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Miller v. Young

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

August 23, 2019

TIFFANY MILLER, Plaintiff,
v.
DONALD YOUNG et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          R. DAVID PROCTOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This case is before the court on the Motion to Remand for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction (Doc. #4), filed by Plaintiff Tiffany Miller on July 19, 2019. The motion has been fully briefed (see Docs. #4, 7, 8), and it is ripe for decision. After careful review, and for the reasons explained below, Plaintiff's Motion to Remand (Doc. #4) is due to be granted.

         I. Background

         This case involves a motor vehicle collision between Plaintiff Tiffany Miller (“Plaintiff”) and Defendants Donald Young (“Young”)[1] and S.A.T. Trucking, Inc. (“SAT Trucking”). The accident took place on or about June 5, 2018 in Jefferson County, Alabama. (Doc. #1, Ex. A at 9). Plaintiff filed this case in the Jefferson County Circuit Court on June 10, 2019 seeking both compensatory and punitive damages, alleging negligence, wantonness, negligent hiring/supervision/retention, respondeat superior, and agency. (Doc. #1, Ex. A at 9). Since the accident, Plaintiff allegedly suffers from physical pain, mental anguish, medical expenses (reportedly in excess of at least $16, 000), permanent physical impairment, and lost wages. (Doc. #7, at 2). Plaintiff served S.A.T. Trucking with the complaint on June 17, 2019. Defendant Young, according to the Notice of Removal, has not yet been served. (Doc. #1, at 1).

         S.A.T. Trucking timely removed this case to the court on July 16, 2019. (Doc. #1). Plaintiff filed a motion to remand on July 19, 2019, with S.A.T. Trucking filing its response and objection to the motion to remand on July 31, 2019. Plaintiff's reply was filed on August 5, 2019.

         II. Standard of Review

         Under 28 U.S.C § 1332(a), a federal district court has diversity jurisdiction over parties who are completely diverse in citizenship to one another and who exceed the statutorily prescribed amount in controversy of $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs. Relatedly, under 28 U.S.C § 1441(a), “any civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction, may be removed by the defendant . . . to the district court . . . where such action is pending” (emphasis added).

         “Removal is proper if it is ‘facially apparent' from the complaint that the amount in controversy exceeds the jurisdictional requirement. Moore v. CNA Foundation, 472 F.Supp.2d 1327, 1331 (M.D. Ala. 2007) (quoting Williams v. Best Buy Co., Inc., 269 F.3d 1316, 1319 (11th Cir. 2001)). If a case is removed, the defendant bears the burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, that diversity jurisdiction does in fact exist. Williams, 269 F.3d at 1319 (citation omitted). Specifically, “[w]here . . . the plaintiff has not pled a specific amount of damages, the removing defendant must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the amount in controversy exceeds the jurisdictional requirement.” Id. (citation omitted). The Eleventh Circuit has held that where “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.” Id. (citing McNutt v. Gen. Motors Acceptance Corp., 298 U.S. 178, 189 (1936)). However, “[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.” Id. at 1319-20. To be sure, while it is true that a district court may rely on “reasonable deductions, reasonable inferences, or other reasonable extrapolations” in determining whether a defendant has met its burden, such deductions and inferences must be based on actual evidence as opposed to pure conjecture. Pretka v. Kolter City Plaza II, Inc., 608 F.3d 744, 754 (11th Cir. 2010).

         III. Analysis

         In this case, Plaintiff did not set forth in her complaint a demand for a specific amount of damages; rather, she alleged she was injured and stated, “the Plaintiff demands Judgment . . . for compensatory and punitive damages in an amount that the Plaintiff would legally and justifiably be entitled to recover as determined by the trier of fact . . . .” accompanying each claim. (See Doc. #1, Ex. A at 9, 15). Moreover, it is not facially apparent from the complaint that Plaintiff's damages exceed $75, 000. Thus, the court must look to the notice of removal and any evidence submitted by the parties to determine whether S.A.T. Trucking met its burden of proving the requisite amount-in-controversy. Williams, 269 F.3d at 1319.

         S.A.T. Trucking advances three arguments as to why removal is proper. First, S.A.T. Trucking contends that Plaintiff's claims for compensatory and punitive damages are bound to exceed the threshold limit of $75, 000. (Doc. #1, at 2-3). Second, S.A.T. Trucking contends that because Plaintiff seeks punitive damages for wantonness, “judicial experience and common sense” provide that this case would easily surpass the $75, 000 threshold. Third, S.A.T. Trucking contends that because Plaintiff failed to stipulate that the damages being sought do not exceed $75, 000, the court should find that the amount in controversy does in fact surpass the $75, 000 threshold. Addressing each, in turn, the court finds that S.A.T. Trucking has failed to meet its burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the amount in controversy is satisfied.

         A. Conclusory Allegations Will Not Suffice to Prove that the Amount in Controversy is Satisfied

         S.A.T. Trucking contends that Plaintiff's claims for compensatory and punitive damages are bound to exceed the threshold limit of $75, 000. (Doc. #1, at 2-3). S.A.T. Trucking also argues that Plaintiff's medical expenses (which, as of a few months ago, already amounted to approximately $16, 000) will inevitably increase. (Doc. #7, at 2). However, S.A.T. Trucking did not provide any additional information in its response and objection to support that assertion. (Doc. #7). While Plaintiff might have sustained significant injury and may be seeking continued medical treatment, the argument that Plaintiff's medical expenses will undoubtedly increase, without more, is too conclusory and speculative. As noted in Pretka, a removing party may introduce summary judgment-type evidence, such as “affidavits, declarations, or other documentation, ” to support a finding that the amount-in-controversy is satisfied. 608 F.3d at 755. But, S.A.T. trucking has failed to produce any evidence outside of the four corners of the motion.

         S.A.T. Trucking also argues that because it carries liability insurance with “limits far above the threshold of $75, 000, ” see Doc. #1, at 2, Plaintiff may likely recover more than $75, 000. However, the test for determining whether the amount in controversy is satisfied is not how much the plaintiff will likely recover, but rather whether the complaint, or removal, on its face, plausibly sets out that the plaintiff could in fact recover damages in excess of $75, 000. Jones v. Novartis Pharmaceuticals Co., 952 F.Supp.2d 1277, 1283 (N.D. Ala. 2013) (“A court's analysis of the amount-in-controversy requirement focuses on how much is in controversy at the time of removal, not later.” ...


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