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Brown v. Ford Motor Co.

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

August 28, 2019

DARRYL L. BROWN, Plaintiff,
v.
FORD MOTOR COMPANY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION ON MOTION FOR REMAND

          SUSAN RUSS WALKER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Darryl L. Brown filed this action against Defendant Ford Motor Company in the Autauga County Circuit Court of the State of Alabama on January 29, 2019. Brown served Ford with the complaint in this action effective February 1, 2019.

         According to Brown's allegations, in 2011 Ford designed, manufactured and marketed a model F-250 pickup truck with what it described as a low-emission, high-fuel-efficiency, “Power Stroke” diesel engine. Brown maintains that, notwithstanding Ford's representations regarding the Power Stroke diesel engine, the engine was neither less polluting nor more fuel efficient than other comparably-sized diesel engines. Ford continued manufacturing and marketing F-250 pickup trucks with the Power Stroke diesel engine, and, Brown alleges, knowingly continued to misrepresent the engine's emissions and efficiency characteristics from 2011 until 2017. In 2014, Brown purchased a used 2013 F-250 pickup truck manufactured by Ford with the Power Stroke diesel engine (the “vehicle”) from a used car dealer for a purchase price of approximately $50, 000.

         Arising out of the foregoing, Brown alleges that Ford is liable to him under Alabama law for fraud, fraud in the inducement, breach of express warranty, and breach of implied warranty, and under federal law for violation of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act. In connection with his state law claims, Brown seeks an award of his actual monetary damages in unspecified amounts, punitive damages in unspecified amounts, and attorney fees and costs. In connection with his federal claim, Brown seeks an award of his actual damages in an unspecified amount expressly stipulated not to exceed $49, 000, as well as his attorney fees and costs.

         Effective March 4, 2019, Ford removed Brown's action to this court, on the sole stated ground that this court can properly exercise diversity jurisdiction over Brown's claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a), based on the complete diversity of the parties and the amount in controversy. In support of its removal, Ford asserts that the amount in controversy plainly exceeds the $75, 000 jurisdictional threshold after Brown's prayer for unspecified punitive damages is taken into account.

         Now before the court is Brown's Motion for Remand (Doc. 6). The undersigned has considered the motion and all of the pleadings on file. For the reasons set forth below, Brown's motion will be granted, and this action will be remanded to the Autauga County Circuit Court for further proceedings in that forum.

         I. LEGAL STANDARD

         “A motion to remand [a] case on the basis of any defect other than lack of subject matter jurisdiction must be made within 30 days after . . . notice of removal under section 28 U.S.C. §]1446(a) [is filed]. If at any time before final judgment it appears that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the case shall be remanded.” 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). On a motion for remand, the party opposing remand has the burden to establish that removal was proper. See Triggs v. John Crump Toyota, Inc., 154 F.3d 1284, 1287 n. 4 (11th Cir. 1998). The removal statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1441, is strictly construed against the party seeking to establish grounds for removal, such that all doubts about removal must be resolved in favor of remand. See Burns v. Windsor Ins. Co., 31 F.3d 1092, 1095 (11th Cir. 1994).

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Removal premised on diversity jurisdiction

         When a defendant removes an action from state court on the ground that the federal court may properly exercise diversity jurisdiction over the action, the defendant bears the burden of establishing federal jurisdiction, including satisfaction of the amount-in-controversy requirement as of the date of removal.[1] See Leonard v. Enterprise Rent-A-Car, 279 F.3d 967, 972 (11th Cir. 2002). Where the complaint does not specify a total amount in controversy, the party seeking removal must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the amount in controversy exceeds the $75, 000 jurisdictional threshold. See Id. Where a complaint seeks award of punitive damages, courts consider the amount of punitive damages that may be awarded on the plaintiff's claims in determining whether the jurisdictional threshold has been satisfied. See Bell v. Preferred Life Assurance Soc'y, 320 U.S. 238, 240 (1943); see also Holley Equip. Co. v. Credit All. Corp., 821 F.2d 1531, 1535 (11th Cir. 1987).

         In analyzing the merits of a motion for remand, if it is not facially apparent from the complaint that the jurisdictional threshold has been met, the courts accept as true the removing defendant's unchallenged allegations regarding the amount in controversy; however, where the removing defendant's allegations regarding the amount in controversy are challenged, courts consider the parties' evidentiary submissions to determine whether the removing defendant has met its burden to establish the satisfaction of the jurisdictional threshold by a preponderance of the evidence. See Dart Cherokee Basin Operating Co., LLC v. Owens, 574 U.S. 81, 135 S.Ct. 547, 553-554 (2014). In making that determination, the courts may properly make “‘reasonable deductions, reasonable inferences, or other reasonable extrapolations' from the pleadings.” Roe v. Michelin N. Am., Inc., 613 F.3d 1058, 1061-1062 (11th Cir. 2010), quoting Pretka v. Kolter City Plaza II, Inc., 608 F.3d 754 (11th Cir. 2010).

         Here, Ford offers no evidence regarding the amount in controversy, [2] but rather invites the court to infer or extrapolate from Brown's allegations that it is facially apparent that the jurisdictional threshold has been exceeded. First, Ford argues that it may reasonably be inferred from Brown's allegations that Brown's alleged actual damages are in the amount of approximately $50, 000. Second, Ford argues that the court may rely on its “judicial experience and common sense, ” Taylor v. Alabama CVS Pharmacy, L.L.C., 2017 WL 3009695, *2 (N.D. Ala. July 14, 2017) (unpublished disposition), to determine both that punitive damages may be awarded on Brown's claims and that, in the event such damages were awarded, they would be in an amount sufficient to bring the total amount in controversy above the jurisdictional threshold.

         Ford's argument is unpersuasive. As to the actual damages component of the amount in controversy, Ford notes Brown's allegation that, but for Ford's misrepresentations regarding the characteristics of the Power Stroke diesel engine, he “would not have purchased the vehicle or would have paid less for it, ” Doc. 1, Exh. A, ¶ 20, and his allegation that the purchase price Brown paid for the vehicle was “approximately $50, 000, ” id., ¶ 6. On the basis of these allegations, Ford contends that “on the face of the Complaint, the full purchase price of the vehicle” - approximately $50, 000 - “is in controversy.” (Doc 12, p. 5, n. 2.) However, it is fundamental that in calculating the amount of Brown's actual damages, the value ...


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