Thibodeaux v. PACCAR, Inc. et al

Filing 23

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER as follows: (1) Plaintiff's 10 Motion to Remand is GRANTED; (2) This case is REMANDED to the Circuit Court of Macon County, Alabama; (3) The Clerk is DIRECTED to take appropriate steps to effect the remand; (4) All motions other than the Motion to Remand are left for resolution by the Circuit Court of Macon County after remand. Signed by Hon. Chief Judge Mark E. Fuller on 1/6/2009. (Attachments: #(1) Civil Appeals Checklist) Copy mailed to Clerk, Circuit Court of Macon County as directed. (dmn)

Download PDF
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT F O R THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA E A S T E R N DIVISION S T E P H E N THIBODEAUX, A d m in is tra to r of the Estate of Peter T h ib o d e a u x , deceased P l a in tif f , v. P A C C A R , INC., et al., D e f e n d a n ts . ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) C A S E NO. 3:08-cv-402-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 Plaintiff's Motion to Remand (Doc. #10) filed on J u n e 16, 2008. This lawsuit was originally filed in the Circuit Court of Macon County, A la b a m a . Defendant Paccar, Inc. ("Defendant") removed this case to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1332(a) under diversity jurisdiction theory. Plaintiff Stephen Thiboxeaux (" P la in tif f ") filed a motion to remand, arguing that the amount in controversy requirement o f 28 U.S.C. 1332(a) was not satisfied. For the reasons set forth in this Memorandum O p in io n and Order, the Court finds that the Motion to remand is due to be GRANTED. F A C T U A L AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND T h is is a product liability case arising out of a motor vehicle accident in Macon C o u n ty, Alabama on November 23, 2007, which claimed the life of a Texas citizen n a m e d Peter Thibodeaux. The Administrator of his estate brought suit against the m a n u f a c tu re r of the vehicle, Defendant, a corporate citizen of Delaware and Washington. D e f en d a n t filed a Notice of Removal (Doc. #1) on May 29, 2008. It argued that th is Court has subject matter jurisdiction over the action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1332(a). Defendant argued that the amount in controversy in the case exceeds $75,000 exclusive of in te re st and costs. Defendant acknowledged that the Complaint does not contain a s p e c if ic damage request, but noted that Plaintiff sought damages allowable under A la b a m a 's Wrongful Death Act in an amount to be determined by a jury. Defendant a ss e rte d that other Alabama courts have routinely entered wrongful death verdicts in e x c es s of $75,000 in product liability claims. In support of this conclusion, Defendant listed numerous cases from various courts within Alabama that resulted in plaintiff's v e rd ic ts in wrongful death cases that exceeded $75,000. Defendant also offered evidence th a t it mailed Plaintiff an offer of judgment for $76,000 on June 23, 2008, which Plaintiff d id not accept.1 Finally, Defendant argues generally that the nature of this case makes it o b v io u s that the amount in controversy required for diversity jurisdiction must be exceeded. Defendant argues Plaintiff's failure to accept an offer of judgment is evidence of the amount in controversy. The Court finds this argument unpersuasive. In limited circumstances, a district court may consider post-removal evidence in assessing removal jurisdiction. Sierminski v. Transourth Fin. Corp., 216 F.3d 945, 949 (11th Cir. 2000). However, a court may only consider the post-removal evidence in determining whether the jurisdictional amount was satisfied at the time of removal. Williams v. Best Buy Co., Inc., 269 F.3d 1316, 1319 (11th Cir. 2001). Here, Defendant filed a Notice of Removal on May 29, 2008. It mailed Plaintiff an offer of judgment on June 23, 2008, almost a month later. Plaintiff's response, or non-response, does not provide evidence the amount of controversy on May 29, 2008. Furthermore, the Eleventh Circuit requires unambiguous evidence that a case is removable. Lowery v. Alabama Power Co., 483 F.3d 1184, 1219, n.63 (11th Cir. 2007). Plaintiff's rejection of an offer of judgment is not unambiguous evidence that the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000. 2 1 D IS C U S S IO N F e d e ra l courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. C o . of Am., 511 U.S. 375 (1994); Burns v. Windsor Ins. Co., 31 F.3d 1092, 1095 (11th C ir. 1994); Wymbs v. Republican State Executive Comm., 719 F.2d 1072, 1076 (11th Cir. 1 9 8 3 ). As such, federal courts only have the power to hear cases that they have been a u th o riz e d to hear by the Constitution or the Congress of the United States. Kokkonen, 5 1 1 U.S. at 377. Among the cases over which a federal district court may exercise subject matter ju ris d ic tio 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 d iv e rs ity statute confers jurisdiction on the federal courts in civil actions "between c itiz e n s of different states," in which the jurisdictional amount, currently in excess of $ 7 5 ,0 0 0 , is met. Id. When a case is originally filed in state court, a party may remove it if the case o rig 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) ("the party seeking a federal venue must establish the venue's jurisdictional requirements" and therefore rem o v ing defendants bear that burden in the context of a motion to remand). However, th e non-moving party may move for remand, which will be granted if "it appears that the d is tric t court lacks subject matter jurisdiction." See 28 U.S.C. 1447(c). Because 3 rem o v al jurisdiction raises significant federalism concerns, "removal statutes are c o n stru e d narrowly; where plaintiff and defendant clash about jurisdiction, uncertainties a re resolved in favor of remand." Burns, 31 F.3d at 1095. In Lowery v. Alabama Power Co., 483 F.3d 1184 (11th Cir. 2007), the Eleventh C irc u it Court of Appeals held that in cases, such as this one, where the complaint does not s p e c if y the amount of damages sought, "the removing party bears burden of establishing th e jurisdictional amount by a preponderance of the evidence." Id at 1208-09, 1210. The C o u rt cautioned, however, that "[i]f the jurisdictional amount is either stated clearly on the face of the documents before the court, or readily deducible from them, then the court h a s jurisdiction. If not, the court must remand. Under this approach, jurisdiction is either e v id e n t from the removing documents or remand is appropriate." Id. at 1215. Neither the d e f e n d a n t nor the court may speculate about the amount in controversy. Id. (stating that " th e existence of jurisdiction" may not be "divined by looking to the stars"). In addition, th e Lowery court specifically rejected a removing defendant's attempt to satisfy its burden o f proving amount in controversy by reliance on jury verdicts in other supposedly similar c a s e s . Id. at 1189, 1220-21. Other district courts have also held that the nature of a claim in of itself is not sufficient to conclusively establish the amount in controversy. See Yates v . Medronic, No. CA 08-0337-KD-C, 2008 WL 4016599, at *11 (S.D. Ala. Aug. 26, 2 0 0 8 ) (rejecting Alabama wrongful death product liability cases cited by defendants as im p rop er evidence under Lowery of jurisdictional amount); Spivey v. Fred's, Inc., 554 F. 4 S u p p . 2d. 1271, 1274 (M.D. Ala. 2008) (recognizing that Lowery narrowed the scope of e v id e n c e a court may considering in its jurisdictional inquiry); Moore v. N. Am. Sports, In c ., No. 5:08-CV-343, 2008 WL 5157502, at *2 (N.D. Fla. 2008) (stating that "the n a tu re of the [wrongful death] claim is insufficient to conclusively establish the amount in c o n tro v e rs y" ). In Siniard v. Ford Motor Co., 554 F. Supp. 2d 1276, 1279 (M.D. Ala. 2 0 0 8 ), this Court found under Lowery that evidence other Alabama courts have entered w ro n g f u l death verdicts in excess of $75,000 in product liability claims was insufficient to establish the jurisdictional amount. Here, Defendant argues that the amount in controversy in this case exceeds $ 7 5 ,0 0 0 exclusive of interests and costs because Plaintiff is seeking damages under A laba m a's Wrongful Death Act in an amount determined by a jury. Under Lowery, a re m o v in g defendant may not prove amount in controversy by relying upon jury verdicts in sim ilar cases. Furthermore, the measure of damages in an Alabama wrongful death claim is not the value of human life but rather the wrongfulness of the defendant's conduct. See A l. Pattern Jury Instructions Civil 11.18 (2007) (stating that in a wrongful death case " th e amount of damages should be directly related to the amount of wrongdoing on the p art of the defendant. In assessing damages, [the jury] is not to consider the monetary v a lu e of the life of the decedent.") (emphasis added). The only damages recoverable, th e re f o re , are those related to the defendant's conduct and culpability. There is no e v id e n c e of Defendant's culpability before the Court. Because Defendant has not 5 sa tisf ied by a preponderance of the evidence that the jurisdictional amount has been met, th e Court must grant Plaintiff's motion and remand the case back to state court. C O N C L U SIO N F o r the foregoing reasons, it is hereby ORDERED as follows: (1) (2) (3) (4) Plaintiff's Motion to Remand (Doc. #10) is GRANTED; This case is REMANDED to the Circuit Court of Macon County, Alabama; The Clerk is DIRECTED to take appropriate steps to effect the remand; All motions other than the Motion to Remand are left for resolution by the C irc u it Court of Macon County after remand. D O N E this the 6 th day of January, 2009. /s/ Mark E. Fuller CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE 6

Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.

Why Is My Information Online?