Seaborn v. Michelin North America, Inc. et al

Filing 32

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, )

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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. 1 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 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. 3 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, 4 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 5 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 3 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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