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Smith v. Ream

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

March 24, 2015

CHANTEL SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
REBECCA REAM, Defendant.

ORDER

WILLIAM H. STEELE, Chief District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court on plaintiff's filing styled "Objection to Removal" (doc. 6), which the Court construes as a Motion to Remand. The Motion has been briefed and is now ripe for disposition. Also pending is defendant's Motion to Strike (doc. 11).

I. Background.

This action, which was originally filed in Dallas County Circuit Court, arises from an automobile accident that occurred on December 11, 2012 in Selma, Alabama. According to the Amended Complaint (doc. 1, Exh. C) filed in state court on January 12, 2015, defendant, Rebecca Lee Ream, recklessly pulled out in front of plaintiff, Chantel Smith, causing their vehicles to collide. The Amended Complaint alleges that the collision injured Smith and caused pre-term birth injuries to her infant son, resulting in his death. The Amended Complaint asserts causes of action against Ream on theories of wantonness/negligence, wrongful death, and emotional distress.

The Amended Complaint also named a second defendant, Alfa Mutual General Insurance Company, alleged to be Smith's uninsured motorist carrier at the time of the accident. Alfa's involvement in the case was fleeting. On February 2, 2015, Smith and Alfa filed a Joint Stipulation of Dismissal (doc. 1, Exh. E), wherein they agreed to the dismissal without prejudice of Smith's claims against Alfa. Dallas County Circuit Judge Collins Pettaway, Jr., entered a Pro Tanto Dismissal Order on February 3, 2015, dismissing Alfa as a party defendant. ( See doc. 1, Exh. F.) Consequently, Ream is now the sole remaining defendant.

Three days after Alfa's dismissal, Ream filed a Notice of Removal (doc. 1), removing this action to federal court. Ream explained in the Notice that federal subject matter jurisdiction was proper pursuant to the diversity provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1332. With respect to the diversity of citizenship requirement, defendant noted that Smith is an Alabama citizen (as alleged in Paragraph 1 of the Amended Complaint) and made a substantial, uncontested showing that Ream is a Colorado citizen.[1] As to the amount in controversy requirement, defendant pointed to the Amended Complaint, in which Smith demanded $10 million in damages. Specifically, in her "Second Cause of Action" (negligence/wantonness), plaintiff "demands judgment against Defendants, in the sum of Three Million Dollars ($3, 000, 000.00) in damages." (Doc. 1, Exh. C, at 4.) In her Third Cause of Action (wrongful death), plaintiff "demands judgment against Defendants, [in] the amount of Three Million Dollars ($3, 000, 000.00) in damages." ( Id. at 5.) In her Fourth Cause of Action (mental anguish/emotional distress), [2] plaintiff "demands judgment against Defendant, [in] the amount of Four Million Dollars ($4, 000, 000.00) in damages." ( Id. at 6.) In the ad damnum clause at the end of her Amended Complaint, Smith "requests this Honorable Court to enter a judgment against the Defendant in a sum of Ten Million Dollars ($10, 000, 000.00), including an amount for punitive damages." ( Id. )

Plaintiff, by and through counsel of record, now objects to removal and seeks remand of this action to state court on the ground that Ream has not met her burden of showing that the amount in controversy exceeds the jurisdictional minimum of $75, 000. ( See doc. 6.)

II. Analysis.

A. Legal Standard for Motion to Remand.

A removing defendant must establish the propriety of removal under 28 U.S.C. § 1441 and, therefore, must demonstrate the existence of federal jurisdiction. See Friedman v. New York Life Ins. Co., 410 F.3d 1350, 1353 (11th Cir. 2005) ("[i]n removal cases, the burden is on the party who sought removal to demonstrate that federal jurisdiction exists") (citation omitted); Sammie Bonner Const. Co. v. Western Star Trucks Sales, Inc., 330 F.3d 1308, 1310 (11th Cir. 2003) ("Because Western Star sought removal to federal court, it bore the burden of proving that Bonner's claims satisfied the minimum amount in controversy requirement."). Because removal infringes upon state sovereignty and implicates central concepts of federalism, removal statutes must be construed narrowly, with all doubts resolved in favor of remand. See University of South Alabama v. American Tobacco Co., 168 F.3d 405, 411 (11th Cir. 1999) (explaining that strict construction of removal statutes derives from "significant federalism concerns" raised by removal jurisdiction).

There being no federal question presented in the Amended Complaint, Ream's Notice of Removal hinges on diversity of citizenship. Under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a), federal courts have original jurisdiction over all civil actions between citizens of different states where the amount in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs. See Underwriters at Lloyd's, London v. Osting-Schwinn, 613 F.3d 1079, 1085 (11th Cir. 2010) ("For federal diversity jurisdiction to attach, all parties must be completely diverse... and the amount in controversy must exceed $75, 000.") (citations omitted). "In light of the federalism and separation of powers concerns implicated by diversity jurisdiction, federal courts are obligated to strictly construe the statutory grant of diversity jurisdiction... [and] to scrupulously confine their own jurisdiction to the precise limits which the statute has defined." Morrison v. Allstate Indem. Co., 228 F.3d 1255, 1268 (11th Cir. 2000) (citations omitted); see also Osting-Schwinn, 613 F.3d at 1086 (similar).

B. The Amount in Controversy.

As noted, the sole issue presented in Smith's Motion to Remand is that removal was legally deficient because Ream has not established that the amount in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs.

Circuit law clarifies that a removing defendant "is not required to prove the amount in controversy beyond all doubt or to banish all uncertainty about it." Pretka v. Kolter City Plaza II, Inc., 608 F.3d 744, 754 (11th Cir. 2010). Rather, the defendant may meet its burden by showing either that it is "facially apparent from the pleading itself that the amount in controversy exceeds the jurisdictional minimum, " or that there is "additional evidence demonstrating that removal is proper." Roe v. Michelin North America, Inc., 613 F.3d 1058, 1061 (11th Cir. 2010) (citations omitted). What the defendant ...


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