Rodgers et al v. Corzine et al

Filing 7

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER that: (1) Plaintiffs' 3 Motion to Remand is GRANTED; (2) This case is REMANDED to the Circuit Court of Barbour County, AL; and (3) The Clerk of the Court is DIRECTED to take appropriate steps to effect the remand. Signed by Honorable William Keith Watkins on 12/5/2008. (Attachments: # 1 Civil Appeals Checklist)(cb, ) Modified on 12/8/2008 to correct the name of the judge that entered the order.(cb, ).

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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 D E R R I C K RODGERS, et al., P l a i n t if f s v. E S T A T E OF JOHN S. CORZINE, D E C E A S E D , et al., D e fe n d a n ts . ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) CASE NO. 2:08-CV-817-WKW M E M O R A N D U M OPINION AND ORDER B e fo re the court is a Motion to Remand (Doc. # 3), filed by Plaintiffs Derrick R o d g e rs and Michael Lightner (collectively "Plaintiffs"). Defendant Betty Corzine, as P e rs o n a l Representative of John Corzine's Estate ("the Estate"), submitted a Response and B rie f in Opposition to Plaintiffs' Motion to Remand (Doc. # 6). For the reasons set forth b e lo w , the court finds that the Motion to Remand is due to be granted. I . FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY O n June 20, 2008, Plaintiffs filed this lawsuit in the Circuit Court of Barbour County, A la b a m a , against John S. Corzine ("Mr. Corzine") and Progressive Casualty Insurance C o m p a n y ("Progressive"). Plaintiffs allege that Mr. Corzine's negligent and wanton b eh av ior, along with Progressive's breach of contract with respect to Mr. Lightner's u n d e rin s u re d motorist coverage, caused them monetary and bodily injury. (Doc. # 1 (C o m p l. at 3-5).) For each claim negligence, wantonness, and breach of contract P lain tiffs seek unspecified damages. 1 (Doc. # 1 (Compl. at 3-5).) M r. Corzine's Estate removed the case to federal court on October 8, 2008, basing s u b je c t matter and removal jurisdiction on 28 U.S.C. 1332(a) and 1441(a). (Doc. # 1.) P r o g re ss iv e consented to the removal. (Doc. # 2.) Neither the Estate's Notice of Removal n o r the documents attached thereto make any mention of the specific amount in controversy. P lain tiffs filed the present Motion to Remand within thirty days of the removal. I I . 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 rts 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. The court notes that as to the negligence claim, Plaintiffs request relief "exceeding the jurisdictional minimum of [state] court" (Doc. # 1 (Compl. at 3)); this request, however, is not sufficient to establish, nor is it specific as to, the minimum requirement for federal diversity jurisdiction. See Ala. Code 12-11-30(1) (providing that Alabama circuit courts have exclusive jurisdiction over civil actions where the matter in controversy exceeds $10,000 and concurrent jurisdiction with Alabama district courts where the matter in controversy is between $3,000 and $10,000). 1 2 I I I . DISCUSSION A s grounds for their Motion to Remand, Plaintiffs challenge the propriety of the re m o v a l, asserting that diversity of parties is lacking and the jurisdictional amount in c o n tro v e rsy requirement is not met. Federal district courts may exercise diversity ju ris d ic tio n over cases involving citizens of different states where the amount in controversy, ex clus ive of interest and costs, exceeds $75,000. 28 U.S.C. 1332(a)-1332(b). P lain tiffs argue that the Estate fails to demonstrate that both the amount in c o n tro v e rs y and diversity of citizenship requirements are satisfied. (Doc. # 3 at 1-2.) 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 p le a d in g , motion, order or other paper.'" Lowery v. Ala. Power Co., 483 F.3d 1184, 1212 (1 1 th Cir. 2007) (citing 28 U.S.C. 1446(b)), cert. denied, 128 S. Ct. 2877 (2008). In the s e c o n d scenario, the amended pleading, motion or other paper must have been "received" by th e defendant 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 reviewing 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 re m o v in g defendant must establish the amount in controversy by a preponderance of the e v id e n c e , id. at 1208, but may not conduct post-removal discovery to do so. Therefore, the c o u r t is strictly tied to the Notice of Removal and its accompanying documents when e x a m in in g its jurisdiction. "[N]either the defendants nor the court may speculate in an 3 a tte m p t to make up for the notice's failings," id. at 1214-15, and unless the jurisdictional a m o u n t "is either stated clearly on the face of the [removal] documents before the court, or re a d ily deducible from them," id. at 1211, the case must be remanded. H e re , the Estate removed this action on the basis of the initial complaint. The Notice o f Removal discusses the diversity of the parties and makes an unsupported assertion that the a m o u n t in controversy exceeds $75,000. The Estate's Notice of Removal is accompanied b y the complaint and several filings from the state court. The court, therefore, can consider o n ly the complaint and these attached documents in determining the propriety of removal. H o w e v e r, because the complaint alleges only unspecified damages and contains no other a ll e g a tio n whatsoever regarding the amount in controversy, the Estate cannot rely on it to e sta b lis h the required jurisdictional amount. The documents which accompany the Notice o f Removal and the original complaint also contain no support for the Estate's assertion that th e jurisdictional minimum is met. A f ter filing its Notice of Removal, the Estate attempted to establish the amount in c o n tro v e rs y by filing an affidavit from its insurer and a demand letter received by it from P la in tif f s before suit was filed. (Doc. # 6.) The Estate asserts that these documents show t h a t Plaintiffs believe that their action is worth more than the $75,000 jurisdictional m in im u m . These documents, which may be persuasive under other circumstances, cannot b e considered by the court, as they were filed after removal and are not part of the "initial 4 p le a d in g " referred to in 1446(b).2 Because the Estate has not satisfied its burden of s h o w in g that the amount in controversy requirement is met, the court cannot exercise ju ris d ic tio n and must remand the case. I V . CONCLUSION F o r the foregoing reasons, it is ORDERED that: 1. 2. P la in tif f s ' Motion to Remand (Doc. # 3) is GRANTED; T h is case is REMANDED to the Circuit Court of Barbour 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 5th day of December, 2008. /s/ W. Keith Watkins UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE The Estate cited Judge Thompson's opinion in Bankhead v. American Suzuki Motor Corporation, 529 F. Supp. 2d 1329 (M.D. Ala. 2008), for the proposition that a "written settlement demand from the Plaintiff's attorney was sufficient to establish that the amount in controversy was in excess of $75,000." (Doc. # 6 at 5.) That case is clearly distinguishable on at least two fronts. First, Bankhead did not involve a challenge to removal on the initial pleading, that is to say, the propriety of removal (see Lowery, 483 F.3d at 1215 n.64), but rather a challenge to the jurisdiction of the court filed more than eight months after removal. Second, and factually more relevant, the offer of settlement more than the jurisdictional amount that Judge Thompson considered was received by the defendant seven months after removal, thus amounting to "post-removal clarification of the removal notice showing that the amount in controversy at the time of removal far exceeded the jurisdictional requirement." Bankhead, 529 F. Supp. 2d at 1333. 2 5

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