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Williams v. Brown

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Evansville Division

September 20, 2019

BARBARA C. WILLIAMS, BRIAN P. WILLIAMS, Plaintiffs,
v.
TODD J. BROWN, CINCINNATI INSURANCE COMPANY, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendants.

          ORDER DENYING MOTION TO REMAND, DENYING MOTION TO DISMISS, AND DIRECTING FURTHER PROCEEDINGS

          JAMES PATRICK HANLON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Barbara Williams and her husband, Brian Williams, brought this suit in state court after Ms. Williams was hit by a motor vehicle driven by Todd Brown. The United States removed the case to this Court and substituted itself as a defendant, certifying that Mr. Brown was a federal employee acting within the scope of his employment at the time of the accident. Plaintiffs have filed a motion to remand, the government has filed a motion for summary judgment, and the other defendant, Cincinnati Insurance Company, has filed a motion to dismiss. For the reasons that follow, all of those motions are DENIED.

         I. Facts and Background

         On October 6, 2016, Barbara Williams was hit by a motor vehicle as she crossed a street near the Federal Building in New Albany, Indiana. Dkt. 1-1 at 2 ¶ 5. The collision caused her physical injures and mental and emotional distress. Id. ¶ 7.

         On October 2, 2018, Plaintiffs sued Todd Brown-the driver of the vehicle-alleging that his negligence caused their injuries. Id. ¶¶ 6, 8-12. They also sued their insurance company, Cincinnati Insurance Company, alleging that Mr. Brown either did not have insurance or was underinsured so Cincinnati Insurance’s uninsured or underinsured motorist policies should cover their claim. Id. ¶¶ 18-22.

         On October 29, 2018, the United States removed the case to federal court. Dkt. 1. That same day, the government filed a Notice of Substitution of the United States as Defendant stating that Mr. Brown was an FBI agent, and at the time of the accident, he was “acting within the scope of his employment with the FBI” (the “Certification”). Dkt. 3 at 2. The government then substituted itself as a defendant in place of Mr. Brown under the Federal Employees Liability Reform and Tort Compensation Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2679 (the “Act”). Id. at 1.

         The next month, Plaintiffs filed a Motion for Remand and to Stay Proceedings, dkt. 16, the government filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on Failure to Exhaust Defense, dkt. 18, and Cincinnati Insurance filed a Motion to Dismiss, dkt. 21. Because these motions address the same set of facts, the Court addresses all three motions.

         II. Plaintiffs’ Motion to Remand or Stay

         A. Applicable Law

         “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 or the defendants, to the district court of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). “The party seeking removal has the burden of establishing federal jurisdiction, and federal courts should interpret the removal statute narrowly, resolving any doubt in favor of the plaintiff’s choice of forum in state court.” Schur v. L.A. Weight Loss Ctrs., Inc., 577 F.3d 752, 758 (7th Cir. 2009).

         B. Analysis

         The government removed this case under section 2679(d)(2) of the Act. Dkt. 1 ¶ 5. Plaintiffs have filed a motion to remand the case, arguing that if the Court decides that Mr. Brown acted outside the scope of his employment, the Court must remand the case back to state court. Dkt. 26 at 2. The government responds that whatever the Court’s ruling regarding the scope-of-employment issue, the case cannot be remanded because it filed the Certification. Dkt. 20 at 2-3.

         Under section 2679(d)(2), when the government certifies that a defendant was a federal employee acting within the scope of employment at the time of an accident, a “claim in a State court shall be removed . . . to the district court of the United States.” The government’s certification “shall conclusively establish scope of office or employment for purposes of removal.” Id.

         Even if the Court concludes that the government’s Certification was wrong, the case would remain in federal court. Osborn v. Haley, 549 U.S. 225, 241 (2007). Once removed, the Court cannot remand this case because ‚ÄúCongress gave district courts no authority to return cases to state courts ...


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