Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Dees v. Coleman American Moving Services, Inc.

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

October 26, 2017

MARK DEES, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
COLEMAN AMERICAN MOVING SERVICES, INC., et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          WILLIAM H. STEELE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on the plaintiffs' motion to remand. (Doc. 14). The parties have submitted briefs and evidentiary materials in support of their respective positions, (Docs. 14, 16, 18), and the motion is ripe for resolution. After careful consideration, the Court concludes that the motion is due to be granted.

         BACKGROUND

         The plaintiffs filed in state court a five-count complaint, with each count asserting a claim under state law. The complaint alleges that the defendants, while under contract to move the plaintiffs' property, damaged that property but have refused to pay for the damage as per the parties' contract. No other wrongdoing of any kind is alleged. Claims are asserted for bad faith, breach of contract, fraud, negligence and wantonness. (Doc. 1 at 7-12). The complaint seeks an award of compensatory and punitive damages but does not demand any particular amount.

         The defendants removed on the basis of federal question jurisdiction. Although the complaint asserts only state-law claims, the defendants argue that those claims are completely preempted by the Carmack Amendment, thereby furnishing federal question jurisdiction.[1]

         DISCUSSION

         This Court has already held that, in light of the Supreme Court's analysis expressed in Beneficial National Bank v. Anderson, 539 U.S. 1 (2003), “complete preemption applies in a Carmack Amendment context.” U.S. Aviation Underwriters, Inc. v. Yellow Freight System, Inc., 296 F.Supp.2d 1322, 1338 (S.D. Ala. 2003); accord Stabler v. Pack & Load Services, Inc., 2011 WL 245491 at *1 (S.D. Ala. 2011). The Court is not alone. The only two courts of appeal known to have addressed the issue have reached the same conclusion, [2] as have a number of sister courts within the Eleventh Circuit.[3] The plaintiffs offer the Court no reason to reconsider its position.

         Instead, the plaintiffs assert that the amount in controversy does not exceed $10, 000. In support of this argument, they point to their amended complaint (filed in federal court), which adds a sixth count invoking the Carmack Amendment, for the violation of which they demand $6, 130. (Doc. 8 at 6-7).

         The defendants first suggest that the amount in controversy is irrelevant, (Doc. 16 at 2), but this is incorrect. The only cases that may properly be removed are those “of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction.” 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). The Carmack Amendment is housed in 49 U.S.C. § 14706, and “the district courts shall have original jurisdiction of an action brought under section 11706 or 14706 of title 49, only if the matter in controversy for each receipt or bill of lading exceeds $10, 000, exclusive of interest and costs.” 28 U.S.C. § 1337(a). As the party invoking the Court's subject matter jurisdiction, the burden lies with the defendants to demonstrate that this jurisdictional threshold is satisfied.

         “[W]here jurisdiction is based on a claim for indeterminate damages, ... the party seeking to invoke federal jurisdiction bears the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that the claim on which it is basing jurisdiction meets the jurisdictional minimum.” Federated Mutual Insurance Co. v. McKinnon Motors, LLC, 329 F.3d 805, 807 (11th Cir. 2003). Because the complaint does not identify a specific sum demanded under an (unpleaded) Carmack Amendment cause of action, the defendants' burden is to show by a preponderance of the evidence that the amount in controversy under the Carmack Amendment more likely than not exceeds $10, 000.

         To meet their burden, the defendants note the following: (1) the complaint seeks an award of both compensatory and punitive damages; (2) the complaint alleges the plaintiffs insured the moved property for $75, 000; and (3) prior to removal, the plaintiffs made a settlement offer of $22, 500. (Doc. 16 at 5).[4] These circumstances do not carry the defendants' burden.

         As noted, the complaint asserts state-law causes of action, some of which permit an award of punitive damages and/or emotional distress damages. The plaintiffs seek such damages, along with “loss and use [sic] of their property, economic loss [and] consequential damages” and “full replacement value of the damaged property.” (Doc. 1 at 8, 11). The defendants assume the Court can consider all these elements of damage in determining the amount in controversy, but they are mistaken.

         “When determining the jurisdictional amount in controversy in diversity cases, punitive damages must be considered, [citations omitted], unless it is apparent to a legal certainty that such cannot be recovered.” Holley Equipment Co. v. Credit Alliance Corp., 821 F.2d 1531, 1535 (11th Cir. 1987). Alabama law may allow punitive damages and emotional distress damages, but that is not here relevant. The defendants' theory of the Court's jurisdiction is that all state claims have been completely preempted by the Carmack Amendment, which means that the plaintiffs' “state law claims morph into a federal Carmack Amendment claim.” Yellow Freight, 296 F.Supp.2d at 1339. The relevant question is thus whether punitive damages and emotional distress damages are recoverable under the Carmack Amendment; if they are not, they cannot be considered in determining the amount in controversy.

         The Eleventh Circuit has not addressed this issue. Other courts of appeal are split, with a majority of the courts (and all the more recent decisions) ruling that neither punitive damages nor emotional distress damages are recoverable under the Carmack Amendment. Compare Morris v. Covan World Wide Moving, Inc., 144 F.3d 377, 382-83 (5th Cir. 1998) (punitive damages and emotional distress damages are not recoverable under the Carmack Amendment); Gordon v. United Van Lines, Inc., 130 F.3d 282, 285-87 (7th Cir. 1997) (same); and Cleveland v. Beltman North American Co., 30 F.3d 373, 379-81 (2nd Cir. 1994) (same as to punitive damages) with Reed v. Aaacon Auto Transport, Inc., 637 F.2d 1302, 1307 (10th Cir. 1981) (Carmack Amendment does not preclude awards of punitive damages), overruled ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.