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7th Circuit orders Indiana case sent back to Ohio

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A federal judge in the Southern District of Indiana erred when she determined that a claims adjuster from Ohio was fraudulently joined to a case that was transferred out of federal court in Ohio to Indiana, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled. The case also presented two issues of first impression for the Circuit.

In Tommy L. Morris, personal representative of the estate of Thomas Lynn Morris v. Salvatore Nuzzo, 12-3220, the estate of Thomas Lynn Morris filed a lawsuit in Ohio state court against Mid-Century and Salvatore Nuzzo, alleging tortious bad faith failure to pay an insurance claim and breach of contract. Mid-Century was the insurer of the car driven by Daemon Sampson in Brown County, Ind., which was involved in an accident that killed passenger Morris. Nuzzo, a resident of Ohio, was the claims adjustor assigned to handle the estate’s claims. Mid-Century was based out of California.

The lawsuit was removed to federal court in Ohio, which then granted Mid-Century and Nuzzo’s request to transfer the case to federal court in Indiana. There, Judge Sarah Evans Barker ruled that Nuzzo had been fraudulently joined and should be dismissed because under Indiana law, the claims against him were not cognizable and stood no chance of success. Those claims are potentially viable under Ohio law.

“The question before us is whether the district court erred in applying the fraudulent joinder doctrine to Nuzzo, whose presence triggers the forum defendant rule but does not compromise the parties’ complete diversity,” wrote Judge James Zagel, of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, sitting by designation. “In other words, we are asked to determine whether the fraudulent joinder doctrine creates an exception to the forum defendant rule. It does not appear that any court of appeals has answered this question.”

The 7th Circuit determined that the costs of expanding the doctrine could far outweigh the benefits of policing against what appears to be an exceptionally rare abusive pleading tactic.

“Ultimately, we think it a very close question whether the fraudulent joinder doctrine ought to extend to diverse resident defendants, and we are reluctant to rule definitively on the issue today absent a more thorough and more able presentation of the relevant balance of interests described above. In any event, we are convinced that Nuzzo was not fraudulently joined,” he wrote.

Another issue of first impression arose: whether, or to what extent, a federal court can make choice of law determinations in conducting a fraudulent joinder analysis. The appeals court held that these determinations can be made as part of the fraudulent joinder analysis where the choice of law decision is dispositive to the outcome, and where the removing defendant bears the same “heavy burden” to make the choice of law showing.

“We believe that there was more than a reasonable possibility that the Ohio state court would have decided against Nuzzo and applied Ohio law to the Estate’s bad faith failure to settle claim. Thus, regardless of what law the Ohio state court would have ultimately applied to the breach of contract claim, Nuzzo was not fraudulently joined and his presence prevented removal under 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b)(2). Because the Estate timely objected to this procedural defect in removal, it has a right to remand,” Zagel wrote.
 

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  1. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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