United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
K. KALLON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Company, Inc., Daikin America, Inc., and Dyneon, L.L.C.
(collectively referred to as the “Defendants”)
timely removed this action from the Circuit Court of Lawrence
County, Alabama, claiming that jurisdiction is proper
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332, 1441, and 1446. Doc.
1. In response, Plaintiffs, a large group of individuals with
property interests receiving water from the West Morgan-East
Lawrence Water and Sewer Authority (the
“Authority”), filed a motion to remand, doc. 12,
asserting that the Defendants had failed to establish the
requisite jurisdictional amount in controversy by a
preponderance of the evidence. The motion is fully briefed,
docs. 26; 27, and now ripe for decision. Following careful
consideration of the parties' briefs, the record, and
with the benefit of oral argument, the Plaintiffs' motion
is due to be granted.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
§ 1332, federal courts have subject matter jurisdiction
over state law claims where there is complete diversity of
citizenship and the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000
exclusive of costs and interests. “[T]he party seeking
to remove the case to federal court bears the burden of
establishing federal jurisdiction.” Evans v. Walter
Indus., Inc., 449 F.3d 1159, 1164 (11th Cir. 2006).
Here, there is no dispute that the complete diversity
requirement of § 1332 is satisfied. Thus, this court
need determine only whether the amount in controversy
exceeded $75, 000 at the time of removal. See Pretka v.
Kolter City Plaza II, Inc., 608 F.3d 744, 751 (11th Cir.
as here, the plaintiff has not pled a specific amount of
damages, the removing defendant must prove by a preponderance
of the evidence that the amount in controversy exceeds the
jurisdictional requirement.'” Id. at 752
(quoting Williams v. Best Buy Co., 269 F.3d 1316,
1319 (11th Cir. 2001)). In some cases, the pleadings may
clearly establish that “the amount in controversy
exceeds the jurisdictional minimum, even when ‘the
complaint does not claim a specific amount of
damages.'” Roe v. Michelin N. Am., Inc.,
613 F.3d 1058, 1061 (11th Cir. 2010) (quoting
Pretka, 608 F.3d at 754). And, this Court is
empowered to use its judicial experience and common sense to
determine whether the complaint states a claim which will,
more likely than not, meet the requirements of federal
diversity jurisdiction. See Id. at 1062. However,
absent “facts or specific allegations, the amount in
controversy c[an] be ‘divined [only] by looking at the
stars'-only through speculation-and that is
impermissible.” Pretka, 608 F.3d at 753-54
(quoting Lowery v. Ala. Power Co., 483 F.3d 1184,
1215 (11th Cir. 2007)). Accordingly, in some cases,
“the removing defendant [must] provide additional
evidence demonstrating that removal is proper” in order
to satisfy their burden. Roe, 613 F.3d at 1061.
federal courts may not shirk from their duty of exercising
the jurisdiction conferred on them by Congress, they remain
“courts of limited jurisdiction.” Burns v.
Windsor Ins. Co., 31 F.3d 1092, 1095 (11th Cir. 1994).
Consequently, this court strictly construes removal statutes
and “‘all doubts about jurisdiction [are]
resolved in favor of remand to state court.'”
City of Vestavia Hills v. Gen. Fid. Ins. Co., 676
F.3d 1310, 1313 (11th Cir. 2012) (quoting Univ. of S.
Ala. v. Am. Tobacco Co., 168 F.3d 405, 411 (11th Cir.
action concerns a dispute between residents and property
owners who obtain their water from the Authority, the
Plaintiffs, and three out-of-state manufacturing
corporations, the Defendants. Doc. 1-2 at 47-48. The
Plaintiffs allege that the Defendants' manufacturing and
disposal activities have resulted in the release of various
chemicals into the Tennessee River and its tributaries, the
primary source of water for the Authority. Id. at
48-49. The Plaintiffs aver that these chemicals are
carcinogenic and can significantly impact human health, even
at relatively low exposure levels. Id. at 49-50.
the Plaintiffs filed the instant complaint in the Circuit
Court of Lawrence County, Alabama, asserting numerous state
law claims including negligence, nuisance, trespass,
wantonness, and battery. Id. at 44, 54-58. The
complaint seeks, in addition to punitive damages, unspecified
amounts of compensatory damages for emotional distress,
mental anguish, and property damage. Id. at 54-58.
The Plaintiffs also seek injunctive relief requiring the
Defendants to remediate the harmful chemicals they have
already introduced into the environment and to cease their
allegedly unsafe business practices. Id. at 58- 59.
Defendants timely removed this action to this court pursuant
to § 1441 and the first paragraph of § 1446(b)
claiming that the requirements for diversity jurisdiction
outlined in § 1332(a) are met. Doc. 1 at 2-4.
Subsequently, the Plaintiffs moved to remand the case to
state court arguing that the Defendants have failed to
establish by a preponderance of the evidence that the amount
in controversy exceeds the jurisdictional threshold of $75,
000. Doc. 12 at 2.
gravamen of the Defendants jurisdictional argument is that
the complaint contains serious allegations and “broadly
and vaguely request[s] compensatory damages for mental
anguish, emotional distress, damages to . . . real property,
diminution in the value of . . . real property, . . . out of
pocket expenses for bottled water and specialty water
filters, [and] punitive damages.” Doc. 26 at 5. Based
on these contentions, the Defendants assert that common sense
tells us that at least one of the Plaintiffs must assert
claims satisfying the amount-in-controversy requirement.
However, given the record before this court, and the lack of
any specific evidence regarding the proper valuation of the
Plaintiffs' claims, the court cannot make such a
Defendants primarily argue in support of removal by
suggesting that the face of the complaint makes clear that
the amount-in-controversy requirement is satisfied. But, the
complaint does not contain an ad damnum clause, and
only specifically asserts that the jurisdictional limit for
state court proceedings, $10, 000, is met. The complaint does
not provide any information regarding the actual
concentration of chemicals in the Plaintiffs'
water-supply, the base-line level of exposure the Plaintiffs
may have had to the dangerous chemicals allegedly released by
the Defendants, or the specific effects increasing exposure
to those chemicals may have had on the Plaintiffs or their
property. Nor does the complaint offer any specific details
regarding the mental anguish or emotional distress the
Plaintiffs allegedly experienced. Moreover, there are no cost
estimates for the provision of specialty water filters or
bottled water the Plaintiffs purportedly had to purchase or
any evidence showing a decline in property values based on
the alleged release of chemicals into the
water-supply. All in all, the record is marked by a
complete absence of the sort of concrete information needed
to realistically assess the compensatory damages potentially
available to the Plaintiffs.
Defendants also contend that the Plaintiffs' request for
punitive damages is sufficient to create an inference that
the jurisdictional amount is met. The complaint, however,
does not specify the amount of these damages, and the court
has no evidentiary foundation to enable it to infer the
amount of punitive damages potentially at issue. See,
e.g., Nolen v. JP Morgan Chase Bank, NA, No.
2:12-cv-41-WKW, 2012 WL 4378200, at *5 (M.D. Ala. Sept. 25,
2012) (explaining that requests for mental anguish and
punitive damages cannot satisfy the removing party's