Walker v. Johnson Controls, Inc. et al

Filing 24

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER directing that: (1) Mr. Walker's 8 motion to remand is GRANTED; (2) this case is REMANDED to the Circuit Court of Montgomery County, Alabama; and (3) the clerk is directed to take appropriate steps to effect the remand. Signed by Honorable William Keith Watkins on 11/3/08. (Attachments: # 1 civil appeals checklist)(djy, )

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IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT F O R THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA NORTHERN DIVISION R I C H A R D WALKER P l a in tif f , v. J O H N S O N CONTROLS, INC., et al, D e f e n d a n ts . ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) C A S E NO. 2:08-CV-645-WKW M E M O R A N D U M OPINION AND ORDER B e f o re the court is a Motion to Remand (Doc. # 8), filed by Plaintiff Richard Walker (" M r. Walker"). Defendant Johnson Controls, Inc., ("Johnson Controls") submitted a Brief a n d Evidentiary Submission in Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion to Remand (Doc. # 18), and M r. Walker filed a reply brief (Doc. # 22). For the reasons set forth below, the court finds th a t the Motion to Remand is due to be granted. I . FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY O n July 10, 2008, Mr. Walker filed this lawsuit in the Circuit Court of Montgomery C o u n ty, Alabama, against Johnson Controls and Dave Pennington ("Mr. Pennington"). Mr. W a lk e r alleges that Defendants' negligent and wanton behavior, along with Defendants' f a ilu re to warn Mr. Walker of certain dangers created when Johnson Controls' employees im p ro p e rly loaded Mr. Walker's truck, caused him bodily injury. (Doc. # 1 Ex. A.) For each c la im negligence/wantonness and failure to warn Mr. Walker seeks unspecified c o m p e n s a to ry and punitive damages. (Doc. # 1 Ex. A at 8 & 10.) Jo h n so n Controls, later joined by Mr. Pennington, removed the case to federal court o n August 7, 2008, basing subject matter and removal jurisdiction on 28 U.S.C. 1332, d iv e rs ity jurisdiction, and 28 U.S.C. 1441(a). (Docs. # 1 7 & # 21) Neither Johnson C o n tro ls ' Notice of Removal nor the documents attached thereto make any mention of the a m o u n t in controversy. Mr. Walker filed the present Motion to Remand within thirty days o f the removal. (Doc. # 8.) II. STANDARD OF REVIEW F e d e ra l courts have a strict duty to exercise the jurisdiction conferred on them by C o n g re s s . Quackenbush v. Allstate Ins. Co., 517 U.S. 706, 716 (1996). However, "[f]ederal c o u rt s are courts of limited jurisdiction." Burns v. Windsor Ins. Co., 31 F.3d 1092, 1095 (1 1 th Cir. 1994). Thus, with respect to cases removed to this court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1441, the law of the Eleventh Circuit favors remand where federal jurisdiction is not a b so lu te ly clear. "[R]emoval statutes are construed narrowly; where plaintiff and defendant c la sh about jurisdiction, uncertainties are resolved in favor of remand." Id. III. DISCUSSION A s grounds for his Motion to Remand, Mr. Walker challenges the propriety of the r e m o v a l, asserting the absence of diversity jurisdiction. Federal district courts may exercise d iv e rsity jurisdiction over cases involving citizens of different states where the amount in co n tro v ersy, exclusive of interest and costs, exceeds $75,000. 28 U.S.C. 1332(a)-1332(b). 2 M r. Walker argues that Johnson Controls fails to demonstrate that both the amount in c o n tro v e rs y and diversity of citizenship requirements are satisfied. (Doc. # 8 at 2 & 8.) T h e issue at this stage is the propriety of the removal. A defendant may base removal ju ris d ic tio n either (1) on "an initial pleading" or (2) at a later time on "`an amended pleading, m o tio n , order or other paper.'" Lowery v. Ala. Power Co., 483 F.3d 1184, 1212 (11th Cir. 2 0 0 7 ) (citing 28 U.S.C. 1446(b)), cert. denied, 128 S. Ct. 2877 (2008). In the second s c e n ario , the amended pleading, motion or other paper must have been "received" by the d e f e n d a n t from the plaintiff. Id. at 1213 n.63. If a plaintiff's challenge to a diversity-based removal is timely, the court is limited to re v ie w in g the documents presented at the time of removal. Id. at 1213-14 (citing 28 U.S.C. 1447(c)). Moreover, when the complaint alleges unspecified damages, the removing d e f e n d a n t must establish the amount in controversy by a preponderance of the evidence, id. a t 1208, but may not conduct post-removal discovery to do so. Lowery prohibits postre m o v a l discovery seeking to establish jurisdiction, reasoning that such "[p]ost-removal d is c o v e ry disrupts the careful assignment of burdens" in the case and "impermissibly lightens th e defendant's burden of establishing jurisdiction." Id. at 1218. District courts are sternly w a rn e d not to "insert [themselves] into the fray by granting leave for the defendant to c o n d u c t discovery or by engaging in [their] own discovery." Id. Therefore, the court is stric tly tied to the Notice of Removal and its accompanying documents when examining its ju ris d ic tio n . "[N]either the defendants nor the court may speculate in an attempt to make up 3 f o r the notice's failings," id. at 1214-15, and unless the jurisdictional amount "is either stated c le a rly on the face of the [removal] documents before the court, or readily deducible from th e m ," id. at 1211, the case must be remanded. Here, Johnson Controls removed this action on the basis of the initial complaint. The N o tic e of Removal discusses only the diversity of the parties, not the amount in controversy, a n d the sole document which accompanies the Notice is the complaint. The court, therefore, c a n consider only the complaint in determining the propriety of removal. However, because th e complaint alleges only unspecified damages and contains no other allegation whatsoever re g a rd in g the amount in controversy, Johnson Controls cannot rely on it to establish the re q u ire d jurisdictional amount. After filing its Notice of Removal, Johnson Controls attempted to establish the a m o u n t in controversy by filing a Motion to Expedite Response to Request for Admissions. (D o c . # 11.) This motion stated that Johnson Controls sought an expedited response so that it could "adequately respond to the `amount in controversy' portion of the Plaintiff's Motion to Remand." (Doc. # 11 8.) Based upon Lowery's prohibition on post-removal discovery, th e court denied the motion. In its Brief and Evidentiary Submission in Opposition to P la in t if f ' s Motion to Remand, Johnson Controls addresses the amount in controversy re q u ire m e n t for the first time. (Doc. # 18 at 3.) Johnson Controls' evidence, while it may 4 b e persuasive under other circumstances,1 cannot be considered by the court, as it was filed a f te r removal. Because Johnson Controls has not satisfied its burden of showing that the a m o u n t in controversy requirement is met, the court cannot exercise jurisdiction and must re m a n d the case. I V . CONCLUSION F o r the foregoing reasons, it is ORDERED that: 1. 2. M r. Walker's Motion to Remand (Doc. # 8) is GRANTED; This case is REMANDED to the Circuit Court of Montgomery County, A la b a m a ; and 3. T h e Clerk of the Court is DIRECTED to take appropriate steps to effect the re m a n d . D O N E this 3rd day of November, 2008. /s/ W. Keith Watkins UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE For instance, had Mr. Walker filed his motion to remand outside the thirty-day time frame set out in 28 U.S.C. 1447(c), the court would not have been "considering the propriety of the removal, but instead, whether subject matter jurisdiction exists at all." Lowery, 483 F.3d at 1214 n.64; see also id. ("In considering these later challenges to jurisdiction, the court may look to any relevant information the parties may present, up until the time of the challenge to jurisdiction."). 1 5

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