Griffith v. WalMart Stores East LP
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Virginia Emerson Hopkins on 8/10/2012. (JLC)
2012 Aug-10 AM 11:15
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
WAL-MART STORES EAST, L.P.,
) Case No.: 2:12-CV-1756-VEH
This matter is before the court on Plaintiff’s Motion To Remand (Doc. 5) (the
“Remand Motion”), filed on May 30, 2012. Defendant responded to the Remand
Motion on June 13, 2012. (Doc. 6). Plaintiff elected not to file a reply brief.
Therefore, the Remand Motion is under submission and ripe for the court’s decision.
Having carefully considered the removal papers (Doc. 1) and briefing by the
parties, the court concludes that the requisite jurisdictional amount in controversy is
not clearly established in the removal papers and, therefore, this case was
improvidently removed. Thus, Plaintiff’s Remand Motion is due to be granted, and
the court will remand this case to the Circuit Court of Jefferson County, Alabama.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Plaintiff Lola Griffith (“Ms. Griffith”) originally filed her complaint in the
Circuit Court of Jefferson County, Alabama, on February 23, 2012. (Notice of
Removal, Doc. 1 at Ex. 4). Her complaint is styled in two counts, claiming
negligence and wantonness against Wal-Mart in relation to a slip-and-fall accident
that occurred on July 11, 2011, at Wal-Mart store #762 in Birmingham, Alabama.
Ms. Griffith did not allege the specific nature of her injuries, indicating only that she
suffered “serious personal injuries and other damages.” (Id. ¶ 5).
Moreover, Ms. Griffith did not allege a specific monetary value of her
damages. Instead, she made the following general claim for damages:
Plaintiff was caused to suffer various injuries;
Plaintiff was caused to seek medical treatment in and about
her efforts to heal and cure her injuries and will be caused
to incur additional bills in the future;
Plaintiff was caused to incur medical bills, hospital bills,
doctors’ bills and prescription expenses in an effort to cure
her injuries and will be caused to incur additional bills in
Plaintiff was caused to suffer physical pain and discomfort;
Plaintiff was caused to suffer mental anguish, distress, and
WHEREFORE, PREMISES CONSIDERED, the Plaintiff
demands Judgment against all Defendants, whether named or
fictitiously described (#1-16), for compensatory and punitive
damages in an amount that the Plaintiff would legally and
justifiably be entitled to recover as determined by the trier of fact,
plus interest and costs.
(Id. ¶ 10, Prayer for Relief).
On May 2, 2012, more than thirty days after receipt of the Complaint, but less
than one year after commencement of this action, Defendant Wal-Mart Stores East,
L.P. (“Wal-Mart”) removed the case to federal court. (Notice of Removal, Doc. 1).
The court’s jurisdiction is premised on 28 U.S.C. § 1332, diversity of citizenship. (Id.
¶ 4). Wal-Mart avers that the parties are citizens of different states. (Id. ¶¶ 2, 4).
Further, Wal-Mart contends that “the amount in controversy exceeds the sum of
Seventy-Five Thousand Dollars ($75,000), exclusive of interest and costs, in
compliance with 28 U.S.C. § 1332.” (Id. ¶ 4). The Notice of Removal relies solely
upon Ms. Griffith’s responses to a set of requests for admission to establish that the
amount in controversy requirement is satisfied. (Id. ¶¶ 7–14). Wal-Mart maintains
that Ms. Griffith’s responses to the requests for admission constitute “other paper”
upon which removal can be based under 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b). (Id. ¶ 12).
The admissions Wal-Mart requested from Ms. Griffith on March 28, 2012,
were stated as follows:
That you do not claim in excess of $75,000.00 as total damages
in this case.
That you do not intend to claim over $75,000.00 as total damages
in this case.
That you will not seek over $75,000.00 in total damages in this
That you waive any about of damages ever entered in this case in
excess of $75,000.00.
That you will not accept any award of damages over $75,000.00
in this case.
That you agree that the above-stated limitations on your claim for
damages will be binding on you, your heirs, representatives, and
assigns with regard to all claims made or ever made in this lawsuit
against Wal–Mart Stores East, L.P. or any of its employees.
(Doc. 1 at Ex. 1).
Ms. Griffith’s response to each request was stated as follows:
RESPONSE: Plaintiff objects to this improper request for admission as
being completely outside the scope and purpose of Rule 36.
Specifically, this request for admission attempts to require Plaintiff to
speculate on the course of future discovery and further, the purpose of
Rule 36 is to “expedite the trial and to relieve the parties of the cost of
proving facts which will not be disputed at trial,” not to pre-try such
issues (See A.R.C.P. 36, committee comments on 1973 Adoptions).
Without waiving this objection, request for admission - denied.
(Doc. 1 at Ex. 2) (emphasis added).
Subject Matter Jurisdiction Generally
“It is by now axiomatic that the inferior courts are courts of limited jurisdiction.
They are ‘empowered to hear only those cases within the judicial power of the United
States as defined by Article III of the Constitution,’ and which have been entrusted
to them by a jurisdictional grant authorized by Congress.” Univ. of S. Ala. v. Am.
Tobacco Co., 168 F.3d 405, 409 (11th Cir. 1999) (quoting Taylor v. Appleton, 30
F.3d 1365, 1367 (11th Cir. 1994)). “Accordingly, ‘[w]hen a federal court acts outside
its statutory subject-matter jurisdiction, it violates the fundamental constitutional
precept of limited federal power.’” Univ. of S. Ala., 168 F.3d at 409 (quoting Victory
Carriers, Inc. v. Law, 404 U.S. 202, 212, 92 S. Ct. 418, 425, 30 L. Ed. 2d 383
(1971)). “Simply put, once a federal court determines that it is without subject matter
jurisdiction, the court is powerless to continue.” Univ. of S. Ala., 168 F.3d at 410.
“A necessary corollary to the concept that a federal court is powerless to act
without jurisdiction is the equally unremarkable principle that a court should inquire
into whether it has subject matter jurisdiction at the earliest possible stage in the
proceedings.” Id. “Indeed, it is well settled that a federal court is obligated to inquire
into subject matter jurisdiction sua sponte whenever it may be lacking.” Id. (citing
Fitzgerald v. Seaboard Sys. R.R., 760 F.2d 1249, 1251 (11th Cir. 1985) (per curiam)).
Moreover, “[t]he jurisdiction of a court over the subject matter of a claim
involves the court’s competency to consider a given type of case, and cannot be
waived or otherwise conferred upon the court by the parties. Otherwise, a party could
‘work a wrongful extension of federal jurisdiction and give district courts power the
Congress denied them.’” Jackson v. Seaboard Coast Line R.R., 678 F.2d 992, 100001 (11th Cir. 1982) (quoting American Fire & Cas. Co. v. Finn, 341 U.S. 6, 18
(1951)) (footnote omitted) (citation omitted). Furthermore, “[b]ecause removal
jurisdiction raises significant federalism concerns, federal courts are directed to
construe removal statutes strictly.” Univ. of S. Ala., 168 F.3d at 411 (citing Shamrock
Oil & Gas Corp. v. Sheets, 313 U.S. 100, 108-09 (1941)).
Lastly, Congress has decreed and the Supreme Court has confirmed that - with
the express exception of civil rights cases that have been removed - orders of remand
by district courts based upon certain grounds, including in particular those premised
upon lack of subject matter jurisdiction, are entirely insulated from review. More
specifically, § 1447(d) provides:
An order remanding a case to the State court from which it was removed
is not reviewable on appeal or otherwise, except that an order remanding
a case to the State court from which it was removed pursuant to section
1443 of this title shall be reviewable by appeal or otherwise.
28 U.S.C. § 1447(d) (emphasis added); see also Kirchner v. Putnam Funds Trust, 547
U.S. 633, 642 (2006) (recognizing that “‘[w]here the [remand] order is based on one
of the grounds enumerated in 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c), review is unavailable no matter
how plain the legal error in ordering the remand’”) (citing Briscoe v. Bell, 432 U.S.
404, 413 n.13 (1977)); Milton I. Shadur, Traps for the Unwary in Removal and
Remand, 33 no. 3 Litigation 43 (2007); Powerex Corp. v. Reliant Energy Servs., Inc.,
127 S. Ct. 2411, 2418 (2007) (holding that when “the District Court relied upon a
ground that is colorably characterized as subject-matter jurisdiction, appellate review
is barred by § 1447(d)”).
Defendant’s Burden on Removal
The burden of establishing subject matter jurisdiction for the purposes of
removal to this court is on the removing defendant. See Williams v. Best Buy Co., 269
F.3d 1316, 1319 (11th Cir. 2001) (“Because this case was originally filed in state
court and removed to federal court by Best Buy, Best Buy bears the burden of proving
that federal jurisdiction exists.”). “The court should determine its jurisdiction over
the case ‘based upon the plaintiff’s pleadings at the time of removal.’” Fowler v.
Provident Life & Accident Ins. Co., 256 F. Supp. 2d 1243, 1246 (N.D. Ala. 2003).
“[B]ecause the jurisdiction of federal courts is limited, the Eleventh Circuit
Court of Appeals favors remand of cases that have been removed where federal
jurisdiction is not absolutely clear.” Lowe’s OK’d Used Cars, Inc. v. Acceptance Ins.
Co., 995 F. Supp. 1388, 1389 (M.D. Ala. 1998) (citing Burns v. Windsor, 31 F.3d
1092, 1095 (11th Cir. 1994)). “In fact, removal statutes are to be strictly construed,
with all doubts resolved in favor of remand.” Lowe’s, 995 F. Supp. at 1389 (emphasis
added) (citing Diaz v. Sheppard, 85 F.3d 1502, 1505 (11th Cir.1996)).
As stated above, Defendants premise their removal exclusively upon this
court’s diversity jurisdiction. “Diversity jurisdiction exists where the suit is between
citizens of different states and the amount in controversy exceeds the statutorily
prescribed amount, in this case $75,000.” Williams, 269 F.3d at 1319 (citing 28
U.S.C. § 1332(a)). Therefore, removal jurisdiction based upon diversity mandates:
(1) a complete diversity of citizenship between the plaintiff(s) and the defendant(s);
and (2) satisfaction of the amount in controversy requirement.
Diversity jurisdiction “requires complete diversity—every plaintiff must be
diverse from every defendant.” Palmer v. Hosp. Auth., 22 F.3d 1559,1564 (11th Cir.
1994). “Citizenship, not residence, is the key fact that must be alleged in the
complaint to establish diversity for a natural person.” Taylor, 30 F.3d at 1367.
In their notice of removal, Defendants have effectively met the diversity of
citizenship requirement based upon the residence of Ms. Griffith in Alabama (see
Doc. 1 ¶ 1; see also id. Ex. 4 at Compl. ¶ 1 (stating Ms. Griffith “is a resident citizen
of the City of Birmingham, County of Jefferson, State of Alabama”)), and the states
of citizenship for Wal-Mart in Delaware and Arkansas. (Doc. 1 ¶ 2). Additionally,
Ms. Griffith does not dispute that complete diversity exists.
Amount in Controversy Requirement
Ms. Griffith contests the amount in controversy prong. Regarding this
quantitative requirement, “when Congress created lower federal courts, it limited their
diversity jurisdiction to cases in which there was a minimum monetary amount in
controversy between the parties.” Smith v. GTE Corp., 236 F.3d 1292, 1299 (11th
Cir. 2001) (citing Snyder v. Harris, 394 U.S. 332, 334 (1969)). Today, the threshold
amount in controversy for diversity jurisdiction, excluding interests and costs, is that
which exceeds $75,000. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a) (2012) (“The district courts shall have
original jurisdiction of all civil actions where the matter in controversy exceeds the
sum or value of $75,000, exclusive of interest and costs . . .[.]”).
The removal procedure statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1446, contemplates two ways that
a case may be removed based on diversity jurisdiction. The first way (formerly
referred to as “first paragraph removals”)1 involves civil cases where the
The now-defunct distinction between “first paragraph” and “second paragraph”
removals is rendered obsolete by a clearer version of the removal statute, as amended by the
Federal Courts Jurisdiction and Venue Clarification Act of 2011, PL 112-63, December 7, 2011,
125 Stat. 758, which added subsections to 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b). The substance of the removal
procedure is not affected by the stylistic changes to the statute; therefore, the previous case law
discussing “first paragraph” and “second paragraph” removals is still applicable despite its
outdated terminology. See, e.g., Pretka v. Kolter City Plaza II, Inc., 608 F.3d 744, 747 (11th Cir.
2010) (“As we will explain, Lowery was a case that involved the removal procedures in the
second paragraph of 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b), and the decision must be read in that context.”);
Lowery v. Ala. Power Co., 483 F.3d 1184, 1211 (11th Cir. 2007). The recently revised version
jurisdictional grounds for removal are apparent on the face of the initial pleadings.
See 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b)(1) (2012). The second way (formerly referred to as “second
paragraph removals”) contemplates removal where the jurisdictional grounds later
become apparent through the defendant’s receipt of “an amended pleading, motion,
of the removal procedure statute reads, in relevant part, as follows:
(b) Requirements; generally.-(1) The notice of removal of a civil action or proceeding shall be filed within 30
days after the receipt by the defendant, through service or otherwise, of a copy
of the initial pleading setting forth the claim for relief upon which such action
or proceeding is based, or within 30 days after the service of summons upon the
defendant if such initial pleading has then been filed in court and is not required
to be served on the defendant, whichever period is shorter.
(A) When a civil action is removed solely under section 1441(a), all
defendants who have been properly joined and served must join in or
consent to the removal of the action.
(B) Each defendant shall have 30 days after receipt by or service on that
defendant of the initial pleading or summons described in paragraph (1)
to file the notice of removal.
(C) If defendants are served at different times, and a later-served
defendant files a notice of removal, any earlier-served defendant may
consent to the removal even though that earlier-served defendant did not
previously initiate or consent to removal.
(3) Except as provided in subsection (c), if the case stated by the initial pleading
is not removable, a notice of removal may be filed within 30 days after receipt
by the defendant, through service or otherwise, of a copy of an amended
pleading, motion, order or other paper from which it may first be ascertained
that the case is one which is or has become removable.
28 U.S.C. § 1446(b). As such, the “first paragraph removals” discussed in prior case law are
now embodied in subsection (1), id. § 1446(b)(1), and the “second paragraph removals” are now
encompassed in subsection (3), id. § 1446(b)(3).
order or other paper from which it may first be ascertained that the case is one which
is or has become removable.” 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b)(3) (2012) (emphasis added). The
recently revised version of the removal procedure statute expressly clarifies that
discovery responses, such as those presented by Wal-Mart in the instant case, can
constitute “other paper” from which diversity jurisdiction can be established. Id. §
1446(c)(3)(A) (2012) (“If the case stated by the initial pleading is not removable
solely because the amount in controversy does not exceed the amount specified in
section 1332(a), information relating to the amount in controversy in the record of the
State proceeding, or in responses to discovery, shall be treated as an ‘other paper’
under subsection (b)(3).” (emphasis added)).
Here, Ms. Griffith has made an unspecified demand for damages in her
complaint. Wal-Mart did not rely on the complaint alone to establish the requisite
jurisdictional amount and remove within thirty days of its receipt.2 Instead, WalMart’s removal was more than thirty days after receipt of the complaint and was
premised solely on its receipt of “other paper”—namely, Ms. Griffith’s responses to
Wal-Mart’s requests for admission, which Wal-Mart attached to its Notice of
Removal. (See Doc. 1 at 85–87).
The court assumes, without deciding, that Wal-Mart could not have removed based
solely on the complaint.
Because Ms. Griffith made an unspecified demand for damages, Wal-Mart
must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the amount in controversy more
likely than not exceeds the requisite jurisdictional amount. Tapscott v. MS Dealer
Serv. Corp., 77 F.3d 1353, 1356-57 (11th Cir. 1996) (“[W]here a plaintiff has made
an unspecified demand for damages in state court, a removing defendant must prove
by a preponderance of the evidence that the amount in controversy more likely than
not exceeds the . . . jurisdictional requirement.”), abrogated on other grounds by
Cohen v. Office Depot, Inc., 204 F.3d 1069, 1072 (2000); see also McNutt v. General
Motors Acceptance Corp., 298 U.S. 178, 182-83 (1936); accord Lowery, 483 F.3d at
1210 (“Defendants must establish the jurisdictional amount by a preponderance of the
evidence.”). Moreover, the “other paper” (discovery responses) Wal-Mart relied on
in its removal documents must “clearly” and “unambiguously” establish federal
jurisdiction. Lowery, 483 F.3d at 1112 n.63 (explaining that a defendant’s removal
documents “must contain an unambiguous statement that clearly establishes federal
jurisdiction”); id. at 1218 (“[W]e are limited in our review to determining whether the
pleadings or ‘other paper’ included with the notice of removal provide an
unambiguous statement that clearly establishes federal jurisdiction over this action.”).
The key inquiry before the court, therefore, is whether Wal-Mart has clearly
and unambiguously established the jurisdictional amount by a preponderance of the
evidence. Wal-Mart relies solely on Ms. Griffith’s denials of its requests for
admission to establish the jurisdictional amount. (See Doc. 6 at 5 (“It is the position
of Wal-Mart that Plaintiff’s responses to Wal-Mart’s requests for admissions establish
by a preponderance of the evidence that Plaintiff is seeking in excess of the
jurisdictional amount.”). Ms. Griffith, citing to several cases and a law treatise,
argues that her denials of Wal-Mart’s requests for admission do not constitute
statements of fact; rather, they merely indicate that she is not willing to concede the
fact or issue and, as a result, the fact or issue must be proven at trial. (Doc. 5 at 4-5
(citing Gutierrez v. Mass Bay Transp. Auth., 722 N.E.2d 552, 567 (Mass. 2002) (“A
denial of a request for admission is not a statement of fact; it simply indicates that the
responding party is not willing to concede the issue and, as a result, the requesting
party must prove the fact at trial.”), Larry Roger, Jr., Litigating Tort Cases § 17:19
(2008) (“Contrary to an admission, a denial of a request for admission requires that
the proponent of the fact introduce evidence at the trial of the cause to establish the
fact.”), Spears v. Wal-Mart, Case No. 2:09-CV-894-RDP, Docs. 8, 9 (N.D. Ala. June
9, 2009), and Harmon v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., No. 3:08-CV-309-MEF, 2009 WL
707403 (M.D. Ala. Mar. 16, 2009)).
More specifically, Ms. Griffith contends that this case is nearly identical to
Spears and Harmon, where other district judges in the Eleventh Circuit have squarely
addressed the issue of whether a plaintiff’s denials of defendant Wal-Mart’s requests
for admission sufficiently established the requisite amount in controversy. In Spears
and Harmon, the courts found that the denials of the requests for admission (which
were similarly, if not identically, worded to those propounded in the instant case)
were not sufficient to establish jurisdiction. The court agrees with the persuasive
reasoning of those cases,3 and likewise finds that Wal-Mart has not met its burden on
demonstrating the amount in controversy requirement.
Turning first to Harmon, the court finds this case highly persuasive because of
its factual similarities and careful reasoning. In Harmon, the Honorable Mark E.
Fuller, Chief District Judge of the Middle District of Alabama, thoroughly addressed
whether denial of these same type of requests is sufficient to establish the amount in
controversy. He persuasively reasoned:
The other paper proffered by Defendant is insufficient to establish
jurisdiction. Defendant attempted to establish facts “received from the
plaintiff” sufficient to support jurisdiction by requesting admissions to
six questions about the amount in controversy framed in the negative,
such as “you do not claim in excess of $75,000.00 as total damages in
this case” and “you will not seek over $75,000.00 as total damages in
this case.” Plaintiff responded to each of these inquiries with a simple
“Deny.” Defendant's apparent hope is that the negativity of the denial
The opinions of other district court judges, even in the Northern District of Alabama,
are not binding on this court. See, e.g., Fishman & Tobin, Inc. v. Tropical Shipping & Const.
Co., Ltd., 240 F.3d 956, 965 (11th Cir. 2001) (“[T]he district court cannot be said to be bound by
a decision of one of its brother or sister judges” although such decisions may be persuasive).
would, as a matter of logic, cancel the negatives in the questions,
yielding an admission of the positive opposite of the negative
propounded statements. (i.e., Defendant argues that if Plaintiff denies
that she does not claim in excess of $75,000, she must claim in excess
of $75,000 because one or the other must be true—the choice is binary).
Or, stated generically, Defendant sought to prove the positive by
eliciting a denial of the negative.
Defendant cannot create an end-run around the jurisdictional
requirements by forcing a denial of a negative and then claim the
positive is admitted and conclusively determined. It is true that in formal
logic, and even in everyday language, that what is may be inferred from
a statement about what is not. Or, that denial is the opposite of
affirmation. Or, in a universe where only A and B are possible, but one
of either A or B must be, one can construct a sound disjunctive
syllogism like this one:
Either A or B. Not A,
In the context of a request for admission to a plaintiff from a
defendant, however, the effect of a denial is not the same. On the one
hand, when a party admits to a fact in response to a request for
admission, that fact is conclusively established for purposes of the
litigation. Fed. R. Civ. P. 36(b) (“A matter admitted under this rule is
conclusively established unless the court, on motion, permits the
admission to be withdrawn or amended.”); see U.S. v. 2204 Barbara
Lane, 960 F.2d 126, 129 (11th Cir. 1992). On the other, the effect of a
denial is not to admit the opposite of the proposition offered for
admission, but rather is simply to establish that the matter is in dispute.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 36 advisory committee notes, 1970 Amendment
(describing the purpose of requests for admission as “to ascertain
whether the answering party is prepared to admit or regards the matter
as presenting a genuine issue for trial ”) (emphasis added); see also
O'Meara–Stearling v. Mitchell, 299 F.2d 401, 404 (5th Cir. 1962)4
(noting that the purpose of this rule is to provide for admission of
matters about which there is no dispute); Gutierrez v. Mass. Bay Transp.
Auth., 437 Mass. 396, 772 N.E.2d 552, 567 (Mass. 2002) (“A denial of
a request for admission is not a statement of fact; it simply indicates that
the responding party is not willing to concede the issue and, as a result,
the requesting party must prove the fact at trial.”); Larry Rogers, Jr.,
Litigating Tort Cases § 17:19 (2008) (“Contrary to an admission, a
denial of a request for admission requires that the proponent of the fact
introduce evidence at the trial of the cause to establish the fact.”).
Hence, Plaintiff's denial of the six questions propounded by Defendant
serves not to establish that an amount in excess of $75,000 is in dispute,
but rather that Plaintiff is not willing to concede the issue and that an
amount in excess of $75,000 is in dispute is itself in dispute. Refusal to
concede is not a statement of fact and cannot support jurisdiction.
Therefore, while this paper is a proper item for consideration and
was received from Plaintiff, its contents do not provide the clear and
unambiguous statement required to establish subject matter jurisdiction
over this action. Defendant has therefore not met its burden of proving
facts by a preponderance of the evidence that establish jurisdiction.
Harmon, 2009 WL 707403, at *3-4 (footnotes omitted).
Similarly, in Spears, District Judge R. David Proctor, faced with similar facts,
relied on Chief Judge Fuller’s analysis in Harmon in concluding that the plaintiff’s
denials of Wal-Mart’s requests for admission were not sufficient to demonstrate the
requisite amount in controversy. Judge Proctor’s analysis is set out as follows:
Defendant’s Notice of Removal asserts that Plaintiff's denial of its
Requests for Admission, and thus her refusal to admit that she will not
claim and does not seek in excess of $75,000.00, establishes that the
amount in controversy is in excess of $75,000.00, the requisite
jurisdictional amount. In a separate case involving Wal-Mart, Chief
Judge Fuller of the Middle District of Alabama, has already addressed
whether denial of these same type of requests is sufficient to establish
the amount in controversy. Harmon v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 2009 WL
707403 (M.D. Ala. 2009).
Defendant's apparent hope is that the negativity of the
denial would, as a matter of logic, cancel the negatives in
the questions, yielding an admission of the positive
opposite of the negative propounded statements. (i.e.,
Defendant argues that if Plaintiff denies that she does not
claim in excess of $75,000.00, she must claim in excess of
$75,000.00 because one or the other must be true-the
choice is binary). Or, stated generically, Defendant sought
to prove the positive by eliciting a denial of the negative.
Harmon, 2009 WL 707403 at *3. General principles of logic do not
In the context of a request for admission to a plaintiff from
a defendant, however, the effect of a denial is not the same.
On the one hand, when a party admits to a fact in response
to a request for admission, that fact is conclusively
established for purposes of the litigation. Fed. R. Civ. P.
36(b) ("A matter admitted under this rule is conclusively
established unless the court, on motion, permits the
admission to be withdrawn or amended.") ... . On the other,
the effect of a denial is not to admit the opposite of the
proposition offered for admission, but rather is simply to
establish that the matter is in dispute.
Harmon, 2009 WL 707403 at *4 (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 36 advisory
committee notes, 1970 Amendment) (internal citation omitted). "Hence,
Plaintiff's denial of the six questions propounded by Defendant serves
not to establish that an amount in excess of $75,000 is in dispute, but
rather that Plaintiff is not willing to concede the issue and that an
amount in excess of $75,000 is in dispute is itself in dispute. Refusal to
concede is not a statement of fact and cannot support jurisdiction." Id.
In its response to the Show Cause Order and Motion to Remand,
Defendant directs the court's attention to the case of Williams v. WalMart Stores, Inc., 534 F. Supp. 2d 1239 (M.D. Ala. 2008). The
defendant in that case based its removal on similar, but not identical,
requests for admission regarding the amount in controversy and the
responses by the plaintiff. Williams moved to remand, but the basis for
the motion to remand was timeliness. That is, in Williams, the court's
opinion does not address the issue of whether the amount in controversy
was satisfied. Williams, 534 F. Supp. 2d at 1242-43.
Defendant also asserts that Harden v. Field Memorial Community
Hosp., 516 F. Supp. 2d 600 (S.D. Miss. 2007) supports its removal. That
case differs in some key aspects related to its factual allegations and the
injuries claimed by that plaintiff. Harden is a medical malpractice case
in which the plaintiff alleged that she “fainted while on a gurney in Field
Memorial Hospital's emergency room ... [and] suffered a fractured jaw
and nose, contusions, and lacerations due to the emergency room staff's
failure to raise the gurney's 'pull-up' railing.” Harden, 516 F. Supp. 2d
at 607. She sought “damages for her past, present, and future pain and
suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, disabilities, disfigurement, and
medical treatment." Harden, 516 F. Supp. 2d at 608. In the case before
this court, Plaintiff alleges that she slipped and fell in a Wal-Mart store
and suffered unspecified injuries.
In Harden, the plaintiff served evasive responses to the
defendant's requests for admissions of which the court clearly did not
approve. Harden, 516 F. Supp. 2d at 608-09. The court noted that,
“[a]lthough the plaintiff's discovery responses are vague and indefinite,
her failure to admit or deny the requests for admission, coupled with her
refusal to limit her damages as well as with her demand for multifold
relief, make it unequivocally clear and certain that she intended to seek
more than $75,000.00.” Id. However, Harden is distinguishable because
in that case “the plaintiff made clear in her Memorandum of Authorities
in support of her Motion to Remand based upon untimely removal that
she intends to seek more than $75,000.00.” Id.
Chief Judge Fuller’s analysis of the effect of the denial of these
types of requests for admission is persuasive. The denial of the negative
requests does not equal an affirmative. Because the jurisdictional
amount in controversy in this case is not apparent on the removing
documents, “the proper course is remand.” Lowery, 483 F.3d at 1218.
Spears, 2:09-CV-894-RDP, Doc. 8 at 3-5.
In this case, as in Spears, Wal-Mart relies on the same two cases to demonstrate
that it has met its burden of demonstrating the jurisdictional amount. (Doc. 6 at 5
(“Wal-Mart contends that the district courts in Williams v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 534
F. Supp. 2d 1239 (M.D. Ala. 2008), and in Harden v. Field Memorial Community
Hosp., 516 F. Supp. 2d 600 (S.D. Miss. 2007), correctly decided the issue which is
presently before this Court.”). Like Judge Proctor in Spears, the undersigned finds
that Williams and Harden are not persuasive to support Wal-Mart’s argument because
both cases are distinguishable: the Williams analysis centered on timeliness issues and
did not reach amount-in-controversy analysis, and Harden presented different facts
in that the plaintiff manifested her intent to seek more than $75,000.00. See Williams,
534 F. Supp. 2d at 1242-45; Harden, 516 F. Supp. 2d at 609 (“The plaintiff's evasive
response to the defendants’ requests for admission, combined with the plaintiff's
manifestation of her intent to seek over $75,000.00, is tantamount to a denial of the
defendants' requests for admission.” (emphasis added)).
For these reasons, Williams and Harden materially differ from instant case,
whereas Harmon and Spears are both relevant and instructive. Specifically, the court
finds that Ms. Griffith’s denials of Wal-Mart’s requests for admission do not
constitute “unequivocally clear and certain” evidence that she intends to see more
than $75,000 in damages. Like Judge Fuller, the court concludes that Wal-Mart
cannot “prove the positive by eliciting denial of the negative.” Harmon, 2009 WL
707403, at *3. Stated differently, as put by Judge Proctor, “[t]he denial of the
negative requests does not equal an affirmance.” Spears, Doc. 8 at 5.
Moreover, in this case, Ms. Griffith’s responses to Wal-Mart’s requests for
admission are the only evidence Wal-Mart relies on to support its position that the
jurisdictional minimum is met. Cf. Martin v. Coventry Heath Care Workers Comp.,
Inc., Case No. 4:12-cv-1057-VEH, Doc. 13 at 10-12 (N.D. Ala. May 14, 2012)
(finding that defendants met the preponderance-of-evidence standard on removal
when it presented multiple grounds to support satisfaction of the jurisdictional
minimum, including factors apparent on the face of the complaint, which the court
considered in combination). The court cannot conclude that the “other paper”
proffered by Wal-Mart in this case, standing alone, is sufficient to clearly and
unambiguously establish the court’s jurisdiction. Accordingly, like Spears and
Harmon, this cause is due to be remanded.
Because the answers to the requests for admission do not amount to an
unambiguous statement that clearly establishes this court’s jurisdiction, Wal-Mart has
not met its burden of proving subject matter jurisdiction by a preponderance of the
evidence. Lowery, 483 F.3d at 1211. Therefore, Ms. Griffith’s Motion to Remand
(Doc. 5) is due to be GRANTED, and this case is due to be remanded to state court.
An Order consistent with this Memorandum Opinion will be separately entered.
DONE and ORDERED this the 10th day of August, 2012.
VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS
United States District Judge
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?