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Cottrell v. Blue Valley Apartments, Inc.

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

August 3, 2015

SHERRICKIA COTTRELL, Plaintiff,
v.
BLUE VALLEY APARTMENTS, INC., d/b/a The Meadows, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

W. HAROLD ALBRITTON, Senior District Judge.

I. Introduction

This cause is before the court on Plaintiff Sherrickia Cottrell's Motion to Remand (Doc. # 11), filed on June 17, 2015. Also before the court is the Defendant's Response to the Motion (Doc. # 13). The Plaintiff was invited to file a Reply by July 15, 2015, but has not done so.

This action contains state law tort claims. The parties dispute whether there is proper federal diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. The aspect of jurisdiction in dispute is whether the amount in controversy requirement has been met. For the reasons to be discussed, the court finds that the Motion to Remand is due to be GRANTED.

II. Motion to Remand Standard

Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. See Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375 (1994); Burns v. Windsor Ins. Co., 31 F.3d 1092, 1095 (1994); Wymbs v. Republican State Exec. Comm., 719 F.2d 1072, 1076 (11th Cir. 1983), cert. denied, 465 U.S. 1103 (1984). As such, federal courts only have the power to hear cases that they have been authorized to hear by the Constitution or the Congress of the United States. See Kokkonen, 511 U.S. at 377. Because federal court jurisdiction is limited, the Eleventh Circuit favors remand of removed cases where federal jurisdiction is not absolutely clear. See Burns, 31 F.3d at 1095.

Because this case was originally filed in state court and removed to federal court, the Defendant bears the burden of proving that federal jurisdiction exists. Williams v. Best Buy Co., Inc., 269 F.3d 1316, 1319 (11th Cir. 2001).

III. Facts and Procedural Background

The Plaintiff filed her original State Court Complaint in the Circuit Court of Montgomery, Alabama on April 9, 2015. The Complaint alleged that the Defendant tortiously "caused or allowed a dangerous condition to exist" in an apartment complex it owns, where the Plaintiff was visiting a relative. (Doc. # 1-2 at 1-2 ¶¶ 5-6.) The Plaintiff alleged the dangerous condition was standing water that created a slippery mildew or algae-based substance on the sidewalk and stairs, which caused Plaintiff to fall and sustain injuries.

The Defendant removed the case to this court on May 13, 2015. (Doc. # 1.) The Notice of Removal alleges that diversity jurisdiction exists because the Defendant is a citizen of Florida, the Plaintiff is a citizen of Alabama, and the types of injuries and damages claimed indicate the amount in controversy exceeds the jurisdictional threshold. Specifically, the Defendant has alleged in the Notice of Removal that the fact that the Plaintiff claims permanent injury and requests both compensatory and punitive damages means the case is removable and proper jurisdiction exists.

IV. Discussion

Federal diversity jurisdiction exists when the parties have complete diversity of citizenship and the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). The Defendant, as the party asserting that jurisdiction exists, has the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that removal was proper. Williams, 269 F.3d at 1319. As noted above, diversity of citizenship is not disputed in this case.

The Plaintiff argues that remand is warranted because her Complaint does not claim a specific amount of damages, and the amount in controversy is not facially apparent. Furthermore, the Plaintiff argues, the Defendant has not submitted any evidence to aid the court in ascertaining the amount in controversy. According to the Plaintiff, the Defendant has therefore failed to carry its burden of establishing that valid diversity jurisdiction exists.

In response, the Defendant argues that the extent and types of claims and damages listed in the Complaint establish by a preponderance of the evidence that the amount in controversy threshold has been met. The Defendant also makes much of the fact that the Plaintiff has not provided a clear disclaimer that she is not seeking more than $75, 000. The Defendant argues that in the absence of such a disclaimer, "the ...


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