Blanton et al v. Geist et al

Filing 40

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER that because diversity jurisdiction was established at the time of removal, plaintiffs' 37 Second Motion to Remand is DENIED. Signed by Honorable William Keith Watkins on 3/9/2009. (Attachments: # 1 Civil Appeals Checklist)(cc, )

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IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT F O R THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA EASTERN DIVISION T R O Y BLANTON, et al., P l a i n t if f s , v. D O U G L A S A. GEIST, et al., D e f e n d a n ts . ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) C A S E NO. 3:07-CV-980-WKW [WO] M E M O R A N D U M OPINION AND ORDER O n December 2, 2008, Plaintiffs' Joint Motion to Dismiss with Prejudice (Doc. # 32) w a s granted and Defendant Douglas A. Geist ("Geist") was dismissed from the case. (Doc. # 34.) Plaintiffs then filed a second remand motion. (Mot. Remand (Doc. # 37).) Plaintiffs a rg u e that subject matter jurisdiction no longer exists because the only remaining Defendant is State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company ("State Farm"), the only remaining c laim is its contractual obligation to pay underinsured motorist coverage, and the policy limit o f that coverage totals $60,000. (Mot. 4.) Thus, Plaintiffs argue, there is no longer diversity ju ris d ic tio n under 28 U.S.C. 1332, which requires an amount in controversy in excess of $ 75,000. (Mot. 4.) State Farm has not filed a response to Plaintiffs' motion. For the f o llo w in g reasons, the motion to remand (Doc. # 37) is due to be denied. A t the time of removal, diversity jurisdiction existed over this case. In an earlier M e m o ra n d u m Opinion and Order ("Opinion") (Op. (Doc. # 18)), Plaintiffs' first motion to re m a n d (Doc. # 8) was denied because diversity jurisdiction existed at the time of removal. (O p . 5.) The Opinion only addresses whether the parties were completely diverse, but with th e ir Notice of Removal, Defendants filed a letter Plaintiffs' counsel sent demanding $ 5 0 0 ,0 0 0 for Plaintiffs' case.1 (Removal Notice 14 & Ex. B (Doc. # 1).) A demand letter re c eiv e d by a defendant from a plaintiff articulating a sufficient amount in controversy for d iv e rs ity jurisdiction can be the basis for removing a case. See Lowery v. Ala. Power Co., 4 8 3 F.3d 1184, 1212 & n.62 (11th Cir. 2007), cert. denied, 128 S. Ct. 2877 (2008). Thus, a t the time of removal, there was diversity jurisdiction to hear this case.2 Plaintiffs argue, h o w e v e r, that because Geist has been dismissed by the case, their damages are capped at $ 6 0 ,0 0 0 , and therefore, diversity jurisdiction no longer exists. Even assuming damages are capped at $60,000, the fact that damages are now under th e threshold jurisdictional amount does not divest the court of jurisdiction. "[E]vents o c c u rrin g after removal which may reduce the damages recoverable below the amount in c o n tro v e r s y requirement do not oust the district court's jurisdiction." Poore v. AmericanA m ic a b le Life Ins. Co. of Tex., 218 F.3d 1287, 1291 (11th Cir. 2000), overruled on other g r o u n d s , Alvarez v. Uniroyal Tire Co., 508 F.3d 639, 641 (11th Cir. 2007) (per curiam) ( " P o o r e is overruled to the extent we held that a remand for lack of subject matter The letter specifically stated: "In the event you are interested in paying $500,000.00, or your policy limits, prior to engaging your attorneys please contact the undersigned [Plaintiffs' attorney]." The amount of the policy limits is irrelevant as long as Plaintiffs' counsel demanded as one form of payment as much as $500,000. When a motion to remand is filed more than thirty days after removal and challenges subject matter jurisdiction, "[a] court may look to any relevant information the parties may present, up until the time of the challenge to jurisdiction." Lowery, 483 F.3d at 1213 n.64. The demand letter in this case was filed with the Notice of Removal. 2 1 2 ju ris d ic tio n pursuant to [28 U.S.C.] 1447(c) is reviewable if it is based on a post-removal a m e n d m e n t to the complaint."). Joining other circuits, Poore held that "the amendments to 1447(c) did not alter the fact that, in this case, the district court must determine whether it h a d subject matter jurisdiction at the time of removal." Id. at 1290-91 (emphasis added). See L e o n a r d v. Enter. Rent a Car, 279 F.3d 967, 972 (11th Cir. 2002) ("[The court] note[s] that f o r purposes of this challenge to the subject matter jurisdiction of the district court, the c ritic a l time is the date of removal . . . . See Poore[, 218 F.3d at] 1289-91 []. If jurisdiction w a s proper at that date, subsequent events, even the loss of the required amount in c o n tro v e r s y, will not operate to divest the court of jurisdiction."); see also FreeportM c M o r a n , Inc. v. K N Energy, Inc., 498 U.S. 426, 427 (1991) (per curiam) (stating in a nonre m o v a l case that the Court "ha[s] consistently held that if jurisdiction exists at the time an a c tio n is commenced, such jurisdiction may not be divested by subsequent events"); Harris v . Garner, 216 F.3d 970, 983-84 (11th Cir. 2000) (noting that it is "well established" that c h a n g es to a party's citizenship after jurisdiction is established do not divest the court of j u r is d i c ti o n ) . A c c o rd in g ly, because diversity jurisdiction was established at the time of removal, it is ORDERED that Plaintiffs' Second Motion to Remand (Doc. # 37) is DENIED. D O N E this 9th day of March, 2009. /s/ W. Keith Watkins UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE 3

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