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At a Glance:
Title:
Bates v. Tech Clean Industries, Inc.
Date:
October 15, 2002
Citation:
301CV1304L
Status:
Unpublished Opinion

Bates v. Tech Clean Industries, Inc.

United States District Court,

N.D. Texas, Dallas Division.

Eleanor BATES, Plaintiff,

v.

TECH CLEAN INDUSTRIES, INC., et al., Defendants.

No. Civ.A. 301CV1304L.

|

Oct. 15, 2002.

Attorneys & Firms

Douglas K. Magary, Magary & Associates, Dallas, TX, for Plaintiff.

Grace A. Weatherly, Wood Thacker & Weatherly, Denton, TX, for Defendants.

ORDER

LINDSAY, J.

*1 Before the court are Plaintiff’s Motion for Leave to File Second Amended Complaint, filed March 8, 2002; Plaintiff’s Motion for Relief from Judgment, Amendment of Findings and/or Motion for a New Trial,1 filed April 3, 2002; The Hartford’s Amended Motion for Reconsideration of Plaintiff’s Motion for Leave to File Amended Complaint; Amended Reconsideration of Motion to Intervene; Amended Motion to Sever and Remand State Claims, filed April 17, 2002; and Plaintiff’s Request for Expedited Ruling, filed July 25, 2002. On May 14, 2002, the court held a status conference in this case and heard arguments of counsel regarding the pending motions. Upon consideration of the motions, responses (written and oral), replies, and arguments of counsel, the court grants Plaintiff’s Motion for Relief from Judgment, Amendment of Findings and/or Motion for New Trial; vacates its order filed March 21, 2002; grants the Hartford’s Amended Motion for Reconsideration of its Motion to Intervene; denies without prejudice Plaintiff’s Motion for Leave to File Second Amended Complaint; denies as moot the Hartford’s Amended Motion for Reconsideration of Plaintiff’s Motion for Leave to File Amended Complaint; denies as moot the Hartford’s Amended Motion to Sever and Remand State Claims; and denies as moot Plaintiff’s Request for Expedited Ruling.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

Plaintiff Eleanor Bates (“Plaintiff” or “Bates”) is a former employee of Defendant Brewer, Brewer, Anthony & Middlebrook (“BBA & M”). Bates began her employment with the firm on April 24, 1999, as an administrative assistant to Dennis G. Brewer, Sr., Senior Partner of BBA & M. She alleges that she was terminated from her employment with the firm on December 14, 2000, in retaliation for having filed a worker’s compensation claim in connection with a slip-and-fall accident that occurred at her job on January 2, 2000.2 She also alleges that BBA & M failed to pay her overtime compensation throughout her employment.

Bates filed this action in the 101st Judicial District, Dallas County, Texas, on June 6, 2001, asserting claims against Defendants BBA & M, Tech-Clean Industries, Inc., the Cirrus Group and Cottonwood Gardens Limited Partnership (collectively “Defendants”), for negligence (arising from her fall on January 2, 2000), retaliatory discharge under the Texas Labor Code, and for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq. On July 6, 2001, Defendants removed the action to this court. On July 31, 2001, Bates filed a motion to remand, seeking remand of the state law causes of action. On that same date, Bates filed an amended petition in state court, purporting to assert only her state law claims and omitting her FLSA cause of action.3 On August 10, 2001, Bates filed a motion to amend her pleading to plead a single cause of action against BBA & M for violations under the FLSA. On December 13, 2001, the Hartford, Third Party Administrator for BBA & M, filed a motion to intervene, seeking to intervene as subrogee of Bates based on the alleged injuries and lost wages that she sustained during her employment with BBA & M.

*2 On March 21, 2002, the court issued an order granting Plaintiff’s motion for leave to amend complaint and denying as moot her motion to remand. The court reasoned that because the amended complaint no longer contained the state law claims, the relief sought in the motion to remand was now moot. For this same reason, the court denied as moot the Hartford’s motion to intervene in Bates’s state law claims.

II. Plaintiff’s Motion to Reconsider

Bates seeks reconsideration of the court’s order filed March 21, 2002 (“March 21st Order), granting her motion to amend complaint and denying as moot her motion to remand. The court grants the motion; however, it finds it necessary to comment on the predicament of this case. Bates contends that her ultimate goal was to have her claims tried in two separate forums - the FLSA claim tried in federal court and the state claims tried in state court. As the court stated at the status conference, Bates could have easily avoided the removal of her state law claims by not including a federal cause of action in her state court petition, and she could have filed a separate federal cause of action based on her FLSA claim. In the alternative, because the statute of limitations had not yet run on her state law claims when Defendants removed the case to federal court, Bates could have had her state law claims dismissed from this lawsuit under Fed.R.Civ.P. 41 and refiled them in state court in a separate lawsuit.

In an attempt to hasten the court’s ruling on her motion to remand, Bates filed various motions which only served to unnecessarily complicate this matter. For example, while her motion to remand was pending, Bates filed a motion to file an amended complaint, as well as a motion for leave to file a second amended complaint. Because of its ruling on her amended complaint, the court now finds itself having to untangle a procedural morass. The court fully appreciates an attorney’s desire for a ruling on a motion as soon as it is ripe; however, the reality of the situation is that it also has, in addition to its criminal docket, a civil docket with well over three hundred cases pending, and in every one, litigants vying for the court’s attention. The point the court makes is that because of the procedural posture of this case, it has spent twice the amount of time it should have spent on this matter. Given the number of cases on the docket and that judicial resources are scarce, the court has to rearrange its docket and find a place and time to readdress a matter that should have been disposed of when it was initially before the court. The court is convinced that had Bates simply allowed the court to rule on her motion to remand before filing the additional procedural motions, there would have been no need to revisit the issue now, and the numerous inquiries by Plaintiff’s counsel and request for expedited ruling could have been avoided.4 In any event, the issues and positions of the parties are now sharply in focus.

*3 The instant case asserts a single federal claim under the FLSA and claims under Texas state law for negligence and violations of the Texas Labor Code. As previously stated, Bates seeks remand of her state law claims.5 Defendants urge the court to exercise its supplemental jurisdiction over Bates’s state law claims under 28 U.S .C. § 1367(a). Bates, however, contends that 28 U.S.C. § 1441(c) is the applicable statute, as it governs remand of independent and separate state law claims. The court agrees.

Under § 1367(a), the court “shall exercise supplemental jurisdiction over all other claims that are so related to claims in the action within such original jurisdiction that they form part of the same case or controversy....” 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a). In this case, while Bates asserts her federal and state law claims in the same action, they are not so related that they form part of the same controversy. Bates’s federal claim does not arise out of the same facts as her state law claims. The only commonality between the claims is that they relate to Bates’s employment with BBA & M as a whole; however, the facts giving rise to the federal claim are separate and distinct from the facts giving rise to her state claims. Thus, the court is not persuaded that an exercise of supplemental jurisdiction is appropriate.

Subsection (c) of 28 U.S.C. § 1441, provides:

Whenever a separate and independent claim or cause of action within the jurisdiction conferred by section 1331 of this title is joined with one or more otherwise non-removable claims or causes of action, the entire case may be removed and the district court may determine all issues therein, or, in its discretion, may remand all matters in which State law predominates.

28 U.S.C. § 1441(c). Thus, remand is proper when the claim remanded is: (1) a separate and independent claim or cause of action; (2) joined with a federal question; (3) otherwise nonremovable; and (4) a matter in which state law predominates. See Smith v. Amedisys Inc., 298 F.3d 434, 439 (5th Cir.2002) (citation omitted). Here, each of these requirements is met.

First, Bates’s state law claims are separate and independent from her federal claim. A federal claim is separate and independent if it involves an obligation distinct from the nonremovable claims in the case. Texas v. Walker, 142 F.3d 813, 817 (5th Cir.1998), cert. denied, 525 U.S. 1102 (1999). Bates’s FLSA claim is based on BBA & M’s alleged refusal to pay Bates overtime compensation during the course of her employment; her state law claims are based on personal injuries allegedly sustained as a result of a slip-and-fall accident that occurred on January 2, 2000, and her subsequent employment termination on December 14, 2000.6 Other than that Bates was employed by BBA & M when her state and federal claims arose, there are no overlapping facts. Bates’s federal cause of action would exist even if she did not assert any of her state law causes of action, and vice versa, as the causes of action are not dependent on the same set of facts. Regarding the second and third requirements, the FLSA claim raises a federal question, and because there is not complete diversity between the parties, the state law claims could not have been removed by themselves. Finally, Bates’s state law claims are clearly matters which are routinely tried by state courts, and in which state law predominates. Accordingly, remand of the state law claims is proper.

*4 At the status conference, Defendants argued that concurrent litigation in the state court and federal court would be impractical and unduly burdensome on all parties, and that the interests of judicial economy and efficiency would be best served by a single action in one forum. While the court agrees that dividing the case and forcing the parties to litigate in two forums may be somewhat inconvenient, it does not believe that it would be unduly burdensome. In this regard, the court notes that little, if any, discovery has been taken in this case, and since it involves the same parties, the court can think of no reason why the discovery that has taken place up to now in the federal case cannot be used in the state court action.

For the reasons stated, the court vacates its order filed March 21, 2002, and grants Plaintiff’s Motion for Remand. Plaintiff’s state law claims are hereby remanded to the 101st Judicial District Court, Dallas County, Texas, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441(c). The clerk of the court is directed to effect the remand of these claims in accordance with the usual procedure.

In light of its ruling herein, and since the court has vacated its March 21st Order, allowing Bates leave to file her First Amended Complaint, the court grants her leave to file her First Amended Complaint by this order, and it shall be filed by the clerk on October 18, 2002.

Also before the court is Plaintiff’s Motion for Leave to File Second Amended Complaint. Plaintiff seeks to assert additional state law claims against Defendants by this amendment. As the court has determined that Bates’s state law claims are to be remanded, the state court should determine whether Bates should be permitted to assert additional state law claims against Defendants. Accordingly, Bates’s motion is denied without prejudice to her right to assert these claims in state court if she so chooses.

III. The Hartford’s Motions

The Hartford seeks reconsideration of the court’s March 21st Order, denying its motion to intervene. The motion is granted.

The Hartford alleges that it issued a Texas Workers’ Compensation Insurance Policy to BBA & M covering personal injuries to employees incurred within the scope of employment. It further alleges that it has paid Bates’s claims for workers’ compensation based on the slip-and-fall accidents that occurred on January 2, 2000 and November 7, 2000. It seeks to intervene in this action so that it may recover the amount it paid on Bate’s workers’ compensation claims from any judgment that she may recover on her state law claims.

Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 24, upon timely application, anyone shall be permitted to intervene in an action when:

the applicant claims an interest relating to the property or transaction which is the subject of the action and the applicant is so situated that the disposition of the action may as a practical matter impair or impede the applicant’s ability to protect that interest, unless the applicant’s interest is adequately represented by existing parties.

*5 Fed.R.Civ.P. 24(a)(2). The court’s previous ruling on the Hartford’s request to intervene was based on Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint, which did not assert the state law claims upon which the Hartford’s motion is based. As the court has since vacated its March 21st Order, and thereby reinstated Bates’s state law claims, it now determines that intervention is appropriate. Accordingly, the Hartford’s Motion to Intervene is granted.

The court notes the Plea in Intervention was mistakenly filed by the clerk on December 7, 2001. This was in error since the order denying the motion to intervene was not issued until March 2002, three months after the plea in intervention was actually filed. Pursuant to the court’s March 21st Order, the Hartford’s Plea in Intervention was stricken from the record. The Hartford is directed to file its Plea in Intervention by 12:00 p.m., on Friday, October 18, 2002. The order of remand shall not take effect until Friday, October 18, 2002, after the Hartford has filed its Plea in Intervention.

In light of the court’s rulings herein, the Hartford’s Amended Motion for Reconsideration of Plaintiff’s Motion for Leave to File Amended Complaint and Amended Motion to Sever and Remand State Claims are moot, and therefore denied as moot.

IV. Miscellaneous Matters

The court notes that a scheduling order has not been issued in this case. Based on the parties’ status report earlier filed, the court will adjust the information provided by the parties in that report and issue a scheduling order forthwith.

V. Conclusion

For the reasons stated herein, the court:

1. Grants Plaintiff’s Motion for Relief from Judgment, Amendment of Findings and/or Motion for New Trial;

2. Vacates its order filed March 21, 2002;

3. Grants the Hartford’s Amended Motion for Reconsideration of its Motion to Intervene;

4. Grants the Hartford’s Motion to Intervene. The Hartford shall file its Plea in Intervention no later than 12:00 p.m., Friday, October 18, 2002.

5. Grants Plaintiff’s Motion to Remand; however, the order of remand shall not take effect until Friday, October 18, 2002, after the Hartford has filed its Plea in Intervention.

6. Grants Plaintiff’s Motion for Leave to File First Amended Complaint, which shall be filed by the clerk on October 18, 2002, after the Hartford has filed its Plea in Intervention;

7. Denies without prejudice Plaintiff’s Motion for Leave to File Second Amended Complaint;

8. Denies as moot the Hartford’s Amended Motion for Reconsideration of Plaintiff’s Motion for Leave to File Amended Complaint;

9. Denies as moot the Hartford’s Amended Motion to Sever and Remand State Claims; and

10. Denies as moot Plaintiff’s Request for Expedited Ruling.

In light of the court’s rulings made herein and Plaintiff’s First Amended Complaint, the only claim remaining before this court is Bates’s FLSA claim.

Footnotes

1

Although Plaintiff requests relief from judgment, amendment of findings or new trial, neither a judgment nor findings have been entered in the case, and the case has not been tried; therefore, the court interprets this submission as a motion to reconsider its order filed March 21, 2002.

2

Bates alleges that she was actually involved in two slip-and-fall accidents in 2000. The first accident allegedly occurred on Sunday, January 2, 2000, when Bates slipped and fell in the firm’s copy/file room. She alleges that as a result of the injuries she sustained during this fall, she was unable to work for six months. She further alleges that after she returned to work, BBA & M began to discriminate against her for having filed a worker’s compensation claim. With respect to the second accident, Bates alleges that on November 7, 2000, she slipped and fell at the entrance of the building where she worked. She alleges that she also sustained injuries as a result of this accident. Bates asserts various state law causes of actions against BBA & M and other entities based on the two slip-and-fall accidents, and the allegedly discriminatory conduct that occurred after she returned to work from the first accident. As the court has determined that Bates’s state law claims should be remanded, it need not recite in detail the factual allegations which she contends support her state law claims.

3

Of course, since the action had already been removed to federal court, Bates’s filing of an amended petition in state court was nothing more than an exercise in futility.

4

The court notes Plaintiff’s Request for Expedited Ruling. As the court issues its ruling on the outstanding matters today, Plaintiff’s Request for Expedited Ruling is moot, and is accordingly denied.

5

Although the parties do not dispute that the court has jurisdiction over the entire case, Bates moved to remand her state law claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c), which is the applicable statute when a remand is based on a lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Apparently, this cite by Bates was in error and is not the basis for which she seeks remand, because all subsequent references have been to 28 U.S.C. § 1441(c).

6

Bates’s second amended petition also purports to assert claims against Defendants based on injuries sustained as a result of the second fall on November 7, 2000; however, that pleading is not before the court, as Bates has not been granted leave to file it. The only pleading before the court is Plaintiff’s Original Petition, which does not assert any negligence claims against Defendants based on the second fall.

End of Document
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