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Nationwide General Insurance Co. v. Cela

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

January 4, 2017

NATIONWIDE GENERAL INSURANCE CO., Plaintiff,
v.
ERALD CELA, and M&K EQUIPMENT LEASING, Defendants.

          ORDER REMANDING CASE

          Stefan R. Underhill United States District Judge

         Nationwide General Insurance Co. (“Nationwide”) filed a complaint against Erald Cela and M&K Equipment Leasing (“M&K”) in Connecticut Superior Court. Nationwide asserted that-as subrogee of its insured, Linda Aidoo-it was entitled to recover damages in the amount that it had paid Aidoo under an insurance policy for losses allegedly caused by the defendants' negligence. The defendants removed the case to this court under 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a), arguing that I have supplemental jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367 because a related suit by Aidoo against the defendants is currently pending before my colleague U.S. District Judge Victor A. Bolden. Because I conclude that supplemental jurisdiction does not constitute the “original jurisdiction” required for removal, I sua sponte remand the case to state court.

         I. Standard of Review

         Pursuant to the federal removal statute, “any civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction, may be removed by the defendant . . . to the district court of the United States for the district and division embracing the place where such action is pending.” 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). Thus, whether a civil action may be removed from state court turns on whether “the district court has original jurisdiction, ” Aetna Health v. Kirshner, 415 F.Supp.2d 109, 112 (D. Conn. 2006) (Arterton, J.), as determined “by looking to the complaint as it existed at the time the petition for removal was filed, ” Moscovitch v. Danbury Hosp., 25 F.Supp.2d 74, 79 (D. Conn. 1998) (Droney, J.).

         “The burden of establishing the existence of federal subject matter jurisdiction rests on the removing party, ” Kirshner, 415 F.Supp. at 112, and “courts may raise jurisdictional defects in removal cases sua sponte.” Stark v. Tyron, 171 F.Supp.3d 35, 39 (D. Conn. 2016) (citing Barbara v. N.Y. Stock Exch., 99 F.3d 49, 53 (2d Cir. 1996)). “If it appears before final judgment that a case was not properly removed, because it was not within the original jurisdiction of the United States district courts, the district court must remand it to the state court from which it was removed.” Franchise Tax Bd. v. Constr. Laborers Vacation Tr., 463 U.S. 1, 8 (1983).

         II. Background

         The instant case stems from an automobile collision that occurred on August 18, 2015, on Interstate 95 in Stratford, Connecticut. A car driven by Linda Aidoo, Nationwide's insured, became disabled due to a mechanical problem as she traveled in the center southbound lane. See Compl., Ex. A to Pet. Removal, Doc. No. 1, at 9. At the time, defendant Erald Cela was driving a tractor trailer, owned by defendant M&K Equipment Leasing, behind Aidoo's vehicle. See Id. After Aidoo stopped, Cela struck her vehicle, allegedly as the result of his negligence (which also has been attributed to M&K pursuant to section 52-183 of the Connecticut General Statutes).[1] See Id. at 10-11. Nationwide asserts that under Aidoo's insurance policy, it reimbursed her for $13, 528.63 in losses caused by the collision.

         Aidoo and her passenger, Nana Aidoo, subsequently filed suit against Cela and M&K in Connecticut Superior Court. The defendants removed that civil action to this court on August 11, 2016. Pet. Removal, Doc. No. 1, at 2. Aidoo's lawsuit remains pending before Judge Bolden. See Aidoo v. Cela, No. 3:16-cv-00147 (VAB).

         Months later, [2] Nationwide also sued Cela and M&K in Connecticut Superior Court. Nationwide's claims are brought as subrogee of its insured, [3] and its complaint contains the same allegations and arises out of the same facts as Aidoo's lawsuit. Nationwide claims damages in the amount of $13, 528.63. See Compl., Ex. A to Pet. Removal, Doc. No. 1, at 9, 11. The defendants removed Nationwide's action from state court on December 14, 2016, arguing that- because Judge Bolden has jurisdiction over Aidoo's claims-I have supplemental jurisdiction over Nationwide's lawsuit pursuant to section 1367(a). Pet. Removal, Doc. No. 1, at 3-4.

         III. Discussion

         Section 1441(a) permits removal of “civil action[s] . . . of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction.” Thus, the defendants may remove Nationwide's action from state court only if I would have had subject matter jurisdiction over the lawsuit had it been filed in federal court. See Aetna Health, 415 F.Supp.2d at 112.

         The defendants do not assert that I have federal question jurisdiction, because Nationwide does not bring any claims that “aris[e] under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.” See 28 U.S.C. § 1331; Merrell Dow Pharm. v. Thompson, 478 U.S. 804, 808-10 (1986). They also admit that I lack diversity jurisdiction: although the parties are completely diverse, [4]the amount in controversy-$13, 528.63-falls below the jurisdictional minimum of $75, 000. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332. The defendants contend, however, that “because this [c]ourt does have original jurisdiction over the Aidoo action, . . . this [c]ourt has supplemental jurisdiction over the state court action pursuant to [section] 1367(a).” Pet. Removal, Doc. No. 1, at 3-4. The defendants are mistaken, and I do not have jurisdiction over the present case.

         The federal supplemental jurisdiction statute empowers district courts to hear “claims that are so related to claims in [an] action within [their] original jurisdiction that they form part of the same case or controversy under Article III of the United States Constitution.” 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a). The defendants assert that the present case and Aidoo “clearly arise from the same motor vehicle accident and involve the same parties, particularly [because] any rights [] Nationwide has to recovery against [the defendants] are derivative of those of its insured.” Pet. Removal, Doc. No. 1, at 4. The defendants may well be correct that Aidoo and the instant action “are so related . . . that they [would] form part of the same case or controversy” if Nationwide's claims were brought as part of Aidoo's lawsuit. See id.; cf. 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a) (“[S]upplemental jurisdiction shall include claims that involve the joinder or intervention of additional parties.”). For purposes of removal, though, the analysis is quite different.

         Because “a ‘court must have jurisdiction over a case or controversy before it may assert jurisdiction over ancillary claims, '” the Supreme Court explicitly has held that “[a]ncillary jurisdiction . . . cannot provide the original jurisdiction that [defendants] must show in order to qualify for removal under § 1441.” Syngenta Crop Prot. v. Henson, 537 U.S. 28, 34 (2002) (emphasis added) (quoting Peacock v. Thomas, 516 U.S. 349, 355 (1996)). Thus, “[i]n order to exercise supplemental jurisdiction, a federal court must first have before it a claim sufficient to confer subject matter jurisdiction.” Montefiore Med. Ctr. v. Teamsters Local 272, 642 F.3d 321, 332 (2d Cir. 2011) (emphasis added) (citing United Mine Workers v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 725 (1966)). “The supplemental-jurisdiction statute is not a source of original subject-matter jurisdiction, and a removal petition therefore may not base subject-matter jurisdiction on the supplemental-jurisdiction statute.”[5]Ahearn v. Charter Twp. of Bloomfield, 100 F.3d 451, 456 (6th Cir. 1996) (internal citations omitted). Accordingly, section 1367 “plainly does not provide a separate basis for removal of independent state law actions.” Motion Control Corp. v. SICK, Inc., 354 F.3d 702, 705 (8th Cir. 2003); accord Nowak v. Ironworkers Local 6 Pension Fund, 81 F.3d 1182, 1187 (2d Cir. 1996) (“[T]he district court . . . cannot exercise supplemental jurisdiction unless there is first a proper basis for original federal jurisdiction.”); Halmekangas v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 603 F.3d 290, 295 (5th Cir. 2010) (“Supplemental jurisdiction on its own does not give ...


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