983)).

         Here, only state law negligence claims are alleged; namely, claims that Dutch Farms was negligence and reckless, that Dutch Farms is vicariously liable for the negligence and recklessness of Garner, and that Garner is liable for his own negligence and recklessness. While the complaint does reference the FMCSRs, each of the sections of the FMCSRs referenced in the ...


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