United States District Court, E.D. Texas, Texarkana Division
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,
RUSSELL COLLINS, CITY OF TEXARKANA, TEXAS INDUSTRIAL DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION, THE CITY OF TEXARKANA, TEXAS, and BOWIE COUNTY, TEXAS
W. SCHROEDER III UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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 ...