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Bax v. Allstate Insurance Co.

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Beaufort Division

September 17, 2019

ARIE D. BAX, S. NAKI RICHARDSON-BAX, JOSEPH CHRISTOFF, and FELICIA CHRISTOFF, Plaintiffs,
v.
ALLSTATE INSURANCE CO., Defendant.

          ORDER

          DAVID C. NORTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the court on plaintiffs' motion to amend their complaint, ECF No. 8, and plaintiff's motion to remand, ECF No. 9. For the reasons set forth below, the court denies without prejudice the motion to amend the complaint and denies the motion to remand.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The facts of this case are relatively straightforward. Plaintiffs Joseph and Felicia Christoff (“the Christoffs”) purchased a flood insurance policy for their house (“the Policy”). The Policy was issued by defendant Allstate Insurance Co. (“Allstate”). The Christoffs subsequently sold their house to plaintiffs Arie D. Bax (“Bax”) and S. Naki Richardson-Bax (“Richardson-Bax”). Bax and Richardson-Bax were allegedly added as “other insureds” to the Policy. On October 8, 2016, Bax and Richardson-Bax's home was damaged by a flood, and Bax and Richardson-Bax submitted a claim under the Policy to Allstate. After investigating the claim, Allstate issued a coverage denial letter on October 29, 2016.

         As a result, plaintiffs filed suit against Allstate in the Court of Common Pleas for the Fourteenth Judicial District in Beaufort County, South Carolina on May 7, 2019. The complaint brings causes of action for breach of contract and bad faith. Allstate removed the action to federal court on June 14, 2019. Then on July 1, 2019, plaintiffs filed a motion to amend the complaint, ECF No. 8, and a motion to remand, ECF No. 9. Allstate responded to the motion to remand on July 15, 2019, ECF No. 10, but did not respond to the motion to amend the complaint. Plaintiffs did not file a reply. The motions are now ripe for review.

         II. STANDARD

         As the party seeking to invoke the court's jurisdiction, defendants have the burden of proving jurisdiction upon motion to remand. Dixon v. Coburg Dairy, Inc., 369 F.3d 811, 816 (4th Cir. 2004) (citing Mulcahy v. Columbia Organic Chems. Co., 29 F.3d 148, 151 (4th Cir. 1994)); see Caterpillar Inc. v. Lewis, 519 U.S. 61, 73 (1996) (stating that the party seeking to remove a case from state court to federal court bears the burden of demonstrating that jurisdiction is proper at the time the petition for removal is filed). In deciding a motion to remand, the federal court should construe removal jurisdiction strictly in favor of state court jurisdiction. Id. “If federal jurisdiction is doubtful, a remand is necessary.” Mulcahy, 29 F.3d at 151 (citations omitted), Pohto v. Allstate Ins. Co., 2011 WL 2670000, at *1 (D.S.C. July 7, 2011) (“Because federal courts are forums of limited jurisdiction, any doubt as to whether a case belongs in federal or state court should be resolved in favor of state court.”).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Plaintiffs simultaneously filed a motion to amend their complaint and a motion to remand. The court discusses each in turn.

         A. Motion to Amend Complaint

         Plaintiffs seek to amend their complaint to add Kinghorn Insurance of Beaufort LLC as a defendant and to add several new causes of action. Plaintiffs attached their proposed amended complaint to their motion. Allstate did not file a response to the motion. When a party fails to respond to a motion, the court decides the motion on the record before it. Local Civ. Rule 7.06 (D.S.C.).

         Plaintiffs argue that they should be permitted to amend their complaint because they sought permission to amend within 21 days of receiving Allstate's answer, pursuant to Rule 15(a)(1)(B) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and because there is nothing here to prevent the court from freely giving leave, pursuant to Rule 15(a)(2). The court first notes that, at the time plaintiffs filed their motion, plaintiffs did not need to seek leave from the court to amend their complaint. Rule 15 provides that “[a] party may amend its pleading once as a matter of course” within 21 days of service of a responsive pleading. Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(1)(B) (emphasis added). The court points this out to clarify that plaintiffs filing their motion within 21 days of receiving Allstate's answer is irrelevant to the court's inquiry here.

         Now that the 21-day time period to amend as a matter of course has passed, the court must consider if “justice so requires” the court give leave. In considering the issue, the court is a bit perplexed by plaintiffs' request for the court to accept proposed amended complaint. The caption of the proposed amended complaint contains information for the state court, not this court. Clearly, this court cannot give leave to plaintiffs to amend their complaint in state court, and the court cannot accept a state court complaint in federal court. As such, the court denies the motion to amend without prejudice. If plaintiffs want to amend their complaint in this court, they may refile their motion with a properly captioned proposed amended complaint.

         B. ...


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