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Higgins v. United States Steel Corp.

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

April 10, 2017

MICHAEL HIGGINS, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES STEEL CORPORATION, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          R. DAVID PROCTOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This case is before the court on Plaintiff's Motion to Remand (Doc. # 10), filed on February 23, 2017. The Motion (Doc. # 10) has been fully briefed (Docs. #12 & #13) and is properly under submission. A hearing was conducted on this matter on April 10, 2017. For the reasons outlined below, the Motion (Doc. # 10) is due to be denied.

         I. Background and Relevant Facts

         Plaintiff Michael Higgins initiated this lawsuit against Defendant United States Steel Corporation on November 28, 2016, in the Circuit Court of Jefferson County, Alabama, Bessemer Division. (Doc. # 1-1). Defendant filed a Notice of Removal (Doc. #1) and an Answer to Plaintiff's Complaint (Doc. # 2) on January 23, 2017. Plaintiff then filed a Motion to Remand (Doc. # 10) on February 23, 2017.

         This suit arises out of conduct which occurred while Plaintiff was an employee of Defendant. Plaintiff was employed as a Maintenance Supervisor at United States Steel Corporation. (Doc. # 1-1 at ¶ 4). At some point while he was employed, Plaintiff suffered multiple foot injuries. (Id. at ¶ 5). Plaintiff alleges Defendant treated him with “open and inappropriate ridicule” as a result of his injuries. (Id. at ¶ 7). Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that employees of Defendant: (1) called Plaintiff “Downsey” publicly because a plant manager believed that Plaintiff had the appearance of someone with Down Syndrome, called Plaintiff “pussyfoot, ” and called Plaintiff other names; (2) made harassing phone calls to Plaintiff's family; (3) openly ridiculed Plaintiff's alleged medical conditions; (4) damaged Plaintiff's work station; and (5) placed dirty urinal pads in Plaintiff's work station. (Id. at ¶¶ 6-21).

         Based on this conduct, Plaintiff brings a single claim against Defendant for the tort of outrage. (Id. at ¶ 22). Plaintiff's Complaint seeks compensatory damages for his emotional distress, as well as punitive damages, court costs, and any other equitable relief available. (Id. at p. 9).

         II. Standard of Review

         It has long been recognized that federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. Burns v. Windsor Ins. Co., 31 F.3d 1092, 1095 (11th Cir. 1994). Indeed, federal courts may only exercise jurisdiction conferred upon them by Congress. Quackenbush v. Allstate Ins. Co., 517 U.S. 706, 716 (1996). Anytime a “federal court acts outside its statutory subject matter jurisdiction, it violates the fundamental constitutional precept of limited federal power.” Uni. of S. Ala. v. Am. Tobacco Co., 168 F.3d 405, 409 (11th Cir. 1999) (quoting Victory Carriers, Inc. v. Law, 404 U.S. 202, 212 (1971)).

         Generally, any action filed in state court, over which a district court would have original jurisdiction, “may be removed by the defendant or defendants, to the district court of the United States for the district and division embracing the place where such action is pending.” 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). The burden of establishing subject matter jurisdiction for the purpose of a valid removal to this court is squarely on the removing party. Friedman v. N.Y. Life Ins. Co., 410 F.3d 1350, 1353 (11th Cir. 2005). Federal courts strictly construe removal statutes and resolve all doubts in favor of remand. Miedema v. Maytag Corp., 450 F.3d 1322, 1328-30 (11th Cir. 2006).

         III. Discussion

         In instant case, Defendant's removal is premised on diversity jurisdiction, which requires complete diversity of citizenship among the parties and an amount in controversy that exceeds $75, 000. 28 U.S.C. § 1332. There is no dispute in this case that the parties are of diverse citizenship[1]; the sole issue is whether the suit involves the requisite amount in controversy. (See Doc. # 10).

         In a case such as this one, where a plaintiff has not demanded a specific amount of damages in the initial pleading, “the removing defendant must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the amount in controversy exceeds the jurisdictional requirement.” Williams v. Best Buy Co., Inc., 269 F.3d 1316, 1319 (11th Cir. 2001). “[A] removing defendant is not required to the prove the amount in controversy beyond all doubt or to banish all uncertainty about it, ” Pretk a v. Kolter City Plaza II, Inc., 608 F.3d 744, 754 (11th Cir. 2010); rather, it must prove that “the amount in controversy more likely than not exceeds the jurisdictional requirement.” Tapscott v. MS Dealer Serv. Corp., 77 F.3d 1353, 1357 (11th Cir. 1996) (emphasis added).

         Plaintiff argues that Defendant has failed to meet this burden with respect to the amount in controversy in this case. For its part, Defendant notes that “courts may use their judicial experience and common sense in determining whether the case stated in a complaint meets federal jurisdictional requirements." Roe v. Michelin N. Am., Inc., 613 F.3d 1058, 1062 (11th Cir. 2010). Accordingly, Defendant highlights (1) the type of claim Plaintiff raises (i.e., a tort of outrage claim that seeks compensatory, emotional distress, and punitive damages) and (2) the value of similar cases. (Doc. # 1 at ¶¶ 17, 18 (citing Continental Casualty Ins. Co. v. McDonald, 567 So.2d 1208 (Ala. 1990) (jury returned a verdict of $750, 000 where the plaintiff alleged the tort of outrage involving workers' compensation benefits); Travelers Indemnity Co. of Illinois v. Griner, 809 So.2d 808, 809 (Ala. 2001) (jury returned a verdict of $500, 000 total damages in a tort of outrage case))).

         Defendant has met its burden, and has demonstrated by a preponderance of the evidence that the amount in controversy more likely than not exceeds the jurisdictional requirement. A defendant may satisfy its burden by submitting additional evidence, or “other paper, ” to demonstrate that the jurisdictional minimum is met. See Roe, 613 F.3d at 1061; Lowery v. Ala. Power Co., 493 F.3d 1184, 1218 (11th Cir. 2007). While Defendant has not presented “other paper” evidence, it is instructive that Plaintiff has at no point argued that he seeks less than $75, 000. Moreover, when asked on the record at the hearing on this motion whether ...


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