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Cason v. Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

November 4, 2014

MARISOL CASON; PATRICIA BENAVIDES, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
PUERTO RICO ELECTRIC POWER AUTHORITY; ACE INSURANCE COMPANY; PUERTO RICO TELEPHONE COMPANY, INC.; TRIPLE-S PROPIEDAD, Defendants/Third Party Plaintiffs-Appellees, DAISY AGUAYO CUEVAS, individually and on behalf of her Minor Children, E.A.T.A.; T.M.T.A.; J.M.T.A.; and A.J.T.A., Plaintiffs, JAF COMMUNICATIONS, INC.; UNIVERSAL INSURANCE COMPANY, Third Party Defendants-Appellees, ETL CONTRACTORS, INC.; INSURANCE COMPANY " Z" , Third Party Defendants

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF PUERTO RICO. Hon. Francisco A. Besosa, U.S. District Judge.

Hatuey Infante-Castellanos, with whom Toby B. Fullmer and Matthews & Fullmer, L.L.C., were on brief, for appellants Cason and Benavides.

Ángel A. Valencia-Aponte, was on brief, for of appellee Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority.

Before Torruella and Lipez, Circuit Judges, and Gelpí ,[*] District Judge.

OPINION

Page 972

GELPÍ, District Judge.

Plaintiffs-Appellants, Marisol Cason and Patricia Benavides (" Cason and Benavides" ), filed a wrongful death suit against Defendants in the United States District Court in Puerto Rico. The Defendant-Appellee, Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (" PREPA" ), challenged the District Court's jurisdiction, arguing that an additional, non-diverse member of the decedent's estate who was not made a party to the action, was indispensable, and that, in turn, his joinder destroyed the parties' complete diversity.

The District Court agreed that the presence of this non-diverse absent heir was required to adjudicate the suit. The court thus dismissed the entire action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. This included the decedent's estate survivorship action, as well as individual damages actions by estate members, the decedent's consensual partner, and two sisters, Cason and Benavides, who are not his heirs.

In this appeal, Cason and Benavides argue that the District Court erred in dismissing the complaint in its entirety, including their personal claims, which were separate and distinct from those of the estate and its members. They also posit that the court erred in its determination that the missing heir was a necessary and indispensable party to the federal action. More so, given that the plaintiffs who asserted the survivorship action requested dismissal voluntarily, Cason and Benavides note that only their individual claims remained before the District Court. Thus, they argue that they are, always have been, and will remain diverse in any federal action brought against the defendants.

We conclude that the dismissal of Cason and Benavides's personal actions was unwarranted. The non-diverse absent party was, in any event, not required to adjudicate the action because the members of the estate requested voluntary dismissal of their claims. The voluntary dismissal eliminated the survivorship action and with it any concern as to the indispensability and joinder issue raised by PREPA. The only claims that remained were those of Cason and Benavides, which were jurisdictionally sound. Without question, the District Court had jurisdiction over said claims.

I. Background

A. The Accident

Edwin Torres-López (" Torres-López" or " the decedent" ), died from electrocution on September 20, 2010, at age thirty-three. At that time, he owned and operated a company which performed subcontract work for telecommunications companies in Puerto Rico, including, the Puerto Rico Telephone Company (" PRTC" ). He was electrocuted by a " down-guy" wire connected to a utility pole which was improperly energized while he was removing and installing telecommunications cables. PREPA and the PRTC are purportedly responsible for the utility pole in question.

B. Procedural Background

1. The Resulting Litigation in the District Court

Daisy Aguayo-Cuevas, the decedent's consensual partner, individually and on behalf of her and Torres-López's four minor children (the " Torres-Aguayo heirs," and together with their mother the " Aguayo ...


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