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Krikorian v. Ford Motor Co.

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

November 6, 2019

SAM KRIKORIAN, Plaintiff,
v.
FORD MOTOR COMPANY, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          KATHERINE P. NELSON, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This action is before the Court on the motion to remand under 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c) (Doc. 10) filed by the Plaintiff, Sam Krikorian. The assigned District Judge has referred the motion to the undersigned Magistrate Judge for appropriate action under 28 U.S.C. § 636(a)-(b), Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72, and S.D. Ala. GenLR 72(a). See S.D. Ala. GenLR 72(b); (9/5/2019 electronic reference). In accordance with the Court's briefing schedule (see Doc. 11), the Defendant, Ford Motor Company (“Ford”), timely filed a response (Doc. 12) in opposition to the motion, and Krikorian timely filed a reply (Doc. 13) to the response. The motion is now under submission (see Doc. 11).

         Upon consideration, the undersigned will, pursuant to § 636(b)(1)(B)-(C) and Rule 72(b)(1), recommend that the Court deny Krikorian's motion to remand (Doc. 10) for the reasons explained herein.

         I. Procedural Background

         Krikorian commenced this case on July 26, 2019, by filing a five-count complaint in the Circuit Court of Baldwin County, Alabama (see Doc. 1 at 14 - 74), alleging causes of action against Ford for fraud (Count One), fraud in the inducement (Count Two), breaches of express warranty (Count Three) and implied warranty (Count Four), and violations of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, 15 U.S.C. § 2301, et seq. (Count Five), arising from his purchase of an allegedly defective automobile manufactured by Ford. Ford removed Krikorian's case to this Court under 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a) on August 27, 2019. See (Doc. 1).

         II. Analysis

         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.”). Ford alleges diversity of citizenship under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a) as the sole basis for this Court's original 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…”).[1]

         “Diversity jurisdiction requires complete diversity; every plaintiff must be diverse from every defendant.” Triggs v. John Crump Toyota, Inc., 154 F.3d 1284, 1287 (11th Cir. 1998). Thus, a “ ‘party removing a case to federal court based on diversity of citizenship bears the burden of establishing the citizenship of the parties.' ” Purchasing Power, LLC v. Bluestem Brands, Inc., 851 F.3d 1218, 1225 (11th Cir. 2017) (quoting Rolling Greens MHP, L.P. v. Comcast SCH Holdings L.L.C., 374 F.3d 1020, 1022 (11th Cir. 2004) (per curiam)). See also, e.g., Ray v. Bird & Son & Asset Realization Co., Inc., 519 F.2d 1081, 1082 (5th Cir. 1975) (“The burden of pleading diversity of citizenship is upon the party invoking federal jurisdiction . . .” (citing Mas v. Perry, 489 F.2d 1396 (5th Cir. 1974)).[2] Diversity jurisdiction also requires that “the matter in controversy exceed[] the sum or value of $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs.” 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a); Underwriters at Lloyd's, London v. Osting-Schwinn, 613 F.3d 1079, 1085 & n.4 (11th Cir. 2010). Ford has sufficiently alleged, and Krikorian does not dispute, that the parties are diverse.[3] However, Krikorian does assert that Ford cannot sufficiently prove that the requisite minimum amount in controversy is satisfied.

         When, as here, “the complaint does not claim a specific amount of damages, removal from state court 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.” Williams v. Best Buy Co., 269 F.3d 1316, 1319 (11th Cir. 2001). “ ‘[R]emoval ... is proper on the basis of an amount in controversy asserted' by the defendant ‘if the district court finds, by the preponderance of the evidence, that the amount in controversy exceeds' the jurisdictional threshold.” Dart Cherokee Basin Operating Co., LLC v. Owens, 574 U.S. 81 (2014) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 1446(c)(2)(B)).

         Ford argues that the requisite amount in controversy is apparent from the face of Krikorian's complaint.[4]

If a defendant alleges that removability is apparent from the face of the complaint, the district court must evaluate whether the complaint itself satisfies the defendant's jurisdictional burden. In making this determination, the district court is not bound by the plaintiff's representations regarding its claim, nor must it assume that the plaintiff is in the best position to evaluate the amount of damages sought. [Pretka v. Kolter City Plaza II, Inc., 608 F.3d 744');">608 F.3d 744, ] 771[ (11th Cir. 2010)]. Indeed, in some cases, the defendant or the court itself may be better-situated to accurately assess the amount in controversy. See Id. (explaining that “sometimes the defendant's evidence on the value of the claims will be even better than the plaintiff's evidence, ” and that a court may use its judgment to determine “which party has better access to the relevant information.”).
Eleventh Circuit precedent permits district courts to make “reasonable deductions, reasonable inferences, or other reasonable extrapolations” from the pleadings to determine whether it is facially apparent that a case is removable. See Id. at 754. Put simply, a district court need not “suspend reality or shelve common sense in determining whether the face of a complaint ... establishes the jurisdictional amount.” See Id. at 770 (quoting Roe v. Michelin N. Am., Inc., 637 F.Supp.2d 995, 999 (M.D. Ala. 2009)); see also Williams, 269 F.3d at 1319 (11th Cir. 2001) (allowing district courts to consider whether it is “facially apparent” from a complaint that the amount in controversy is met). Instead, courts may use their judicial experience and common sense in determining whether the case stated in a complaint meets federal jurisdictional requirements.

Roe v. Michelin N. Am., Inc., 613 F.3d 1058, 1061-62 (11th Cir. 2010).[5]

         “[A] removing defendant is not required to prove the amount in controversy beyond all doubt or to banish all uncertainty about it.” Pretka, 608 F.3d at 754. “What counts is the amount in controversy at the time of removal. It is less a prediction of how much the plaintiffs are ultimately likely to recover, than it is an estimate of how much will be put at issue during the litigation; in other words, the amount is not discounted by the chance that the plaintiffs will lose on the merits.” S. Fla. Wellness, Inc. v. Allstate Ins. Co., 745 F.3d 1312, 1315 (11th Cir. 2014) (citation and quotation omitted). However, “[b]ecause removal jurisdiction raises significant federalism concerns, federal courts are directed to construe removal statutes strictly[, ]” and “all doubts about jurisdiction should be resolved in favor of remand to state court.” Univ. of S. Ala. v. Am. Tobacco Co., 168 F.3d 405, 411 (11th Cir. 1999).[6]

         Counts One through Four each demand punitive damages, in addition to compensatory, consequential, and/or actual damages. As Ford correctly notes, “[w]hen determining the jurisdictional amount in controversy in diversity cases, punitive damages must be considered, unless it is apparent to a legal certainty that such cannot be recovered.” Holley Equip. Co. v. Credit All. Corp., 821 F.2d 1531, 1535 (11th Cir. 1987) (per curiam) (citations and footnote omitted). Ford first argues that an open-ended punitive damages demand, by itself, is prima facie evidence of § 1332(a)'s requisite amount in controversy, absent an express stipulation to a lesser amount of damages by the plaintiff. In making this argument, Ford asks the Court to adopt the reasoning of Smith v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Co., 868 F.Supp.2d 1333 (N.D. Ala. 2012) (Acker, J.), in which the district judge, in denying a motion to remand challenging § 1332(a)'s amount in controversy, stated: “The court is willing to go so far as to inform plaintiffs … who want to pursue claims against diverse parties in a state court seeking unspecified damages of various kinds, such ...


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