Griffith v. Sam's West, Inc.
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge R David Proctor on 9/28/2016. (AVC)
2016 Sep-28 PM 01:20
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
PAMELA G. GRIFFITH,
SAM’S WEST, INC.,
Case No.: 2:16-cv-01348-RDP
This matter is before the court on Plaintiff’s Motion to Remand. (Doc. # 5). The parties
have fully briefed the motion. (Docs. # 7, 8). After careful consideration of the removal papers
and the parties’ briefs, the court finds that the requisite jurisdictional amount in controversy is
not evident from the removal papers and that this case was improvidently removed. Thus, the
court will remand this case back to the Circuit Court of Jefferson County, Alabama, Birmingham
Background Facts and Procedural History
On May 17, 2016, Plaintiff Pamela Griffith filed her Complaint in the Circuit Court of
Jefferson County, Alabama, asserting claims of negligence, recklessness, wantonness, and
premises liability against Defendant Sam’s West, Inc. (Doc. # 2). The allegations in Plaintiff’s
Complaint relate to an incident where Plaintiff claims she fell and suffered injuries to her hip,
elbow, neck, and leg at one of Defendant’s stores. Plaintiff’s Complaint seeks an unspecified
amount of compensatory, special, and punitive damages from Defendant. (Doc. # 2 at 8).
Defendant served the following Requests for Admission to Plaintiff on June 24, 2016:
1. That you do not claim in excess of $75,000.00 as total damages in this case,
exclusive of interest, attorney’s fees, or other fees and costs.
2. That you do not intend to claim over $75,000.00 as total damages in this case.
3. That you will not seek over $75,000.00 as total damages in this case.
4. That you will waive any amount of damages ever entered in this case in
excess of $75,000.00.
5. That you will not accept any award of damages over $75,000.00 in this case.
6. 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 Sam’s Club or any of its
(Doc. # 1, Ex. 1). On July 19, 2016, Plaintiff served her Responses to Defendants’ Requests for
Admission and denied the first five requests. 1 (Doc. # 1, Ex. 2).
On August 18, 2016, Defendant removed this case to this court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§
1441 and 1446. Defendant based its removal upon diversity jurisdiction that it had ascertained
from the Responses to Requests for Admission received from Plaintiff. Specifically, Defendant
argues that Plaintiff’s denials of the requests for admission establish her intention to seek more
than $75,000.00 in total damages in this case by a preponderance of the evidence. (See Doc. # 1
at 7). Defendant does not refer to any evidence besides the denials to support its argument that
more than $75,000.00 is at issue in this case. (See Doc. # 1 at 7-8).
Following the submission of this Motion to Remand, Plaintiff filed an affidavit, which
states that she “will not ask for” and “will refuse to accept” more than $75,000 in damages.
(Doc. # 12). Moreover, Plaintiff asserts that she will remit “any amount awarded by a judge,
jury, or any other legal entity empowered by the law to render judgment, over seventy-five
thousand dollars ($75,000.00).” This promise to not accept damages over $75,000 is binding on
Plaintiff’s heirs, assigns, and successors in this action. (Doc. # 12).
Plaintiff admitted the sixth request for admission, but this only means that her denials of the first five
requests were binding with regard to all claims made in the lawsuit against Defendant or its employees.
Standard of Review
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332, the court has subject matter jurisdiction over a case
involving state law claims where there is both complete diversity of citizenship among the
parties, and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000.00. A removing party bears the burden
of establishing subject matter jurisdiction over a case removed to this court. Pretka v. Kolter
City Plaza II, Inc., 608 F.3d 744, 752 (11th Cir. 2010). When the damages at issue in an action
are unspecified, a removing party “bears the burden of establishing the jurisdictional amount by
a preponderance of the evidence.” Lowery v. Alabama Power Co., 483 F.3d 1184, 1208 (11th
Cir. 2007). But, the “court[ ] may use [its] judicial experience and common sense in determining
whether the case stated in a complaint meets federal jurisdictional requirements.”
Michelin N. Am., Inc., 613 F.3d 1058, 1062 (11th Cir. 2010). Further, federal courts strictly
construe removal statutes, and “all doubts about jurisdiction should be resolved in favor of
remand to state court.” City of Vestavia Hills v. Gen. Fidelity Ins. Co., 676 F.3d 1310, 1313
(11th Cir. 2012) (quoting Univ. of S. Ala. v. Am. Tobacco Co., 168 F.3d 405, 411 (11th Cir.
A defendant may remove an action more than thirty days after its commencement if the
action could not have been removed based on the initial pleading, or it was uncertain whether
removal was allowable under the initial pleading, and a defendant receives 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)(3); see Pretka, 608 F.3d at 757. This
type of § 1446(b)(3) removal “is not an easy one for defendants to travel,” and that door opens
only when a defendant receives a document from which it can ascertain the basis for federal
subject matter jurisdiction. Pretka, 608 F.3d at 760.
A federal court has diversity jurisdiction over a case removed under § 1446(b)(3) “[i]f the
jurisdictional amount is either stated clearly on the face of the documents before the court, or [is]
readily deducible from them.” Lowery, 483 F.3d at 1211. “In assessing whether removal was
proper . . . the district court has before it only the limited universe of evidence . . . i.e., the notice
of removal and accompanying documents.”
Id., at 1213-1214 (emphasis added).
reviewing that universe of evidence, the court must also consider a plaintiff’s request for punitive
damages. Rae v. Perry, 392 F. App’x 753, 755 (11th Cir. 2010) (citing Holley Equip. Co. v.
Credit Alliance Corp., 821 F.2d 1531, 1535 (11th Cir. 1987)).
Defendant’s response to the Motion to Remand asserts that Plaintiff’s denials 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.
(Doc. # 7 at 5). The court disagrees. While Plaintiff’s Responses to the Requests for Admission
is a “paper” that was received by Defendant from Plaintiff, “its contents do not provide the clear
and unambiguous statement required to establish subject matter jurisdiction over this action.”
Griffith v. Wal-Mart Stores East, L.P., 884 F. Supp. 2d 1218, 1226 (N.D. Ala. 2012) (quoting
Harmon v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 2009 WL 707403, at *3-4 (M.D. Ala. Mar. 16, 2009)
Although there is no binding Eleventh Circuit precedent on this issue, it is far from an
issue of first impression in this district. This court has concluded numerous times “that a mere
denial to a request for admission does not suffice to demonstrate” the amount-in-controversy
requirement in § 1332, and the reasoning of those decisions is persuasive. 2
Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co., 2015 WL 5935170, at *3 (N.D. Ala. Oct. 13, 2015) (unpublished)
(citing Griffith and Spears v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 2:09-cv-00894-RDP, Doc. # 8 (N.D. Ala.
June 6, 2009) (unpublished)). As in Amison, the court concludes that Plaintiff’s denials of
Defendant’s negatively-worded requests for admission are insufficient to demonstrate the
amount in controversy by a preponderance of the evidence. Id. While a party’s affirmative
response to a request for admission conclusively establishes a fact for purposes of litigation, “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).
Defendant asserts that its removal of this case is supported by Williams v. Wal-Mart
Stores, Inc., 534 F. Supp. 2d 1239 (M.D. Ala. 2008), and Harden v. Field Memorial Community
Hosp., 516 F. Supp. 2d 600 (S.D. Miss. 2007). In Williams, the defendant based its removal on a
plaintiff’s denials of similar requests for admission. Williams moved to remand, but she based
the motion to remand on timeliness. Thus, Williams is distinguishable from this case because the
Williams opinion did not address whether the amount in controversy was satisfied. Williams,
534 F. Supp. 2d at 1242-45; see also Spears, 2:09-cv-00894-RDP, Doc. # 8 at 4 (distinguishing
Williams from another motion to remand on similar grounds).
Likewise, Harden is distinguishable from this case because of the factual allegations and
injuries at issue in the Harden litigation. As this court stated in Spears,
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,
Prior decisions of this court and other district courts are non-binding, persuasive authority that may be
considered by the court in rendering its decision.
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.
Spears, 2:09-cv-00894-RDP, Doc. # 8 at 4. Here, Plaintiff alleges that she slipped and fell in a
store and suffered unspecified injuries to her hip, elbow, neck, and leg. Moreover, as the court
concluded in Harden, “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,” whereas Plaintiff in this case has made no affirmative statement concerning the
amount of damages sought. 3 Harden, 516 F. Supp. 2d at 608-09.
Harmon’s analysis of the evidentiary value of negatively-worded requests for admission
is persuasive. The denial of the negative requests does not equal an affirmative assertion or
response that more than $75,000 is sought. Moreover, Plaintiff has averred to this court that, if
the case is remanded to state court, she will not seek or accept more than $75,000 in damages
and “will remit[ ] any amount awarded by a judge, jury, or any other legal entity empowered by
the law to render judgment, over seventy-five thousand dollars ($75,000.00).” (Doc. # 12).
Thus, Defendant has not established the requisite amount in controversy by a preponderance of
the evidence, and a remand is appropriate. 4
In its response to the Motion to Remand, Defendant directs the court’s attention to the case of Smith v.
State Farm Fire & Casualty Co., 868 F. Supp. 2d 1333 (N.D. Ala. 2012). Like Harden, the Smith case involved
different types of claims and different factual allegations than this case. In Smith, the court addressed an action
asserting breach of contract and bad faith claims against an insurance company arising from an insurance claim for
wind damage to a house following tornadoes. Smith, 868 F. Supp. 2d at 1334. The court concluded that remand
was improper because “the parties and the court know from their exercise of good sense and experience that the
claim exceeds $75,000.” Id., at 1335. In accordance with Judge William Acker’s observation that the court may use
its “good sense and experience” when evaluating cases raising amount in controversy issues, the court determines
that the documents presented by Defendant simply do not establish an amount in controversy exceeding $75,000.00,
even considering Plaintiff’s claim for punitive damages.
Because Defendant fails to establish the necessary amount in controversy, the court does not address
Plaintiff’s argument that Defendant’s remand was untimely. The court notes, however, that to the extent Defendant
relies on punitive damages to show the amount in controversy, it could have determined the punitive damages at
issue from the initial pleading.
For the reasons outlined above, the court finds Defendant has not established that the
requisite jurisdictional amount is at issue. By separate order, the court will remand this case to
the Circuit Court of Jefferson County, Alabama, Birmingham Division.
DONE and ORDERED this September 28, 2016.
R. DAVID PROCTOR
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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