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Black v. Corporate Transportation, Inc.

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

February 6, 2019

BETTY JEAN BLACK, Plaintiff,
v.
CORPORATE TRANSPORTATION, INC., and RODNEY BENNETT, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Susan Russ Walker, United States Magistrate Judge.

         This matter is before the court on plaintiff's motion to remand and amend her complaint, Doc. 5, and defendants' motion to substitute Exhibit C to its notice of removal. This case was initially assigned to the undersigned as presiding judge, and the parties subsequently consented in writing to the exercise of final dispositive jurisdiction by the magistrate judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73(a). Doc. 15; Doc. 16. The motion to remand and motion to substitute exhibit have been briefed and taken under submission without oral argument. For the reasons stated herein, the defendants' motion to substitute exhibit is due to be GRANTED, and plaintiff's motion to remand is also due to be GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND AND FACTS [1]

         Plaintiff initiated this suit on November 2, 2017 by filing a complaint in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, Alabama. Doc. 1-1. Plaintiff was involved in a vehicle collision with a truck operated by defendant Rodney Bennett during the course of his employment with defendant Corporate Transportation (collectively “defendants”). Id. Plaintiff's complaint alleges that, as a result of Bennett's negligence, recklessness and wantonness, and as a result of Corporate Transportation's negligent and wanton entrustment, and negligent training, retention, and supervision, plaintiff suffered substantial injuries. Id. Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages as well as court costs and attorney fees, but her complaint does not specify the amount of damages she intends to claim. Id.

         When plaintiff filed her complaint, plaintiff also served the complaint and summons, interrogatories, and discovery requests on both defendants. See Doc. 1-2 at 14-44. These documents were delivered to defendant Corporate Transportation on November 6, 2017. Id. at 78. However, attempts to serve defendant Bennett were unsuccessful. See Id. at 79-81. Corporate Transportation filed its answer to plaintiff's complaint on March 19, 2018, id. at 45-54, along with a motion for a qualified protective order, id. at 55-57, notice of deposition, id. at 60-61, discovery request, id. at 62-69, and interrogatories, id. at 70-77. Defendants filed their notice of removal, which is premised on diversity jurisdiction, on April 3, 2018. Doc. 1 at 1.

         II. THE PARTIES' POSITIONS

         According to the defendants, their notice of removal is timely because defendant Bennett has not been served the original summons and complaint, and because Corporate Transportation consents to such removal. Id. at 3. Defendants allege complete diversity of parties, and state that, based on plaintiff's incurred medical expenses, totaling $10, 647.69 as of September 8, 2017, anticipated future medical expenses, damages for mental anguish, damages for pain and suffering, and punitive damages, that it is reasonable to conclude that the damages will exceed the jurisdictional threshold of $75, 000. Id. at 2-3.

         Plaintiff's motion to remand does not dispute the timeliness of defendants' removal or diversity of the parties. Doc. 5. Plaintiff argues that the case is due to be remanded because the amount in controversy requirement has not been met. Id. ¶ 1. Plaintiff maintains that defendants failed to provide evidence to this court that the amount in controversy exceeds the jurisdictional minimum and that defendants' pre-suit offer of $2, 500 demonstrates that defendants “clearly value [the] case below the $75, 000 threshold.” Id. ¶¶ 3-4. Further, plaintiff seeks leave to amend its state court complaint to restrict damages sought to $74, 999. Id. ¶ 5; Doc. 5-2 ¶ 42.

         Defendants argue, in response to plaintiff's motion to remand and amend its complaint, that on three separate occasions, plaintiff's counsel provided estimates of plaintiff's claim that were in excess of the jurisdictional threshold. Doc. 13 at 5. Defendants further argue that the plaintiff's pre-removal settlement demands, negotiations, and accompanying documentation support the inference that plaintiff's counsel attempted to make a reasonable valuation of plaintiff's claims, and that the plaintiff's own valuations are entitled to great weight in determining the amount in controversy. Id. at 5-6. In support of their notice of removal, defendants submit evidence of Corporate Transportation's insurance policy declarations, emails detailing plaintiff's pre-suit demand of $147, 500, and an affidavit by a claims representative of Corporate Transportations insurance carrier which states that on March 28, 2018, plaintiff's attorney indicated that plaintiff would be unwilling to settle for less than “six figures.” Doc. 12. Defendants also submit a motion to substitute an exhibit to the notice of removal, which includes an accident report and plaintiff's medical bills and record, along with plaintiff's pre-suit settlement demand letter. Doc. 11-1.

         III. LEGAL STANDARDS

         A. REMOVAL

         “It is by now axiomatic that the inferior courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. They are ‘empowered to hear only those cases within the judicial power of the United States as defined by Article III of the Constitution,' and which have been entrusted to them by a jurisdictional grant authorized by Congress.” Griffith v. Wal-Mart Stores East, L.P., 884 F.Supp.2d 1218, 1221 (N.D. Ala. 2012) (citing Univ. of S. Ala. v. Am. Tobacco Co., 168 F.3d 405, 409 (11th Cir. 1999)). “[B]ecause removal jurisdiction raises significant federalism concerns, federal courts are directed to construe removal statutes strictly.” Id. (citing Univ. of S. Ala., 168 F.3d at 411).

         The removing party has the burden of establishing subject matter jurisdiction. Griffith, 884 F.Supp.2d at 1221. “[B]ecause the jurisdiction of federal courts is limited, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals favors remand of cases that have been removed where federal jurisdiction is not absolutely clear.” Id. (quoting Lowe's OK'd Used Cars, Inc. v. Acceptance Ins. Co., 995 F.Supp. 1388, 1389 (M.D. Ala. 1998)). “In fact, removal statutes are to be strictly construed, with all doubts resolved in favor of remand.” Id. (quoting Lowe's, 995 F.Supp. at 1389).

         In considering a motion to remand, a district court “has before it only the limited universe of evidence available when the motion to remand is filed - i.e., the notice of removal and accompanying documents, ” and “[i]f that evidence is insufficient to establish that removal was proper or that jurisdiction was present, neither the defendants nor the court may speculate in an attempt to make up for the notice's failings.” Lowery v. Ala. Power Co., 483 F.3d 1184, 1214-15 (11th Cir. 2007). However, “a defendant may add post-removal evidence of jurisdiction to the record when that evidence is otherwise admissible.” Pretka v. Kolter City Plaza II, Inc., 608 F.3d 744, 773 (11th Cir. 2010) (considering evidence establishing the amount in controversy requirement (citing Lowery, 483 F.3d at 1218-21)). See also Travaglio v. Am. Express Co., 735 F.3d 1266, 1269 (11th Cir. 2013) (“we need not vacate a decision on the merits if the evidence submitted during the course of the proceedings cures any jurisdictional pleading deficiency by convincing us of the parties' citizenship” (considering evidence establishing diversity of citizenship)); Sierminski v. Transouth Fin. Corp., 216 F.3d 945, 949 (11th Cir. 2000) (“[w]e align ourselves with our sister circuits in adopting a more flexible approach, allowing the district court when ...


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