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Melton v. Great West Casualty Co.

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Savannah Division

September 29, 2017

JAMES R. MELTON, as surviving spouse of Wendy Riner Melton, deceased, Plaintiff,



         Before the Court is Plaintiff James R. Melton's Motion to Remand. (Doc. 6.) For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff's Motion is GRANTED and this case is REMANDED to the State Court of Chatham County, Georgia. Because this case is remanded to the State Court, all pending motions (Doc. 41; Doc. 42) are DISMISSED AS MOOT. The Clerk of Court is DIRECTED to close this case.


         This case involves the tragic death of Wendy Riner Melton in a horrible vehicle accident caused by a tractor trailer colliding with stopped traffic along Interstate-16 at the interchange with Interstate-95. (Doc. 5 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 27-30.)

         In the complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Gibbons negligently operated the tractor trailer, which resulted in the collision. (Id. at 24.) Plaintiff supports this claim by citing various statutory and regulatory provisions that he alleges Defendant Gibbons violated. While most are Georgia statutes, Plaintiff does contend that Defendant Gibbons was "so impaired by fatigue or illness as to make it unsafe for him to begin or continue to operate the commercial motor vehicle in violation of 49 C.F.R. § 392.3, which is negligence as a matter of law." (Id.) Plaintiff also maintains that Defendant Gibbons "[v]iolated such additional provisions of [] the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations as may be determined through discovery and proven at trial." (Id. at 25.)

         Plaintiff also alleges that Defendant Georgia Freightways, Inc. was independently negligent based on several violations of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. (Id. at 25-26.) Plaintiff maintains that Defendants Direct Chassislink, Inc., South Atlantic Consolidated Chassis Pool LLC, and Interpool, Inc. are liable because Defendant Gibbons qualifies as their statutory employee by operation of several federal regulations setting forth requirements for intermodal equipment providers, motor carriers, and drivers operating intermodal equipment. (Io\ at 28-29.) Finally, Plaintiff contends that Defendant CMA-CGM (AMERICA), LLC is vicariously liable "as an ocean common carrier by virtue of 46 USC § 40102(6) (A) ." (Id. at 32.)

         Defendants removed this case from the State Court of Chatham County on the grounds that the complaint raised substantial questions of federal law, specifically whether Defendants violated the Shipping Act of 1984 or the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Regulations. (Doc. 1 SISI 10-11.) Defendants reason that because resolution of Plaintiff's negligence claims will require interpretation of federal statutes and regulations, this Court is empowered to adjudicate Plaintiff's claim under its federal question jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. § 1331. In his Motion to Remand, Plaintiff argues that the Shipping Act, Motor Carrier Act, and associated regulations do not create independent federal causes of action. (Doc. 6 at 5.) According to Plaintiff, reference to these federal sources does not operate to turn his basic state-law negligence claim into a substantial federal question sufficient to trigger this Court's jurisdiction. (Id.)



         In this case, Plaintiff filed a Supplemental Memorandum in Support of Motion to Remand. (Doc. 29.) In that filing, Plaintiff argues that this Court is bound by a previous ruling remanding a related case. (Id. at 2.) That case is one of six that involves the same facts and defendants. Those cases were all filed in state court around the same time, and also removed to federal court around the same time. The Clerk of Court assigned five of those cases to this Court, while one case was assigned to Judge Wood. Ultimately, Judge Wood granted the plaintiff's motion to remand and remanded that case to state court. (CV416-276, Doc. 28.) Plaintiff argues that collateral estoppel applies to preclude any different outcome in any of the related cases, including this one. (Doc. 29 at 2.) Therefore, Plaintiff "respectfully urge[s] that the Court enter an order consistent with Judge Wood's order." (Id.) After being directed to file a response, Defendants responded in opposition to Plaintiff's request. (Doc. 51.)

         After careful consideration, the Court easily concludes that collateral estoppel is inappropriate in this case. 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, 1214 (11th Cir. 2017). Judge Wood's case was not prior litigation, but a contemporaneously filed case. In other words, the case pending before this Court is not "a later, separate suit between the parties". Id. Accordingly, collateral estoppel does not operate to bar the Court from considering the merits of Plaintiff's Motion to Remand because no prior decision existed at the time Plaintiff filed this case.

         II. MOT ...

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