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James v. Werner Enterprises, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division

February 2, 2015

JEFFREY ARNOLD JAMES, Plaintiff,
v.
WERNER ENTERPRISES, INC., et al., Defendants.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

WILLIAM E. CASSADY, Magistrate Judge.

This matter is before the undersigned, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), on the Plaintiff's Motion to Remand this matter to the Circuit Court of Washington County, Alabama, (doc. 14) and brief in support (doc. 14-1); the response filed by Defendants Dolgencorp, LLC, d/b/a Dollar General, ("Dollar General") and Sabrina Williams (doc. 18); and the Plaintiff's reply (doc. 19). After careful consideration of the pleadings and the briefs of the parties, it is RECOMMENDED that the Plaintiff's motion be GRANTED, and that this matter be REMANDED to the Circuit Court of Washington County, Alabama.

Background

The Plaintiff filed his Complaint (doc. 1-2) in the Circuit Court of Washington County, Alabama, on September 10, 2014, asserting a personal injury action against the Defendants. (Id. ) Specifically, the Plaintiff alleges that he was involved in an automobile accident when his vehicle collided with a truck driven by Defendant Ralph Vazquez, an employee of Defendant Werner Enterprises, Inc., ("Werner Enterprises") or Dollar General. ( Id., ¶¶ 3, 8.)[1] Plaintiff alleges that Vazquez was delivering Dollar General merchandise to a Dollar General store in McIntosh, Alabama, ("the McIntosh store") and that the incident occurred while Vazquez was pulling his delivery truck onto the store lot. ( Id., ¶¶ 38-39.) The Plaintiff asserts negligence and wantonness claims against Vazquez, as an employee of Werner Enterprises or Dollar General, ( id., ¶¶ 7-13); negligent and wantonness claims against Werner Enterprises and Dollar General for the hiring, supervising and retaining of Vazquez, as well as their entrusting Vazquez to operate and control the delivery truck involved in the accident, ( id., ¶¶ 14-36); and negligence and wantonness claims against Dollar General and Sabrina Williams, a Dollar General employee and manager of the McIntosh store, for failing to secure a safe method of delivery of Dollar General merchandise, ( id., ¶¶ 37-41). As a result of the automobile accident, the Plaintiff alleges that he sustained the following injuries:

he was bruised and contused, he has been made sick, sore, lame and disabled; he suffered injuries to his cervical spine and neck.... [H]e has been caused to incur hospital, doctor, medical and drug bills in and about the treatment of his injuries; he has suffered great physical pain and mental anguish and will be caused to suffer great physical pain and mental anguish in the future. He has been permanently injured.

( Id., ¶ 9.) The Plaintiff seeks "compensatory and punitive damages in excess of the jurisdictional limits of [the Circuit Court of Washington County, Alabama]." (Id. at 6-7, 9-10, 13.)

Defendants, Dollar General and Sabrina Williams, filed their Notice of Removal in this Court on October 14, 2014, asserting that this Court has diversity jurisdiction over this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. (Doc. 1.) The Defendants argue that diversity jurisdiction exists because the properly joined parties are diverse and the amount in controversy is in excess of $75, 000. (Id. at 2.) Although the Plaintiff and Defendant Williams are both citizens of Alabama, (doc. 1-2, ¶ 1, 5), the Defendants contend that Ms. Williams was fraudulently joined in an effort to destroy diversity jurisdiction, (doc. 1 at 3-6). With regard to the amount in controversy, the Defendants argue that recently reported jury verdicts for similar cases demonstrate that "the estimated amount at issue in this case will far exceed the jurisdictional amount." (Id. at 11.)

In his brief in support of his motion to remand (doc. 14-1), the Plaintiff argues that he has stated a valid claim against Ms. Williams and, thus, the Defendants' fraudulent joinder claim is without merit. (Id. at 5-8.) With regard to the amount in controversy, the Plaintiff argues that the Defendants cannot rely on jury verdict and settlement reports to establish the value of this case. (Id. at 8-11.)

Discussion

The Removal Inquiry.

"Any civil case filed in state court may be removed by the defendant to federal court if the case could have been brought originally in federal court." Tapscott v. MS Dealer Serv. Corp., 77 F.3d 1353, 1356 (11th Cir. 1996) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a)), abrogated on other grounds by Cohen v. Office Depot, Inc., 204 F.3d 1069 (11th Cir. 2000). A federal court may exercise diversity jurisdiction over all civil actions where the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs, and the action is between citizens of different states. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1). Nevertheless, "[b]ecause removal jurisdiction raises significant federalism concerns, federal courts are directed to construe removal statutes strictly.... Indeed, all doubts about jurisdiction should be resolved in favor of remand to state court." University of S. Ala. v. Am. Tobacco Co., 168 F.3d 405, 411 (11th Cir. 1999); cf. D.M.C. Enters. Inc. v. Best McAllister, LLC, Civil Action No. 10-00153-CB-N, 2010 WL 3039477, at *2 (S.D. Ala. Aug. 4, 2010) ("Because it is conferred by statute, the right of removal is strictly construed to limit federal jurisdiction.") (citing Diaz v. Sheppard, 85 F.3d 1502, 1505 (11th Cir. 1996)).

Therefore, the defendant must establish the propriety of removal under section 1441 and, for that reason, "bears the burden of establishing the existence of federal jurisdiction[, ]" Brown v. Kabco Builders, Inc., Civil Action 07-0099-WS-C, 2007 WL 841690, at *1 (S.D. Ala. Mar. 15, 2007) (citing Leonard v. Enterprise Rent a Car, 279 F.3d 967, 972 (11th Cir. 2002)), which requires that the defendant, one, establish complete diversity- that the plaintiff is diverse from the defendants, Triggs v. John Crump Toyota, Inc., 154 F.3d 1284, 1287 (11th Cir. 1998) (citation omitted)-and, two, show that the amount in controversy more likely than not exceeds the $75, 000 jurisdictional requirement, see Fitzgerald v. Besam Automated Entrance Sys., 282 F.Supp.2d 1309, 1314 (S.D. Ala. 2003).

Amount in Controversy

"If a plaintiff makes an unspecified demand for damages in state court, a removing defendant must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the amount in controversy more likely than not exceeds the... jurisdictional requirement.'" Roe v. Michelin N. Am., Inc., 613 F.3d 1058, 1061 (11th Cir. 2010) (quoting Tapscott, 77 F.3d at 1357). In an effort to meet its burden the removing defendant may present additional evidence to establish that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000. Roe, 613 F.3d at 1061 ("In some cases, [the removing defendant's] burden requires [it] to provide additional evidence demonstrating that removal is proper." (footnote and citation omitted)); Pretka v. Kolter City Plaza II, Inc., 608 F.3d 744, 756 (11th Cir. 2010) (concluding that defendants can "submit [their] own evidence in order to satisfy the jurisdictional requirements of removal").

Additionally, because the Notice of Removal was filed within thirty days of receiving the Plaintiff's initial pleading in this matter, the Notice of Removal is brought pursuant to Section 1446(b)(1), (doc. 1 at 2), and the Eleventh Circuit's decision in Roe further guides the undersigned's analysis. See Roe, 613 F.3d at 1061 (distinguishing between Section 1446(b) first-paragraph cases and second-paragraph cases).[2] In Roe, the Eleventh Circuit instructed:

Eleventh Circuit precedent permits district courts to make "reasonable deductions, reasonable inferences, or other reasonable extrapolations" from the pleadings to determine whether it is facially apparent that a case is removable. See [ Pretka, 608 F.3d] at 754. Put simply, a district court need not "suspend reality or shelve common sense in determining whether the face of a complaint... establishes the jurisdictional amount." See id. at 770 (quoting Roe v. Michelin N. Am., Inc., 637 F.Supp.2d 995, 999 (M.D. Ala. 2009)); see also Williams, 269 F.3d at 1319 (11th Cir. 2001) (allowing district courts to consider whether it is "facially apparent" from a complaint that the amount in ...

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