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Beasley v. Gumprecht

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

December 22, 2017




         This action is assigned to the undersigned magistrate judge to conduct all proceedings and order entry of judgment by consent of all the parties (Docs. 12-13, filed 11/6/17) and 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). Pending before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion to Remand (Doc. 7, filed 9/20/17). The motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for review. Having considered the motion, response, and relevant law, the Court finds the motion to remand is due to be GRANTED.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         Plaintiff Rebecca Beasley (“Beasley” or “Plaintiff”) filed this a complaint in Barbour County, Alabama Circuit Court on July 17, 2017. See Doc. 1, Exhibit 4, Complaint. Plaintiff's lawsuit alleges counts of Breach of Contract, Conversion, and Libel and/or Slander against Defendant Blake Gumprecht (“Gumprecht” or “Defendant”). Id. The Complaint does not provide for a specific amount of damages sought, but requests “both compensatory and punitive damages as the Court may deem just and appropriate, along with her costs in this action.” Id. at p. 4.

         On August 22, 2017, Defendant filed a Notice of Removal in this court based on an assertion of diversity jurisdiction. See Doc. 1, generally. Defendant states in his Notice of Removal that the case is properly removable under 28 U.S.C. §1441 because the United States District Court has original jurisdiction over this case under 28 U.S.C. §1332.

         Specifically, Defendant asserts diversity jurisdiction exists in this case because the amount in controversy exceeds the $75, 000 jurisdictional threshold and complete diversity of citizenship exists among the parties. Plaintiff is a citizen of Alabama and Defendant is a citizen of North Dakota.

         Plaintiff timely filed her motion to remand on September 20, 2017. See Doc. 7. In the motion to remand, Plaintiff asserts the amount in controversy does not meet the jurisdictional threshold. Concurrent with the motion to remand, Plaintiff also filed a Stipulation of Amount in Controversy wherein she stated she does not seek any amount in excess of $74, 999.00 exclusive of interest and costs. See Doc. 6. Plaintiff further asserts that Defendant's counterclaims cannot be used to establish the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000.00.

         Defendant timely responded to the motion to remand on October 12, 2017. See Doc. 11. In the response, Defendant argues that the amount being negotiated was between $70, 000 and $120, 000. Defendant bases this number on the email exchange between Plaintiff's counsel and Defendant which included the counterclaims. See Doc. 1, Exhibit 2. Further, Defendant states he “alleges a complete loss of his business investment of [$70, 000.00] plus incidental and consequential damages, as well as punitive damages for his count of Promissory Fraud.” See Doc. 11 at p. 2. Defendant also attaches to the response to remand three exhibits: (1) an asset sale agreement, (2) Building Sale Agreement, and (3) Barbour Tax Assessment. See Doc. 11, Exhibits A-C. Per Exhibit C, the Barbour County Tax Assessment attached values the property and building at $49, 100.00. In Exhibit A, the sales price for the assets listed in the section are $50, 000.00. In the Exhibit B, the sales price of the property was for $20, 000.00. Next Defendant argues the Court must consider the unspecified damages amount also includes a punitive damage claim. Finally, Defendant argues that the stipulation of amount in controversy has no effect on this Court's jurisdiction and is solely an attempt to manipulate the forum.

         The motion is fully brief and ripe for review of whether this Court has diversity jurisdiction.

         II. Standard of Review

         Federal courts have a strict duty to exercise jurisdiction conferred on them by Congress. Quackenbush v. Allstate Ins. Co., 517 U.S. 706, 716, 116 S.Ct. 1712, 1720, 135 L.Ed.2d 1 (1996). However, federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction and possess only that power authorized by Constitution and statute. Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377, 114 S.Ct. 1673, 1675, 128 L.Ed.2d 391 (1994); Burns v. Windsor Insurance Co., 31 F.3d 1092, 1095 (1994). Defendant, as the party removing this action, have the burden of establishing federal jurisdiction. See Leonard v. Enterprise Rent a Car, 279 F.3d 967, 972 (11th Cir. 2002) (citing Williams v. Best Buy Co., 269 F.3d 1316, 1318 (11th Cir. 2001)). Further, the federal removal statutes must be construed narrowly and doubts about removal must be resolved in favor of remand. Allen v. Christenberry, 327 F.3d 1290, 1293 (11th Cir. 2003) (citing Diaz v. Sheppard, 85 F.3d 1502, 1505 (11th Cir. 1996)); Burns, 31 F.3d at 1095 (citations omitted).

         III. Discussion and Analysis

         Since this lawsuit began in state court, the court's jurisdiction depends on the propriety of removal. Diversity jurisdiction exists where there is diversity of citizenship and the amount in controversy exceeds $ 75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs. 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Section 1446(b) then answers the question of when an action is removable, setting forth the preconditions for removal in two types of cases: (1) those removable on the basis of an initial pleading; and (2) those that later become removable on the basis of “a copy of an amended pleading, motion, order or other paper.” The notice of removal must “be filed within thirty days after the receipt by the defendant … of a copy of the initial pleading setting forth the claim for relief upon which such action or proceeding is based.” 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b).

         “A party removing a case to federal court based on diversity of citizenship bears the burden of establishing the citizenship of the parties.” Rolling Greens MHP, L.P. v. Comcast SCH Holdings L.L.C., 374 F.3d 1020, 1022 (11th Cir. 2004). Therefore, removal jurisdiction based upon diversity requires: (1) a complete diversity of citizenship between the plaintiff(s) and the defendant(s) and (2) satisfaction of the amount in controversy requirement. Further, “[f]or purposes of removal under this chapter, the citizenship of defendants sued under fictitious names shall be ...

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