United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Southern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
C. MARKS CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Sanitha Ingram (“Ingram”) initiated this suit on
March 5, 2019, by filing a complaint in the Circuit Court of
Houston County, Alabama against Defendant Hobby Lobby Stores,
Inc. (“Hobby Lobby”). (Doc. 1-1). Ingram alleges
that on or about July 5, 2017, she sustained severe injuries
when she slipped and fell on glitter in a store owned and
operated by Hobby Lobby in Dothan, Alabama. (Id. at
¶ ¶ 4-6). Ingram claims that her injuries are the
result of Hobby Lobby's negligence and/or wantonness and
she seeks compensatory and punitive damages. Id. at
March 13, 2019, Hobby Lobby removed the case to this Court on
the basis of diversity jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1332
and § 1441. Ingram is a citizen of the state of Alabama,
and the notice of removal asserts that Hobby Lobby is a
corporation organized under the laws of the state of Oklahoma
with its principal place of business in Oklahoma. (Doc. 1 at
2). Although Ingram seeks compensatory and punitive damages,
her complaint does not specify an amount of damages. In its
notice of removal, Hobby Lobby alleges that the Court has
jurisdiction over this matter because the parties are
citizens from different states and the amount in controversy
exceeds $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs because
Plaintiff's “[c]ounsel submitted a settlement
demand . . . plac[ing] the settlement value of her lawsuit
against Hobby Lobby at $185, 000 in total and offered an
abundance of specific information to support her claim for
damages.” (Doc. 1 at 4, ¶ 11).
April 11, 2019, the Plaintiff filed a motion to remand (doc.
5) which is opposed by Hobby Lobby. (Doc. 10). The motion to
remand is fully briefed, under submission, and ready for
resolution without oral argument. Upon consideration of the
motion, and for the reasons that follow, the Court concludes
that the motion to remand is due to be DENIED.
examining the issue of jurisdiction upon which the Defendant
premises removal, the Court is mindful of the fact that
federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction.
Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S.
375, 377 (1994); Burns v. Windsor Ins. Co., 31 F.3d
1092, 1095 (11th Cir. 1994). “They possess only that
power authorized by Constitution and statute.”
Dudley v. Eli Lilley & Co., 778 F.3d 909, 911
(11th Cir. 2014). Congress has empowered the federal courts
to hear cases removed by a defendant from state to federal
court if the plaintiff could have brought the claims in
federal court originally. See 28 U.S.C. §
1441(a); Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386,
establish diversity jurisdiction, the removing party must not
only demonstrate that the parties are completely diverse,
but, where the amount in controversy is not evident from the
face of the complaint, that the amount in controversy exceeds
the $75, 000 jurisdictional minimum set by 28 U.S.C. §
1332. Pretka v. Kolter City Plaza II, Inc., 608 F.3d
744, 752 (11th Cir. 2010).
statutes are to be strictly construed against removal.
Shamrock Oil & Gas Corp. v. Sheets, 313 U.S.
100, 108 (1941); Burns, 31 F.3d at 1095
(“[R]emoval statutes are construed narrowly; when the
parties dispute jurisdiction, uncertainties are resolved in
favor of remand.”). When a case is removed to federal
court, a removing defendant's burden to establish federal
jurisdiction is “a heavy one.” Pacheco de
Perez v. AT&T Co., 139 F.3d 1368, 1380 (11th Cir.
1998). The removing party has the burden of proving that
federal jurisdiction exists by a preponderance of the
evidence, and the removing party must present facts
establishing its right to remove. Williams v. Best Buy
Company, Inc., 269 F.3d 1316, 1319 (11th Cir. 2001). Any
questions or doubts are to be resolved in favor of returning
the matter to state court on a properly submitted motion to
remand. Burns, 31 F.3d at 1095. When the defendant
fails to meet its burden, the case must be remanded.
Williams, 269 F.3d at 1321.
parties agree that there is complete diversity between them
-- Ingram is a citizen of Alabama, and Hobby Lobby is
considered a citizen of the state of Oklahoma. Relying on the
Plaintiff's pre-suit demand letter dated December 6,
2018, Hobby Lobby argues that the demand letter is an
“other paper” sufficient to establish that the
amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000. (Doc. 1 at 3).
April 11, 2019, Ingram filed a motion to remand (doc. 5)
arguing that Hobby Lobby has failed to “unambiguously
establish that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000 . .
., and . . . remand is warranted.” (Id. at 1).
Thus, the issue before the Court is whether Hobby Lobby has
met its burden of establishing that the amount in controversy
exceeds $75, 000.00.
complaint does not state an amount of damages. Where the
amount in controversy is not evident from the face of the
complaint, the removing party must demonstrate by a
preponderance of the evidence that the amount in controversy
exceeds the $75, 000 jurisdictional minimum set by 28 U.S.C.
§ 1332. Pretka, 608 F.3d at 752; Lowery v.
Ala. Power Co., 483 F.3d 1184, 1207 (11th Cir. 2007).
The Plaintiff argues, however, that because the Defendant
relies on the pre-suit demand letter as “other paper,
” it must “unambiguously establish” that
the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000. (Doc. 5, ⁋
4; Doc. 6, p. 6).
the Plaintiff did not specify an amount of damages in her
complaint, and because the Defendant removed this case within
thirty (30) days of receipt of the complaint, the Court
concludes that Hobby Lobby must establish by a preponderance
of the evidence that the amount in controversy is met.
Moreover, even under the heightened “unambiguously
established” standard, the Court concludes that the
Defendant has established that the amount in controversy is
notice of removal, Hobby Lobby attached a pre-suit demand
letter from Ingram's counsel dated December 6, 2018, that
offers to settle all her claims for $185, 000. (Doc. 1-3 at
5). The letter describes in detail Ingram's injuries, her
medical treatment and expenses, and “[t]he effects of
this fall have caused Ingram chronic pain, depression,
suffering and financial hardship.” (Id. at 4).
Counsel for Ingram informed Hobby Lobby that he intended to
seek compensatory and punitive damages on behalf of his
client. (Id. Ex. B at 1). He listed ...