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Leon v. Travelers Lloyds of Texas Insurance Co.

United States District Court, Fifth Circuit

October 23, 2013

CRISFORO DE LEON, Plaintiff,
v.
TRAVELERS LLOYDS OF TEXAS INSURANCE COMPANY, et al, Defendants.

ORDER TO REMAND

MICAELA ALVAREZ, District Judge.

Pending before the Court is the self-styled "Plaintiff's Opposed Motion for Remand, " which Crisforo De Leon ("Plaintiff") filed on September 20, 2013.[1] Ginger Marie Gayski and Travelers Lloyds of Texas Insurance Company ("Defendants") responded on October 10, 2013.[2]

After considering the removal, motion for remand, response, and the relevant authorities, the Court finds that Defendants fail to carry the heavy burden of establishing improper joinder, and that the parties in this case are non-diverse. Thus the Court lacks jurisdiction, and REMANDS the case to State court.

I. Background

On March 29, 2012, hailstorms swept South Texas, and Plaintiff suffered damages to his property, for which Plaintiff filed insurance claims.[3] On July 26, 2013, Plaintiff sued Defendants in State court, alleging inter alia breach of contract, negligence, and violations of Chapters 541 and 542 of the Texas Insurance Code.[4] On August 30, 2013, Defendants removed to this Court, asserting subject matter jurisdiction due to improper joinder of insurance adjuster Ginger Marie Gayski, the only non-diverse defendant.[5]

II. Improper Joinder Analysis

Standards for Remand and Joinder

The Court does not have subject matter jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. ยง1332 unless the parties are completely diverse and the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000.[6] In this case the parties do not dispute the amount in controversy, so the Court will address only the dispute over diversity. The Court notes that "doubts regarding whether removal jurisdiction is proper should be resolved against federal jurisdiction."[7] Moreover, the Fifth Circuit has described the doctrine of improper joinder as "a narrow exception to the rule of complete diversity, and the burden of persuasion on a party claiming improper joinder is a heavy one."[8] "[T]he Court must resolve all ambiguities of state law in favor of the non-removing party."[9]

When considering whether a party was improperly joined, "[t]he court may conduct a Rule 12(b)(6)-type analysis, looking initially at the allegations of the complaint to determine whether the complaint states a claim under state law against the in-state defendant."[10] The Court "determin[es] removal jurisdiction on the basis of claims in the state court complaint as it exists at the time of removal."[11] In conducting the 12(b)(6)-type analysis in the improper joinder context, the Court evaluates the petition under the state-court pleading standards, [12] by which the pleading must state a cause of action and give fair notice of the relief sought.[13] The Supreme Court of Texas has stated:

"In determining whether a cause of action was pled, plaintiff's pleadings must be adequate for the court to be able, from an examination of the plaintiff's pleadings alone, to ascertain with reasonable certainty and without resorting to information aliunde the elements of plaintiff's cause of action and the relief sought with sufficient information upon which to base a judgment."[14]

Plaintiff's Pleadings

The Court will now assess whether Plaintiff has alleged Ms. Gayski violated the Texas Insurance Code in accordance with Texas pleading standards. Plaintiff alleged in his Original Petition, "The estimate written by TRAVELERS' adjuster, Defendant GAYSKI, failed to include all of the clearly visible damages, did not include a reasonable basis to deny any portion of the claim, and was a pretext for the underpayment of the claim. GAYSKI spent a short time at Plaintiff's home on the day of the inspection, and failed to reasonably investigate the damage and honestly evaluate the repair costs, misrepresenting the extent and causation of the damage, the nature of the applicable coverage, and the insured's right to recover damage costs under the applicable insurance coverage."[15] Plaintiff alleged these acts constituted violations of Texas Insurance Code Chapters 541 and 542, and asked for judgment against Defendant Travelers Lloyds. Clearly, Plaintiff has met Texas' notice pleading standards by providing a short statement sufficient to give fair notice of the claim involved as to Ms. Gayski.[16]

Defendants' Objections

However, Defendants object that Plaintiff's allegations against Ms. Gayski fail to state a claim under Texas law, on three grounds: Plaintiff fails to bring a claim against Ms. Gayski personally, Plaintiff fails to plead with the requisite specificity, and Plaintiff lacks standing to bring a claim on behalf of the ...


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