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Earnest v. Great West Casualty Co.

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

September 29, 2017

MARK EARNEST, as heir at law of Jerry Wayne Earnest, deceased, and as Co-Administrator of the Estate of Jerry Wayne Earnest, and JEFF EARNEST, as heir at law of Jerry Wayne Earnest, deceased, and as Co-Administrator of the Estate of Jerry Wayne Earnest, Plaintiffs,
v.
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;

          ORDER

          WILLIAM T. MOORE, JR .JUDGE

         Before the Court is Plaintiffs Mark Earnest and Jeff Earnest's Motion to Remand. (Doc. 6.) For the reasons that follow, Plaintiffs' Motion is GRANTED IN PART 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. 39; Doc, 47) are DISMISSED AS MOOT. The Clerk of Court is DIRECTED to close this case.

         BACKGROUND

         This case involves the tragic death of Jerry Wayne Earnest in a horrible vehicle accident caused by a tractor trailer colliding with stopped traffic along Interstate-16 at the interchange with Interstate-95. (Doc. 6 at 2.) The tractor trailer was being driven by Defendant Gibbons, whom was employed by Defendant Georgia Freightways Corporation. (Doc. 1 at 90-91.) Defendant Great West Casualty Company provided insurance coverage for Defendant Georgia Freightways. (Id. at 90.) The remaining defendants all had some connection to the shipping container. (Id. at 91-96.)

         In the complaint, Plaintiffs allege that Defendant Gibbons negligently operated the tractor trailer, which resulted in the collision, and that Defendant Georgia Freightways is responsible as Defendant Gibbons's employer. (Id. at 90-91.) Plaintiffs maintain 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. (Id. at 91.) Finally, Plaintiffs contend that Defendant CMA-CGM (AMERICA), LLC is vicariously liable "as an ocean common carrier by virtue of 4 6 USC § 40102(6)(A)." (Id. at 94.)

         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 M 9-10.) Defendants reason that because resolution of Plaintiffs' negligence claims will require interpretation of federal statutes and regulations, this Court is empowered to adjudicate Plaintiffs' claims under its federal question jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. § 1331. In his Motion to Remand, Plaintiffs argue that the Shipping Act, Motor Carrier Act, and associated regulations do not create independent federal causes of action. (Doc. 6 at 3-5.) According to Plaintiffs, 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.)

         ANALYSIS

         I. COLLATERAL ESTOPPEL

         In this case, Plaintiffs filed a Supplemental Memorandum in Support of Motion to Remand. (Doc. 31.) In that filing, Plaintiffs argue 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.) Plaintiffs argue that collateral estoppel applies to preclude any different outcome in any of the related cases, including this one. (Doc. 31 at 2.)Therefore, Plaintiffs "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 Plaintiffs' request. (Doc. 64.)

         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 Plaintiffs' Motion to Remand because no prior decision existed at the time Plaintiffs filed this case.

         II. MOTION TO REMAND

         A defendant who removes a case to federal court bears the burden of proving the propriety of federal jurisdiction. Adventure Outdoors, Inc. v. Bloomberg, 552 F.3d 1290, 1294 (11th Cir. 2008) (quoting Leonard v. Enter. Rent a Car, 279 F.3d 967, 972 (11th Cir. 2002)). If a district court has reservations as to the existence of federal jurisdiction, that doubt must be resolved in favor of ...


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