Pittman v. General Motors Corporation

Filing 19

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER directing as follows: 1) Pittman's 6 MOTION to Remand is GRANTED; 2) This case is REMANDED to the Circuit Court of Montgomery County, AL; 3) The Clerk is DIRECTED to take appropriate steps to effect the remand. Signed by Hon. Chief Judge Mark E. Fuller on 2/4/2009. (Attachments: # 1 Civil Appeals Checklist)(wcl, )

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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 R O B E R T L. PITTMAN, Administrator of th e Estate of CBW deceased, P L A IN T IF F , v. G E N E R A L MOTORS CORPORATION; e t al., DEFEN DANTS. ) ) ) ) ) ) C A S E NO.: 2:08cv504-MEF ) ) ) (W O - Recommended for Publication) ) ) M E M O R A N D U M OPINION AND ORDER T h is cause is before the Court on the Motion to Remand (Doc. # 6) filed on July 16, 2 0 0 8 by Plaintiff. Arguing that this Court has subject matter jurisdiction over this action p u rs u a n t to 28 U.S.C. 1332(a), Defendant General Motors Corporation ("GM") removed th is action from the Circuit Court of Montgomery County, Alabama pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1441(a) on June 26, 2008. After careful consideration of the applicable law and the a rg u m e n ts of counsel on the many issues raised by the motion to remand, the Court finds that th e motion to remand is due to be GRANTED. F A C T U A L AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND On May 22, 2008, Robert Pittman ("Pittman") filed suit as Administrator of the Estate o f CBW, a minor against GM and several fictitious defendants in the Circuit Court for M o n tgo m ery County, Alabama. On June 26, 2008, GM removed the action to this Court in v o k in g its subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1332. On July 16, 2008, P ittm a n filed the Motion to Remand (Doc. # 6), now before this Court. The issue before this C o u rt is whether this Court has subject matter jurisdiction over this action pursuant to 28 U .S .C . 1332(a). More specifically, because there is no dispute as to the diversity of the c itiz e n sh ip of the parties,1 the issue before this Court is whether GM has adequately d e m o n s tra te d that the amount in controversy requirement for 28 U.S.C. 1332(a) is satisfied. T h is case arising out of a motor vehicle accident in Lee County, Alabama on May 9, 2 0 0 7 , which claimed the CBW. At the time of the roll-over accident, CBW was a passenger in a vehicle that GM had manufactured and designed. Although the accident is alleged to h a v e occurred in Lee County, Alabama, Pittman filed suit in the Circuit Court of M o n t g o m e ry County, Alabama. In Count One, Pittman brings claims under the Alabama E x ten d e d Manufacturer's Liability Doctrine ("AEMLD") and the Alabama Wrongful Death A c t. In Count Two, Pittman brings claims for negligence and wantonness. Pittman demands a n unspecified amount of damages under the Alabama Wrongful Death Act. GM argues that that this Court had subject matter jurisdiction over the action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1332(a). In so arguing, GM contends that it is facially apparent from the C o m p lain t that the amount in controversy exceeds the jurisdictional requirement, which in th is case is more $75,000. GM argues that a claim for wrongful death renders the amount in controversy facially apparent regardless of the inclusion of a specified amount in the GM is a corporate citizen of Michigan and Delaware. Pittman is a resident of M o n tg o m e ry. Presumably the Estate of CBW is being administered in Alabama somewhere. T h e citizenship of the fictitious parties is to be disregarded. 2 1 C o m p l a in t. This Court agrees that there is some commonsense appeal to this contention, h o w ev er, this Court must follow the law as it is handed down by the Eleventh Circuit Court o f Appeals and the United States Supreme Court. As evidence that the claim in this case n e c e ss a rily exceeded $75,000, GM asserts that other Alabama wrongful death cases with A E M L D claims have resulted in verdicts far in excess of $75,000. DISCUSSION 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 r is d i c ti o 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 r i g 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 3 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 i f "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 te 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 4 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 i ty 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, 1220-21.2 F o r obvious reasons, Lowery is a cornerstone for Plaintiff's arguments in support of 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."). 5 2 th e motion to remand. GM attempts to distinguish Lowery, but the Court finds those a rg u m e n ts to be unpersuasive. Indeed, in this Court's view, Lowery and its progeny dictate re m a n d of this action. See, e.g., Lowery, 483 F.3d 1184; Thibodeaux v. Paccar, Inc., ___ F. S u p p . 2d ___, 2009 WL 27225 (M.D. Ala. Jan. 6, 2009) (Fuller, C.J.) (following Lowery and re m a n d in g wrongful death case); Yates v. Medtronic, Inc., 08-0337-KD-C, 2008 WL 4 0 1 6 5 9 9 at *10-*12 (S.D. Ala. Aug. 26, 2008) (same). As this Court has previously noted, th e "measure of damages in an Alabama wrongful death claim is not the value of human life b u t rather the wrongfulness of the defendant's conduct." Thibodeaux, 2009 WL 27225 at *3. H e r e , GM's argument, at its heart, is a plea based on notion that the amount in controversy h e r e is necessarily high because the case involves the loss of human life. This view is c o n tra ry to Alabama law. The real issue here is the wrongfulness of the defendant's conduct. T h at is the true measure of damages in this case and that is also something about which there is currently no evidence before this Court. GM's plea for this Court to conclude that the a m o u n t in controversy exceeds $75,000 is merely a request that this Court speculate about th e probable amount of a verdict in this case. That is precisely what Lowery prohibits. Thus, b e c a u s e this Court finds that GM has failed to carry its burden of establishing the ju ris d ic tio n a l amount 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. P ittm an 's Motion to Remand (Doc. # 6) is GRANTED. 6 2. A la b a m a . 3. T h is case is REMANDED to the Circuit Court of Montgomery County, T h e Clerk is DIRECTED to take appropriate steps to effect the remand. D O N E this the 4th day of February, 2009. /s/ Mark E. Fuller CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE 7

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