Seaborn v. Michelin North America, Inc. et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER as follows: 1) This is remanded to the Clayton Division of the CC of Barbour County, AL; The Clerk is directed to take appropriate steps to effect the remand. Signed by Hon. Chief Judge Mark E. Fuller on 2/20/09. (Attachments: # 1 appeals checklists)(cert copy to CC Barbour Co.AL)(vma, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT F O R THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA N O R T H E R N DIVISION S H A N E SEABORN, Administrator of the E sta te of GUSTAVO PEREZ LOPEZ, d e c ea se d , P L A IN T IF F , v. M IC H E L IN NORTH AMERICA, INC; e t al., DEFEN DANTS. ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) )
C A S E NO.: 2:08cv305-MEF
(W O )
M E M O R A N D U M OPINION AND ORDER T h is Court is obligated to consider, sua sponte, whether subject matter jurisdiction is p re se n t. It must remand the case to state court if it determines that subject matter jurisdiction is absent. See 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c) ("If at any time before final judgment it appears that the d is tric t court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the case shall be remanded."); Fed. R. Civ. P. 1 2 (h )(3 ); see also Yusefzadeh v. Nelson, Mullins, Riley & Scarborough, LLP, 365 F.3d 1244, 1 2 4 5 (11th Cir. 2004) (stating that "the district court may not sua sponte decide to remand the case for any procedural defect other than lack of subject matter jurisdiction"). A rg u in g that this Court has subject matter jurisdiction over this action pursuant to 28 U .S .C . § 1332(a), Defendants Michelin North America, Inc. ("MNA") and Michelin A m e ric a s Research & Development Corporation ("MARC") removed this action from the C la yto n Division of the Circuit Court of Barbour County, Alabama pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1 4 4 1 (a ) on April 21, 2008. After careful consideration of the applicable law, the Court finds
th a t this case must be remanded. F A C T U A L AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND On September 11, 2007, Shane Seaborn ("Seaborn") filed suit as Administrator of the E s ta te of Gustavo Perez Lopez ("Lopez") against MNA, MARC, Middle Tennessee Imports, In c ., and several fictitious defendants in the Clayton Division of the Circuit Court for B a rb o u r County, Alabama. On April 21, 2008, MNA and MARC removed the action to this C o u rt invoking its subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. On May 1, 2008, S e a b o r n filed the Motion to Remand (Doc. # 12), which he later withdrew.1 Nevertheless, th e issue before this Court is whether this Court has subject matter jurisdiction over this a c tio n pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). More specifically, because there appears to be no d isp u te as to the diversity of the citizenship of the parties,2 the key issue before this Court is w h e t h e r MNA and MARC have adequately demonstrated that the amount in controversy re q u ire m e n t for 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a) is satisfied.
When the Court granted Seaborn's motion to withdraw the motion to remand on F e b ru a ry 10, 2009, it advised the parties of its concerns regarding the existence of subject m a tte r jurisdiction. Furthermore, advised the parties that Seaborn's concession "to the ju ris d ic tio n of this Court" was legally insufficient to create subject matter jurisdiction over the action. The Court directed counsel for Seaborn to file a stipulation on or before February 1 3 , 2009, indicating that he is now seeking and was seeking at the time the lawsuit was filed a n d removed damages in excess of $75,000. The Court informed the parties of its intention to remand the case if a proper stipulation was not filed. Seaborn has not filed such a s tip u la tio n . MNA is a corporate citizen of New York and South Carolina. MARC is a corporate c i t iz e n of Delaware and South Carolina. Lopez is deemed a resident of Mexico. Middle T e n n e ss e e Imports, Inc. was no longer a party at the time of removal, but in any event it was a corporate citizen of Tennessee. The citizenship of the fictitious parties is to be disregarded. 2
T h is case arising out of a motor vehicle accident in Autauga County, Alabama on S e p tem b e r 27, 2006, which claimed the life of Lopez. At the time of the roll-over accident, L o p e z was a passenger in a vehicle on which a tire manufactured and designed by MNA and M A R C separated. Although the accident is alleged to have occurred in Autauga County, A la b a m a , Seaborn filed suit in the Clayton Division of the Circuit Court of Barbour County, A laba m a. In Count One, Seaborn brings claims under the Alabama Extended Manufacturer's L ia b ility Doctrine ("AEMLD") and the Alabama Wrongful Death Act. In Count Two, S e a b o rn brings claims for negligence and wantonness. Seaborn demands an unspecified a m o u n t of damages under the Alabama Wrongful Death Act. In their removal papers, MNA and MARC argue that this Court had subject matter ju ris d ic tio n over the action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). In so arguing, they contend that it is facially apparent from the Complaint that the amount in controversy exceeds the ju ris d ic tio n a l requirement, which is currently $75,000. They argue that a claim for wrongful d e a th renders the amount in controversy facially apparent regardless of the inclusion of a s p e c if ie d amount in the Complaint. The Court agrees that there is some commonsense appeal to this contention, however, this Court must follow the law as it is handed down by the E le v e n th Circuit Court of Appeals and the United States Supreme Court. As evidence that th e claim in this case necessarily exceeded $75,000, MNA and MARC assert that other A la b a m a wrongful death cases with AEMLD claims have resulted in verdicts far in excess o f $75,000.
D IS C U S S IO N F e d e ra l courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. o f Am., 511 U.S. 375 (1994); Burns v. Windsor Ins. Co., 31 F.3d 1092, 1095 (11th Cir. 1994); W y m b s v. Republican State Executive Comm., 719 F.2d 1072, 1076 (11th Cir. 1983). As s u c h , federal courts only have the power to hear cases that they have been authorized to hear b y the Constitution or the Congress of the United States. Kokkonen, 511 U.S. at 377. Among the cases over which a federal district court may exercise subject matter ju ris d ic tio n are civil actions in which only state law claims are alleged if the civil action a ris e s under the federal court's diversity jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). The diversity s ta tu te confers jurisdiction on the federal courts in civil actions "between citizens of different s ta te s ," in which the jurisdictional amount, currently in excess of $75,000, is met. Id. When a case is originally filed in state court, a party may remove it if the case o rig in a lly could have been brought in federal court. See 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). Accord, L o w e r y v. Alabama Power Co., 483 F.3d 1184, 1207 (11th Cir. 2007), cert. denied, 128 S. C t. 2877 (2008) ("the party seeking a federal venue must establish the venue's jurisdictional re q u ire m e n ts " and therefore removing defendants bear that burden in the context of a motion to remand). However, the non-moving party may move for remand, which will be granted if "it appears that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction." See 28 U.S.C. § 1 4 4 7 (c ). Because removal jurisdiction raises significant federalism concerns, "removal s ta tu t e s are construed narrowly; where plaintiff and defendant clash about jurisdiction,
u n c e rta in tie s are resolved in favor of remand." Burns, 31 F.3d at 1095. Recently the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals provided significant clarification of " e x is tin g principles of law governing removal generally - who bears the burden of e sta b lis h in g that removal is proper, how that party can satisfy its burden, and how a district c o u rt must proceed in evaluating its jurisdiction after removal." Lowery, 483 F.3d at 1187. A lth o u g h Lowery arose in the context of a removal pursuant to the Class Action Fairness Act o f 2005 ("CAFA"), it is quite plain from the text of Lowery that the holdings of the case are n o t limited solely to cases removed under CAFA. In Lowery, the Eleventh Circuit Court of A p p e a ls reiterated that in cases, such as this one, where the complaint does not specify the a m o u n t of damages sought, "the removing party bears burden of establishing the ju ris d ic tio n a l amount by a preponderance of the evidence." 483 F.3d at 1208-09, 1210. The C o u rt cautioned, however, that "[i]f the jurisdictional amount is either stated clearly on the f a ce of the documents before the court, or readily deducible from them, then the court has ju ris d ic tio n . If not, the court must remand. Under this approach, jurisdiction is either evident f ro m the removing documents or remand is appropriate." Indeed, "in assessing the propriety o f removal, the court considers the documents received by the defendant from the plaintiff b e it the initial complaint or a later received paper- and determines whether that document a n d the notice of removal unambiguously establish federal jurisdiction." Id. at 1213. The d e f en d a n t and the court may not speculate about the amount in controversy, nor should "the e x is te n c e of jurisdiction" be "divined by looking to the stars." Id. at 1215. Importantly, the
L o w e ry court stated that it is highly questionable whether a defendant could ever file a notice of removal on d iv e rs ity grounds in a case such as the one before us - where the defendant, the p a rty with the burden of proof, has only bare pleadings containing unspecified d a m a g e s on which to base its notice- without seriously testing the limits of c o m p l ia n c e with Rule 11. Unlike the typical plaintiff who originally brings a d iv e rs ity action in federal court, the removing defendant generally will have n o direct knowledge of the value of plaintiff's claims. Id. at 1215. "When a plaintiff seeks unliquidated damages and does not make a specific d e m a n d , therefore, the factual information establishing the jurisdictional amount must come f ro m the plaintiff." Id. at1215. Indeed, the Lowery court specifically rejected a removing d ef en d an t's attempt to satisfy its burden of proving amount in controversy by reliance on jury v e rd ic ts in other supposedly similar cases. Id. at 1189, 1220-21.3 F o r obvious reasons, Lowery was a cornerstone for Plaintiff's arguments in support o f the now-withdrawn motion to remand. MNA and MARC attempt to distinguish Lowery, b u t the Court finds those arguments to be unpersuasive. Indeed, in this Court's view, Lowery a n d its progeny dictate remand of this action. See, e.g., Lowery, 483 F.3d 1184; Thibodeaux v . Paccar, Inc., ___ F. Supp. 2d ___, 2009 WL 27225 (M.D. Ala. Jan. 6, 2009) (Fuller, C.J.) (f o llo w in g Lowery and remanding wrongful death case); Yates v. Medtronic, Inc., 08-0337-
Lowery was not the first time the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals had stated that re lia n c e on damages awards in other cases was insufficient. See, e.g., Federated Mut. Ins. C o . v. McKinnon Motors, LLC., 329 F.3d 805, 809 (11th Cir. 2003) ("mere citation to what h as happened in the past does nothing to overcome the indeterminate and speculative nature o f [the removing defendant's] assertion [that subject matter jurisdiction existed under § 1332] in this case."). 6
K D -C , 2008 WL 4016599 at *10-*12 (S.D. Ala. Aug. 26, 2008) (same). As this Court has p re v io u s ly noted, the "measure of damages in an Alabama wrongful death claim is not the v a lu e of human life but rather the wrongfulness of the defendant's conduct." Thibodeaux, 2 0 0 9 WL 27225 at *3. Here, the removing defendants' argument, at its heart, is a plea based o n notion that the amount in controversy here is necessarily high because the case involves th e loss of human life. This view is contrary to Alabama law. The real issue here is the w r o n g f u l n e s s of the defendant's conduct. That is the true measure of damages in this case a n d that is also something about which there is currently no evidence before this Court. The p l e a of the removing defendants for this Court to conclude that the amount in controversy e x c ee d s $75,000 is merely a request that this Court speculate about the probable amount of a verdict in this case. That is precisely what Lowery prohibits. Thus, because this Court f in d s that MNA and MARC have failed to carry their burden of establishing the jurisdictional a m o u n t by a preponderance of the evidence, this case must be remanded. CONCLUSION F o r the foregoing reasons, it is hereby ORDERED as follows: 1. T h is case is REMANDED to the Clayton Division of the Circuit Court of
B a rb o u r County, Alabama. 2. T h e Clerk is DIRECTED to take appropriate steps to effect the remand.
D O N E this the 20 th day of February, 2009. /s/ Mark E. Fuller CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE 7
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