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Watkins v. Hansford

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville

September 19, 2017

HUEL WATKINS and SUSAN WATKINS PLAINTIFFS
v.
BRANDON HANSFORD, AUTOZONE STORES, INC., et al. DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          CHARLES R. SIMPSON III, SENIOR JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiffs Huel Watkins and Susan Watkins (collectively “Watkins”), filed a motion for substitution and, in the alternative, a motion for joinder, in a personal injury action arising from a February 20, 2016 motor vehicle accident. ECF No. 14; ECF No. 17. Defendants AutoZone Stores, Inc., AutoZone Stores, LLC, AutoZone Development LLC, AutoZone #1241, AutoZone Texas LLC, AutoZoners, LLC, and AutoZone, Inc. (collectively “AutoZone”), opposed the motions. ECF No. 16; ECF No. 22; ECF No. 32.

         Magistrate Judge Whalin issued findings of fact and conclusions of law recommending that Watkins’ motion for substitution be denied and motion for joinder be granted. R. & R., ECF No. 33. AutoZone filed written objections to Judge Whalin’s conclusions and recommendation regarding the motion for joinder. ECF No. 34.

         The court will adopt Judge Whalin’s report and recommendation in full. For the reasons stated below, the court will deny the motion for substitution and grant the motion for joinder.

         II. Legal Standard

         The proper standard for reviewing objections to a magistrate judge’s report and recommendation is de novo. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B-C). A district court judge “may accept, reject, or modify the recommended disposition, receive further evidence; or return the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b)(3).

         III. Judge Whalin’s Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Recommendation

         Watkins filed suit in Jefferson County, Kentucky, Circuit Court on January 18, 2017 against Brandon Hansford and AutoZone for personal injuries arising out of a motor vehicle accident. R. & R. 2, ECF No. 33. Watkins alleges that Hansford negligently crashed his vehicle into Watkins’ motorcycle while acting within the course and scope of his employment with AutoZone. Id.

         On February 2, 2017, AutoZone removed the action to this court based on diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Id. In its Notice of Removal, AutoZone stated that because Brandon Hansford was deceased, and had been since the time the action commenced, there was complete diversity amongst the parties. ECF No. 1, p. 2. The next day, Watkins’ attorney hired local counsel, Maria A. Fernandez, to open an Estate on behalf of Brandon Hansford. R. & R. 2, ECF No. 33. The Jefferson County Probate Court opened the Estate and appointed Fernandez as the Administrator, indicating that the Estate has no known assets and was opened solely for litigation purposes. Id. Watkins filed a motion to substitute Hansford’s Estate for defendant Brandon Hansford under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 25. ECF No. 14. He then filed an alternative motion to join Hansford’s Estate as a defendant under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 20. ECF No. 17.

         Judge Whalin first considered Watkins’ motion for substitution. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 25 states that “[i]f a party dies and the claim is not extinguished, the court may order substitution of the proper party.” Judge Whalin concluded that this Rule is not applicable here because “Hansford was not a proper party to the action, having died six months before Watkins filed the complaint in Jefferson Circuit Court.” R. & R. 3, ECF No. 33. AutoZone does not object to this conclusion or the recommendation that this motion be denied. Therefore, both the conclusion and recommendation will be adopted by this court.

         Judge Whalin then considered Watkins’ motion for joinder. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 20 states that persons may be joined as defendants in an action if:

         (A) any right to relief is asserted against them jointly, severally, or in the alternative with respect to or arising out of the same transaction, occurrence or series of transactions or occurrences; and

         (B) any question of law or fact common to all defendants will arise in the action. However, “[i]f after removal the plaintiff seeks to join additional defendants whose joinder would destroy subject matter jurisdiction,” 28 U.S.C. §1447(e) gives the district court the discretion to either “deny joinder, or permit joinder and remand the action to the State court.” Judge Whalin concluded that joinder of Hansford’s Estate is permissible under Rule 20 because Watkins asserts a “right to relief against Hansford’s Estate and AutoZone aris[ing] from the same occurrence-the motor vehicle accident on February 20, 2016.” R. & R. 4, ECF No. 33. Furthermore, “common questions of fact exist between AutoZone and ...


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