Defendants sued in state court in New Mexico personal injury cases will often prefer to litigate in federal court. Under some circumstances, defendants can successfully remove cases filed by plaintiffs in state court, thereby changing the plaintiffs’ chosen forum. But this is not always the case because federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. In a recent ruling, a New Mexico federal district court remanded a case that defendants removed to the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico back to the state court in which the plaintiff had filed it, the First Judicial District Court in Santa Fe County, New Mexico.
The case followed a fatal car accident. According to the district court’s ruling, a man had allegedly sold his house in Arizona and was driving in New Mexico on his way to his father’s home in Wisconsin at the time of the accident. His intention was to relocate his family to live with his father, and so the family came with its belongings. He was driving a pickup truck and pulling another. His wife and children followed in a U-haul truck rented for the move. A tire failed on the truck he was towing, causing him to lose control of the truck he was driving, which crossed the median and rolled over.
After the person died from the injuries he suffered in the accident, a personal representative of his estate sued two companies on the basis that they had sold the decedent defective tires. The lawsuit alleged causes of action for violations of New Mexico’s Unfair Practices Act, and for strict products liability, negligence, and breach of warranty. The plaintiff sought a recovery of damages, including punitive damages in a complaint filed in New Mexico state court. The defendants removed the case to federal court. Under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1), removable cases include civil actions between citizens of different states where the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000.
The defendants took the position that the case was between citizens of different states because they were citizens of Arizona, which was not disputed, and the decedent should be considered a citizen of Wisconsin at the time of his death because Wisconsin was his destination at the time of his death, which was disputed. The plaintiff asserted in response that the removal was untimely and that the decedent’s domicile remained in Arizona at the time of his death. The court was willing to consider the removal timely and rejected the attempted removal on the merits. The court reasoned that in order to establish domicile in a particular state, a person must be physically present in the state and intend to remain there. The court applied an “all-things-considered” approach, recognizing that any number of factors might shed light on domicile. Among the factors that could, generally, have bearing on the domicile analysis the court listed: “the party’s current residence; voter registration and voting practices; situs of personal and real property; location of brokerage and bank accounts; membership in unions, fraternal organizations, churches, clubs, and other associations; place of employment or business; driver’s license and automobile registration; payment of taxes; as well as several other aspects of human life and activity.”
The court concluded that because the decedent had not made his way to Wisconsin, the decedent could not be considered to be domiciled in Wisconsin for purposes of considering the dispute before the court to be between citizens of different states. Accordingly, the district court granted the plaintiff’s motion to remand and sent the case back to the First Judicial District Court, County of Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the plaintiff had filed the case.
Accidents can lead to personal injuries or loss of life that devastate families. If you or your loved one was injured in an accident, there may be grounds for an award of damages including punitive damages. An award of monetary damages can assist people who are coping with the injury or wrongful death of a loved one with losses, including the medical costs, lost wages, and pain and suffering caused by the accident. To understand more about your case, call New Mexico car accident lawyer Matthew Vance at the Law Office of Matthew Vance, P.C. We provide a free consultation and can be reached at (505) 242-6267 or online.
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