Wells v. Spears et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Honorable Judge W. Harold Albritton, III on 8/7/12. (djy, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
HERBERT SPEARS, CLARK BUFORD
CIVIL ACTION NO. 2:12cv454-WHA
I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
This cause is before the court on the Plaintiff’s Motion to Remand (Doc. #7), filed on
July 17, 2012.
The Plaintiff, Ethel Wells (“Wells”), originally filed her case in the Circuit Court of
Barbour County, Alabama on February 3, 2012, bringing claims against Herbert Spears and
Wells filed an Amended Complaint in state court on May 23, 2012, adding Clark Buford
Bait Company as a Defendant. Wells did not claim a specific amount in damages in the
Complaint or Amended Complaint. Wells is a citizen of Alabama, and Clark Buford Bait, Inc. is
incorporated in Tennessee, with its principal place of business in Georgia. Defendant Herbert
Spears is a citizen of Georgia.
Defendant Clark Buford Bait, Inc. removed the case to this court on May 24, 2012, on the
basis of diversity jurisdiction. Wells subsequently filed a Motion to Remand, and attached to it a
Second Amended Complaint, which was filed in state court after removal and which states that
the amount in controversy does not exceed $75,000.
For reasons to be discussed, the Motion to Remand is due to be GRANTED.
II. REMAND STANDARD
Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. See Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co.,
511 U.S. 375 (1994); Burns v. Windsor Ins. Co., 31 F.3d 1092, 1095 (1994); Wymbs v.
Republican State Executive Comm., 719 F.2d 1072, 1076 (11th Cir. 1983), cert. denied, 465 U.S.
1103 (1984). As such, federal courts only have the power to hear cases that they have been
authorized to hear by the Constitution or the Congress of the United States. See Kokkonen, 511
U.S. at 377. Because federal court jurisdiction is limited, the Eleventh Circuit favors remand of
removed cases where federal jurisdiction is not absolutely clear. See Burns, 31 F.3d at 1095.
A federal district court may exercise subject matter jurisdiction over a civil action in
which only state law claims are alleged if the civil action arises under the federal court's
diversity jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1). The diversity statute confers jurisdiction on
the federal courts in civil actions "between citizens of different states," in which the
jurisdictional amount is met. Id. The parties appear to be in agreement that complete diversity
of citizenship exists in this case.
When an ad damnum clause includes a demand for a specific amount of damages which
is less than the jurisdictional a mount, the defendant is "required to prove to a legal certainty that
plaintiff, if [he or] she prevailed, would not recover below [$75,000.00]." Burns v. Windsor Ins.
Co., 31 F.3d 1092, 1097 (11th Cir.1994). To sustain federal removal jurisdiction based on
diversity of citizenship in a case in which the complaint seeks an unspecified amount of
damages, the burden is on the defendant to prove by the preponderance of the evidence that the
amount in controversy, exclusive of interests and costs, exceeds $75,000.00. See, e.g., Tapscott
v. MS Dealer Serv. Corp., 77 F.3d 1353, 1357 (11th Cir.1996).
Wells represents that the case does not meet the jurisdictional amount, and in support of
her Motion to Remand, attaches a Second Amended Complaint filed after removal. Jurisdiction
must be evaluated at the time the case was removed, however. See Leonard v. Enterprise Rent a
Car, 279 F.3d 967, 972 (11th Cir. 2002). “A court's analysis of the amount-in-controversy
requirement focuses on how much is in controversy at the time of removal, not later.” Pretka v.
Kolter City Plaza II, Inc., 608 F.3d 744, 751 (11th Cir. 2010). Therefore, this court will not
consider the attachment to the Motion to Remand.
Because no specific amount was claimed by Wells at the time of removal, Clark Buford
Bait, Inc.’s burden is to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the requisite jurisdictional
amount exists. Clark Buford Bait, Inc. argues that because Wells seeks compensatory damages,
including medical expenses, and punitive damages, she seeks more than $75,000. Clark Buford
Bait, Inc. states in its Notice of Removal that Wells has stated that she has incurred medical bills
of $12,000. In response to the Motion to Remand, Clark Buford Bait, Inc. also states that the
liability insurance limits of Clark Buford Bait, Inc. are in excess of $75,000. The monetary
amounts referenced by Clark Buford Bait, Inc., however, are not included in any allegation in the
Complaint or Amended Complaint, and are not supported by any citation to evidence. The court
cannot conclude, therefore, that the removing party has met its burden to prove by a
preponderance of the evidence that the amount in controversy, exclusive of interests and costs,
exceeds $75,000.00. See Cate v. Service Corp. Intern., 833 F. Supp. 2d 1324, 1327 (M.D. Ala.
2011) (stating that factual allegations made by the defendants must be supported, and the
evidence used to do so may be combined with reasonable deductions and inferences);
Richardson v. Hicks, No. 3:09cv436-MHT, 2009 WL 1768158 (M.D. Ala. June 23, 2009)
(finding lack of jurisdictional amount where injuries from automobile collision were alleged to
result in medical bills, but there was no evidence of the amount of those bills). “[R]emoval
statutes are construed narrowly; where plaintiff and defendant clash about jurisdiction,
uncertainties are resolved in favor of remand.” Burns, 31 F.3d at 1095.
For the reasons discussed, this court concludes that the removing party has failed to
prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the requisite amount was in controversy at the
time of removal. The Motion to Remand, therefore, is due to be GRANTED.1
A separate Order will be entered in accordance with this Memorandum Opinion.
DONE this 7thday of August, 2012.
/s/ W. Harold Albritton
W. HAROLD ALBRITTON
SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
The court notes that while the Second Amended Complaint filed after the case was
removed, and attached to the Motion to Remand, has no legal effect in deciding this motion, the
representation made by counsel for the Plaintiff as to current value of the case is governed by
Fed. R. Civ. P. 11. Plaintiff’s counsel should be aware of this after the case is returned to state
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