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Jones v. Marriott International, Inc.

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

May 22, 2018

ZINA JONES, Plaintiff,
v.
MARRIOTT INTERNATIONAL, INC., SABRINA LE, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          KATHERINE P. NELSON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This matter comes before the Court on sua sponte review. In accordance with provisions of 28 U.S.C. §636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73, the parties in this case have consented to have the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge conduct any and all proceedings in this case, including the trial, order the entry of a final judgment, and conduct all post-judgment proceedings. (Doc. 9). As discussed herein, the undersigned has determined that subject matter jurisdiction is lacking and this matter is due to be REMANDED to the Circuit Court of Mobile County, Alabama.[1]

         I. Background

         This action, originally filed by Plaintiff Zina Jones (“Plaintiff”), was removed to this Court from the Circuit Court of Mobile County, Alabama, by Defendants Marriott International, Inc. and Sabrina Le (“Defendants”)[2] under 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). (See Doc. 1). In the Notice of Removal (Doc. 1), Defendants allege diversity of citizenship under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a) as the sole basis for the Court's subject matter jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. § 1446(a) (“A defendant or defendants desiring to remove any civil action from a State court shall file in the district court of the United States for the district and division within which such action is pending a notice of removal…containing a short and plain statement of the grounds for removal…”).

         Where, as here, a case is removed from state court, “[t]he burden of establishing subject matter jurisdiction falls on the party invoking removal.” Univ. of S. Alabama v. Am. Tobacco Co., 168 F.3d 405, 411-12 (11th Cir. 1999). Accord, e.g., City of Vestavia Hills v. Gen. Fid. Ins. Co., 676 F.3d 1310, 1313 (11th Cir. 2012) (“The removing party bears the burden of proof regarding the existence of federal subject matter jurisdiction.”). “A defendant may remove an action to a district court that would have original jurisdiction if complete diversity between the parties exists and the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000.” City of Vestavia Hills, 676 F.3d at 1313 (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1332).

         The undersigned previously determined that the Notice of Removal failed to sufficiently demonstrate that the amount in controversy “exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs…” 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a) (Doc 5). To meet the amount in controversy requirement, the removing defendant must demonstrate that the amount in controversy likely exceeds the court's jurisdictional threshold:

Where the complaint does not expressly allege a specific amount in controversy, removal is proper if it is facially apparent from the complaint that the amount in controversy exceeds the jurisdictional requirement. If the jurisdictional amount is not facially apparent from the complaint, the court should look to the notice of removal and may require evidence relevant to the amount in controversy at the time the case was removed ... A conclusory allegation in the notice of removal that the jurisdictional amount is satisfied, without setting forth the underlying facts supporting such an assertion, is insufficient to meet the defendant's burden.

Williams v. Best Buy Co., 269 F.3d 1316, 1319-20 (11th Cir. 2001).

         The Complaint does not contain a demand for a specific sum. (Doc. 1-1 at 3-8). Defendants have claimed that it is apparent from the face of the Complaint, “[g]iven the nature of the claimed permanent personal injuries, psychological injuries, loss of enjoyment of life, and the demand for punitive damages[, ]” that the amount in controversy requirement is satisfied. (Doc. 1 at 10). As the Court previously held, these allegations, however, do not make § 1332(a) requisite amount in controversy “facially apparent” from the complaint. See Williams, 269 F.3d at 1318[3]; See also Collinsworth v. Big Dog Treestand, Inc., 2016 WL 3620775 at *1, *3 (S.D. Ala. June 29, 2016)(finding general listing of categories of damages did not satisfy amount in controversy requirement).[4] (Doc. 5).

         On April 18, 2018, after reviewing the filings, the undersigned entered an order (Doc. 5) directing the Defendants to brief the question of amount in controversy for purposes of enabling the Court to determine whether diversity jurisdiction was present. Defendants were cautioned that failure to meet their burden with regard to establishing subject matter jurisdiction may result in remand of this matter. (Doc. 5 at 3-4). Defendants Marriott International, Inc. and Sabrina Le have briefed the issue. (Doc. 6).

         II. Analysis

         Pursuant to § 1332, federal courts have original jurisdiction over all civil actions between citizens of different states where the amount in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs. See Underwriters at Lloyd's, London v. Osting-Schwinn, 613 F.3d 1079, 1085 (11th Cir. 2010) (“For federal diversity jurisdiction to attach, all parties must be completely diverse ... and the amount in controversy must exceed $75, 000.”) (citations omitted). “In light of the federalism and separation of powers concerns implicated by diversity jurisdiction, federal courts are obligated to strictly construe the statutory grant of diversity jurisdiction ... [and] to scrupulously confine their own jurisdiction to the precise limits which the statute has defined.” Morrison v. Allstate Indem. Co., 228 F.3d 1255, 1268 (11th Cir. 2000) (citations omitted).[5]

         Congress, through § 1446(b), has established a “bifurcated removal approach, ” under which a state court defendant may remove a case to federal court at two procedurally distinct moments in time. Lee v. Lilly Trucking of Va., Inc., 2012 WL 960989, at *1 (M.D.Ala. Mar. 21, 2012).

First, if it is facially apparent from the initial pleading that subject matter jurisdiction exists, § 1446(b)(1) provides the procedure for removal. Such a removal must be accomplished “within 30 days after the receipt by the defendant ... of a copy of the initial pleading setting forth the claim for relief upon which such action is based....” § 1446(b)(1). However, “[i]f the case stated by the initial pleading is not removable, a notice of removal may be filed within 30 days after receipt by the defendant, through service or otherwise, of a copy of an amended pleading, ...

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