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Jefferson v. Collins

United States District Court, E.D. Texas, Texarkana Division

September 27, 2019

ROSE M. JEFFERSON, individually and as surviving parent of HOWARD JEFFERSON, JR., ROSELYN JEFFERSON, individually and as surviving daughter of HOWARD JEFFERSON, JR., DEMETRA WYSINGER, as Next Friend and Nominated Administrator of Estate under Arkansas Law, by Plaintiffs, as heirs,
v.
RUSSELL COLLINS, CITY OF TEXARKANA, TEXAS INDUSTRIAL DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION, THE CITY OF TEXARKANA, TEXAS, and BOWIE COUNTY, TEXAS

          ORDER

          ROBERT W. SCHROEDER III UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Rosie Jefferson, Roselyn Jefferson and Demetra Wysinger (collectively, the “Plaintiffs”) filed the above-captioned action alleging Defendant Russell Collins negligently operated his motor vehicle, causing the death of their relative Howard Jefferson, Jr. Before the Court is Defendant Russell Collins’s Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket No. 51). The action was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Caroline M. Craven pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636. On June 18, 2019, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation (Docket No. 66), recommending Defendant Collins’s motion be granted and that the cause of action against him be dismissed with prejudice. Plaintiffs filed objections (Docket No. 67) on July 2, 2019. The Court conducts a de novo review of the objected-to portions of the Magistrate Judge’s recommended findings and conclusions.

         BACKGROUND

         On May 7, 2016, Russell Collins struck and killed Howard Jefferson, Jr. (“Decedent”) with his vehicle while Mr. Jefferson crossed New Boston Road in Texarkana, Texas. See Docket No. 51 Ex. A-1. Mr. Jefferson is survived by his spouse, Jabreeka Mitchell Jefferson; his mother, Rosie Mae Jefferson; and his daughter, Roselyn Joy Jefferson.

         State Court Proceedings

         On November 3, 2016, Jabreeka Jefferson filed an Application for Letters of Administration with the Probate Court of Bowie County Texas. Docket No. 51 Ex. A-1. On April 3, 2017, Plaintiffs, along with Mr. Jefferson’s brother, filed a Motion to Contest the Application to Probate Estate of Howard Jefferson, Jr., in Bowie County, Texas. Id. Ex. A-2. The Probate Court transferred the case to the County Court at Law of Bowie County (“Bowie County Court”), which held a hearing on the motion. Following the hearing, the Bowie County Court denied the motion and appointed a third party, Randy Moore, to serve as the dependent administrator of the estate. Id. Ex. A-3. That order also identified Jabreeka Jefferson and Roselyn Jefferson as heirs to the estate. Id.

         Plaintiffs and Mr. Jefferson’s brother also filed a counter-application for the administration of the estate seeking the appointment of Plaintiff Demetra Wysinger as administrator, id. Ex. A-7, and a Second Amended Motion to Vacate and Void Judgments and Orders under Rule 60 in the Bowie County Court, id. Ex. A-8. The parties’ sought to void the order appointing Mr. Moore as a Dependent Administrator, alleging several due process violations including insufficient service and denial of an opportunity to be heard in the hearing appointing Mr. Moore as dependent administrator. Id. Ex. A-8.

         Defendant Collins’s motor vehicle insurer, Progressive County Mutual Insurance Company (“Progressive”) offered a settlement for claims arising from the accident with Jabreeka Jefferson and Mr. Moore. Progressive offered the policy limits of $50, 007 to settle “all wrongful death beneficiary and estate claims, demands and liens.” Id. Ex. A-6. In a letter dated November 11, 2016, Progressive requested that Jabreeka Jefferson return a letter agreeing to the settlement and specifying how the $50, 007 would be split among the “three wrongful death beneficiaries (Jabreeka Jefferson, Roselyn Jefferson, and Rosie Jefferson) and the estate.” Id. The letter also stated that each beneficiary would need to sign an individual release. Id. Progressive sent a second letter in February 2018 with the same offer, again requesting a release from all three wrongful death beneficiaries (Jabreeka Mitchell, Roselyn Joy Jefferson and Rosie Mae Jefferson). Id. Ex. A-9.

         Jabreeka Jefferson’s attorney responded to Progressive’s settlement offer, stating that as the Administrator, Mr. Moore “would be the one to bring and prosecute any wrongful death action, ” and therefore would be the appropriate person to sign the release. Id. Ex. A-11. Jabreeka’s attorney further explained that by placing funds into the court’s registry, Progressive “would be relieved from potential liability to pay the single fund more than once.” Id. Ex. A-13.

         Progressive paid the settlement proceeds into the Bowie County Texas Court Registry as the “Full and Final Settlement of all Bodily Injury Claims.” Id. Ex. A-15. Jabreeka Jefferson and Randy Moore then entered a “Full Release of All Claims with Indemnity (Wrongful Death and Survival), ” releasing Progressive and Defendant Collins of all claims arising out of Howard Jefferson’s death. Id. Ex. A-16.

         On October 24, 2018, the Bowie County Court entered an order authorizing distribution of the estate assets. Id. Ex. A-17. Based on the court’s previous determination of heirship, Jabreeka Jefferson and Roselyn Jefferson each received one half of the remainder of the estate after claims and bills were paid. Id.

         On October 25, 2018, counsel for Rosie Jefferson, Roselyn Jefferson and Demetra Wysinger appealed the order. Id. Ex. A-18. Plaintiffs also filed an appeal, arguing that the Bowie County Court’s exercise of jurisdiction was improper. The Sixth Appellate District Court of Texas at Texarkana dismissed both appeals for want of prosecution. Id. Ex. A-19; Estate of Howard Jefferson, Jr., No. 06-18-00100-CV (Tex.App.–Texarkana July 12, 2019).

         Federal Court Proceedings

         On May 7, 2018, while the case was pending in the Bowie County Court, Rosie Jefferson and Demetra Wysinger, as next friend of Roselyn Jefferson, filed this action in the Northern District of Texas. Docket No. 3. The Northern District transferred the case to the Eastern District of Texas, Docket No. 29, and Roselyn Jefferson later joined the action, Docket No. 11. Plaintiffs filed their Amended Complaint against Russell Collins, City of Texarkana, Texas Industrial Corporation (the ...


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