United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Savannah Division
JAMES R. MELTON, as surviving spouse of Wendy Riner Melton, deceased, Plaintiff,
GREAT WEST CASUALTY COMPANY; GEORGIA FREIGHTWAYS CORPORATION; CMA-CGM AMERICA, LLC; SOUTH ATLANTIC CONSOLIDATED CHASSIS POOL LLC; CONSOLIDATED CHASSIS MANAGEMENT LLC; INTERPOOL, INC., d/b/a Trac Intermodal; DIRECT CHASSISLINK, INC.; and DAVID J. GIBBONS; Defendants.
WILLIAM T. MOORE, JR., UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
case is 1 of 6 based on a horrible vehicle accident that
occurred along Interstate-16 at the interchange with
Interstate-95 caused by a tractor trailer colliding with
stopped traffic. (Doc. 6 at 2.) The tractor trailer was
being driven by Defendant Gibbons, whom was employed by
Defendant Georgia Freightways Corporation. (Doc. 1, Attach. 1
at 24.) Defendant Great West Casualty Company provided
insurance coverage for Defendant Georgia Freightways.
(Id. at 23.) The remaining defendants all had some
connection to the shipping container. (Id. at
for Plaintiff elected to file six separate complaints in the
State Court of Chatham County, one for each victim, based on
the single set of events surrounding the accident. (Doc. 6 at
2-3.) Defendants subseguently invoiced this Court's
federal question jurisdiction and removed those cases,
contending that resolution of the plaintiffs' claims
would require the interpretation of federal statutes and
regulations. (Doc. 1; CV416-274, Doc. 1; CV416-276, Doc. 1;
CV416-278, Doc. 1; CV416-280, Doc. 1; CV416-281, Doc. 1.)
Following standard procedures, the Clerk of Court assigned
five of those cases to this Court (Doc. 1; CV416-274;
CV416-278; CV416-280; CV416-281) and one to the Honorable
Lisa Godbey Wood (CV416-276).
plaintiffs filed timely Motions to Remand and for Attorney
Fees in each case. (Doc. 6; CV416-274, Doc. 5; CV416-276,
Doc. 5; CV416-278, Doc. 6; CV416-280, Doc. 7; CV416-281, Doc.
5.) Defendants filed responses in opposition to remand (Doc.
10; CV416-274, Doc. 9; CV416-275, Doc. 10; CV416-276, Doc. 9;
CV416-278, Doc. 10; CV416-280, Doc. 8; CV416-281, Doc. 9),
and numerous sur-replies and sur-sur replies followed in most
of these cases. Before this Court could wade through the
numerous filings with respect to remand, Judge Wood remanded
the case assigned to her, but denied the plaintiffs'
request for attorney fees. (CV416-276, Doc. 28.) In her
order, Judge Wood concluded that the plaintiffs' claims
neither arose under nor involved the interpretation of
federal law. (Id. at 4-10.)
at this point when the cases pending before this Court began
to take a rather strange turn. On January 27, 2017, Plaintiff
filed a Supplemental Memorandum in Support of Motion to
Remand. (Doc. 29.) In that filing, Plaintiff argues that
Judge Wood's order remanding the related case is now
controlling in all cases pending before this Court.
(Id. at 2.) Plaintiff bases this argument on the
notion that collateral estoppel applies to preclude any
different outcome in the related cases. (Id. at 2.)
Therefore, Plaintiff "respectfully urges that the Court
enter an order consistent with Judge Wood's order."
(Id. at 2.) The Court is unsure as to why, but
Defendants did not file any response to Plaintiff's
Court was surprised by Plaintiff s position that Judge
Wood's ruling would be binding in this and the remaining
related cases. No independent jurist assessing a case before
him appreciates being told that another judge has
conclusively resolved a dispositive legal issue by issuing a
ruling in a contemporaneously filed case. Feelings aside,
this Court harbors serious doubts whether it is bound by
Judge Wood's decision.
importantly, Judge Wood's case was not prior litigation,
but a contemporaneously filed case. In other words, the cases
pending before this Court are not subsequent cases. The
Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals recognizes that
[b]oth issue preclusion and claim preclusion operate across a
two-lawsuit continuum. First, parties litigate a dispute to a
final judgment on the merits. Second, in a later, separate
suit between the parties, one party brings to court evidence
of an earlier judgment and contends that issue or claim
preclusion should apply to prevent her opponent from
litigating a previously decided issue or cause of action.
Graham v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., 857 F.3d 1169,
__ (11th Cir. 2017). Therefore, the Court has serious
reservations concerning the applicability of collateral
estoppel because no prior decision existed at the time
Plaintiff filed this case.
event, the Court is uncomfortable applying collateral
estoppel in this case without first hearing from Defendants.
Accordingly, Defendants are DIRECTED to file a response to
Plaintiff's arguments concerning collateral estoppel
within twenty days from the date of this order. The
Defendants may file their response either collectively or
course, the need for further briefing would be obviated
should Defendants concede that remand would be appropriate in
this case. Despite being skeptical that it is bound by Judge
Wood's ruling, the Court recognizes that she is a jurist
of the highest degree possessed of sound legal reasoning with
whom the Eleventh Circuit rarely disagrees. The Court is not
deciding this issue, but must point out that continued
dickering over remand might only result in Defendants
increasing their exposure to an award of attorney fees.
final note: the Court must point out to counsel for Plaintiff
that this situation is a mess of his own making. If these
cases are so similar as to warrant collateral estoppel, the
Court can discern little reason why counsel elected to split
it into six different cases. Moreover, once these cases were
removed and split between two different judges, counsel could
have avoided receiving decisions on differing schedules by
either seeking consolidation or the transfer of all cases to
one judge. Plaintiff failed to take steps to ensure his
desired result and must now live with that