Horne v. Lightning Energy Servs., LLC, Civil Action No. 1:15CV84.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Northern District of West Virginia
Writing for the CourtIRENE M. KEELEY, District Judge.
Citation123 F.Supp.3d 830
Parties Aaron Shane HORNE, Plaintiff, v. LIGHTNING ENERGY SERVICES, LLC, a Delaware limited liability company, Lightning Trucking Services, LLC, a Delaware limited liability company, Tracy S. Turner, Defendants.
Decision Date12 August 2015
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 1:15CV84.

123 F.Supp.3d 830

Aaron Shane HORNE, Plaintiff,
v.
LIGHTNING ENERGY SERVICES, LLC, a Delaware limited liability company, Lightning Trucking Services, LLC, a Delaware limited liability company, Tracy S. Turner, Defendants.

Civil Action No. 1:15CV84.

United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia.

Signed Aug. 12, 2015.


123 F.Supp.3d 833

Gregory H. Schillace, Schillace Law Office, Clarksburg, WV, for Plaintiff.

Julie A. Moore, Steptoe & Johnson, PLLC, Morgantown, WV, Larry J. Rector, Steptoe & Johnson PLLC, Bridgeport, WV, for Defendants.

123 F.Supp.3d 834

MEMORANDUM ORDER AND OPINION GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS [DKT. NO. 2] AND DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO REMAND [DKT. NO. 4]

IRENE M. KEELEY, District Judge.

Pending before the Court is the motion to remand filed by the plaintiff, Aaron Shane Horne ("Horne"), and the motion to dismiss filed by the defendant, Tracy S. Turner ("Turner"). For the following reasons, the Court DENIES the motion to remand (Dkt. No. 4), GRANTS the motion to dismiss (Dkt. No. 2), and DISMISSES the case WITH PREJUDICE.

BACKGROUND

Defendant Lightning Energy Services, LLC ("Lightning Energy") hired Horne as its Chief Operating Officer in November 2011. Lightning Energy subsequently placed Horne in operational control of Lightning Trucking Services, LLC ("Lightning Trucking"), an LLC of which Lightning Energy is the sole member (Dkt. No. 1–2 at 2). On January 14, 2013, Lightning Energy and Lightning Trucking terminated Horne's employment. Horne claims he is owed $36,000 in compensation from 2012 (Dkt. No. 1–2 at 2). The West Virginia Unemployment Compensation Commission ("WVUCC") reviewed Horne's termination and determined that he had not been terminated for good cause. At the direction of Turner, Lightning Energy and Lightning Trucking have continued to seek judicial review of the WVUCC's determination (Dkt. No. 1–2, at 3). Further, Horne contends that, after his termination, Turner reported him to law enforcement for embezzlement of assets and property of Lightning Energy and Lightning Trucking (Dkt. No. 1–2 at 3).

I. The First Action (No. 14–C–10–1)

In January 2014, Horne filed suit in the Circuit Court of Harrison County, West Virginia, against Lightning Energy, Lightning Trucking, Charles Hamrick, August Schultes, and Turner, alleging abuse of process, defamation, and violation of the West Virginia Wage Payment and Collection Act ("WVWPCA"), W. Va.Code § 21–54(b). The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment as to all claims, and a motion to dismiss Turner for improper service of process.

On March 15, 2015, the Honorable John Lewis Marks, Jr., Circuit Court Judge, dismissed the motion for summary judgment as to the abuse of process claim, but granted the motion to dismiss and dismissed Turner with prejudice because Horne had not perfected service upon Turner (Dkt. No. 2–2).1 The trial as to the remaining defendants began on April 14, 2015, and concluded on April 22, 2015 with a jury verdict of no liability (Dkt. No. 1–5).

II. The Second Action (1:15CV84)

On April 14, 2015, Horne filed a second lawsuit in the Circuit Court of Harrison County against Lightning Energy, Lightning Trucking, and Turner, alleging claims of defamation, abuse of process,2 and a violation of the WVWPCA. The complaint included an ad damnum clause, which stated that "[t]he total damages sought by the plaintiff inclusive of all interest, costs, attorney fees and punitive damages does

123 F.Supp.3d 835

not exceed $75,000.00." (Dkt. No. 1–2, at 4). On April 15, 2015, while Turner was waiting in the Harrison County Courthouse to testify in the first state court action, Horne's counsel served Turner with the summons and complaint in this case.

On May 15, 2015, the defendants filed a notice of removal, invoking this Court's diversity jurisdiction. Horne is a citizen of West Virginia (Dkt. 2–1 at 1). Turner is a citizen of Texas (Dkt. No. 1 at 2). Lightning Trucking is a Delaware limited liability company whose sole member is Lightning Energy, which is also a Delaware limited liability company (Dkt. No. 1 at 2). In paragraph 10 of the notice of removal, Turner lists the members of Lightning Energy, asserting that "none ... are citizens of West Virginia[.]" Turner, however, then states that "[d]efendant Lightning Energy ... has a member who owns a minority interest and is a citizen of West Virginia." (Dkt. No. 1 at 2–3). Due to these seemingly contradictory statements, the Court ordered the defendants to clarify the citizenship of the parties (Dkt. No. 10). On August 3, 2015, the defendants clarified that none of the four LLCs that are members of Lightning Energy is a citizen of West Virginia,3 but that an individual member, Charles Hamrick, owns a minority interest and is a citizen of West Virginia (Dkt. No. 11).

On May 15, 2015, Turner filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that this action is identical to the first action from which he was dismissed with prejudice prior to trial, and which ultimately resulted in a jury verdict against Horne on all counts. On June 12, 2015, Horne filed a motion to remand, contending that he had limited the amount in controversy to $75,000 or less (Dkt. No. 4).4 On July 17, 2015, the defendants responded, arguing that Horne had not successfully limited his recovery and that, more likely than not, were he to prevail in his suit, Horne would recover more than $75,000 (Dkt. No. 8).

Turner contends that if either Lightning Trucking or Lightning Energy has West Virginia citizenship due to Hamrick's minority interest, the citizenship of Lightning Trucking and Lightning Energy should be disregarded under the doctrine of fraudulent joinder because (1) Horne's defamation claim is barred by the statute of limitations, and (2) the same claims have been tried already, resulting in a verdict against Horne (Dkt. No. 11 at 2).

LEGAL STANDARD

When an action is removed from state court, a federal district court must determine whether it has original jurisdiction over the plaintiff's claims. Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. Of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377, 114 S.Ct. 1673, 1675, 128 L.Ed.2d 391 (1994). "Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. They possess only that power authorized by the Constitution and statute, which is not to be expanded by judicial decree." Id. at 377, 114 S.Ct. at 1675.

123 F.Supp.3d 836

Federal courts have original jurisdiction primarily over two types of cases, (1) those involving federal questions under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and (2) those involving diversity of citizenship under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. When a party seeks to remove a case based on diversity of citizenship under 28 U.S.C. § 1332, that party bears the burden of establishing "the amount in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75,000, exclusive of interests and costs, and is between citizens of different states." 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Courts should resolve any doubt "about the propriety of removal in favor of retained state court jurisdiction." Marshall v. Manville Sales Corp., 6 F.3d 229, 232–33 (4th Cir.1993).

The doctrine of fraudulent joinder is a narrow exception to the complete diversity requirement. Jackson v. Allstate Ins. Co., 132 F.Supp.2d 432, 433 (N.D.W.Va.2000) (Broadwater, J.). If the doctrine applies, the Court can exercise removal jurisdiction even though a non-diverse party is a defendant. Id. (citing Mayes v. Rapoport, 198 F.3d 457, 461 (4th Cir.1999) ). The Court can disregard the citizenship of and dismiss the non-diverse defendant, thereby retaining jurisdiction over the case. Mayes, 198 F.3d at 461.

The removing party bears the "heavy burden of showing that there is no possibility of establishing a cause of action against [a] non-diverse party" by clear and convincing evidence. Jackson, 132 F.Supp.2d at 433 (citing Hartley v. CSX Transp. Inc., 187 F.3d 422, 424 (4th Cir.1999) ); Clutter v. Consolidation Coal Co., No. 1:14CV9, 2014 WL 1479199, at *4 (N.D.W.Va. Apr. 15, 2014) (Stamp, J.). In the alternative, the removing party can establish that "there has been outright fraud in the plaintiff's pleading of jurisdictional facts." Pritt v. Republican Nat. Committee, 1 F.Supp.2d 590, 592 (S.D.W.Va.1998). "[F]raudulent joinder claims are subject to a rather black-and-white analysis in this circuit. Any shades of gray are resolved in favor of remand." Adkins v. Consolidation Coal Co., 856 F.Supp.2d 817, 820 (S.D.W.Va.2012).

The Court must resolve all issues of fact and law in the plaintiff's favor, but, in doing so, "is not bound by the allegations of the pleadings." Marshall, 6 F.3d at 232–33 ; AIDS Counseling and Testing Ctrs. v. Grp. W Television, Inc., 903 F.2d 1000, 1004 (4th Cir.1990). Instead, the Court can consider "the entire record, and determine the basis of joinder by any means available." AIDS Counseling, 903 F.2d at 1004 (quoting Dodd v. Fawcett Publ'ns, Inc., 329 F.2d 82, 85 (10th Cir.1964) ). The standard for fraudulent joinder is more favorable to the...

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3 practice notes
  • Baker v. Chemours Co. FC, No. 19-0906
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • February 25, 2021
    ...as the nonparty's representative." Rowe , 206 W. Va. at 715, 527 S.E.2d at 826 ; see also Horne v. Lightning Energy Serv., L.L.C. , 123 F.Supp.3d 830, 840 (N.D.W. Va. 2015) (manager shared "substantial identity of interest" with defendant employer because "the claims alleged against these p......
  • HDMG Entm't, LLC v. Certain Underwriters At Lloyd's of London Subscribing to Policy No. L009082, Civil Action No.: 4:16-cv-01626-RBH
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • January 25, 2017
    ...diversity purposes, whose citizenship is that of its members." (internal citations omitted)); Horne v. Lightning Energy Servs., LLC, 123 F. Supp. 3d 830, 837 (N.D.W. Va. 2015) ("For the purposes of diversity jurisdiction, the citizenship of a limited liability company is determined by the c......
  • Moore v. Erin Knippenberg, Lottie Wilhelm, & Allstate Indem. Co., CIVIL ACTION NO. 1:15CV193
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Northern District of West Virginia
    • November 18, 2016
    ...248-52.APPLICABLE LAW "The doctrine of res judicata precludes relitigation of the same claim," Horne v. Lighting Energy Servs., LLC, 123 F. Supp. 3d 830, 838 (N.D.W. Va. 2015) (citing Sattler v. Bailey, 400 S.E.2d 220, 225 (W. Va. 1990)), and is founded on wise public policy:To preclude par......
3 cases
  • Baker v. Chemours Co. FC, No. 19-0906
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • February 25, 2021
    ...as the nonparty's representative." Rowe , 206 W. Va. at 715, 527 S.E.2d at 826 ; see also Horne v. Lightning Energy Serv., L.L.C. , 123 F.Supp.3d 830, 840 (N.D.W. Va. 2015) (manager shared "substantial identity of interest" with defendant employer because "the claims alleged against these p......
  • HDMG Entm't, LLC v. Certain Underwriters At Lloyd's of London Subscribing to Policy No. L009082, Civil Action No.: 4:16-cv-01626-RBH
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • January 25, 2017
    ...diversity purposes, whose citizenship is that of its members." (internal citations omitted)); Horne v. Lightning Energy Servs., LLC, 123 F. Supp. 3d 830, 837 (N.D.W. Va. 2015) ("For the purposes of diversity jurisdiction, the citizenship of a limited liability company is determined by the c......
  • Moore v. Erin Knippenberg, Lottie Wilhelm, & Allstate Indem. Co., CIVIL ACTION NO. 1:15CV193
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Northern District of West Virginia
    • November 18, 2016
    ...248-52.APPLICABLE LAW "The doctrine of res judicata precludes relitigation of the same claim," Horne v. Lighting Energy Servs., LLC, 123 F. Supp. 3d 830, 838 (N.D.W. Va. 2015) (citing Sattler v. Bailey, 400 S.E.2d 220, 225 (W. Va. 1990)), and is founded on wise public policy:To preclude par......

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