Mason v. Sunbeam Products Inc et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge R David Proctor on 4/24/2017. (KAM, )
2017 Apr-24 PM 02:29
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
EDWARD L. MASON, JR.,
SUNBEAM PRODUCTS, INC.,
Case No.: 2:17-cv-00336-RDP
This case is before the court on Plaintiff’s Motion to Remand. (Doc. # 10). The parties
have fully briefed the motion. (Docs. # 17, 18). The court held a hearing on this motion on
April 19, 2017. After careful consideration of the removal papers and the parties’ briefs, and
with the benefit of oral argument, the court concludes that the motion (Doc. # 10) is due to be
Procedural History and Background Facts
On January 24, 2017, Plaintiff filed his Complaint in the Circuit Court of Jefferson
County, Alabama, asserting one claim of negligence and one claim under the Alabama Extended
Manufacturers’ Liability Doctrine. (Doc. # 1-1 at 2-8) (hereinafter “Complaint”). Plaintiff
claims that a heating pad manufactured by Defendant “failed to shut off and caused burn injuries
to [his] left calf.” (Complaint at ¶ 10). Plaintiff’s damages include burn injuries to his left calf,
scarring on his left calf, pain and suffering, surgical procedures, and “past and future hospital,
doctor, therapy, and prescription expenses.” (Id. at ¶ 16). Plaintiff only seeks compensatory
damages from Defendant. (Id. at ¶¶ 16, 22).
On March 1, 2017, Defendant removed this case to this court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§
1441 and 1446. (See Doc. # 1). Defendant based its removal upon diversity jurisdiction that it
had ascertained from the complaint.
(Id. at 4).
According to Defendant, a reasonable
expectation of damages from burns that have resulted in multiple surgeries and will require
future medical care exceeds $75,000. (Id.). Defendant’s notice of removal lists several suits
where Alabama juries have awarded verdicts greater than $75,000 for negligence and products
liability claims. (Id. at 4-5).
At the motion hearing, on the record, Plaintiff’s counsel candidly informed the court that
the hospital where Plaintiff was treated has filed a medical lien for approximately $50,000 in
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.
In a case such as this one, where a plaintiff has not demanded a specific amount of
damages in the initial pleading, “a removing defendant is not required to the prove the amount in
controversy beyond all doubt or to banish all uncertainty about it,” Pretka, 608 F.3d at 754;
rather, it must prove that “the amount in controversy more likely than not exceeds the [$75,000]
jurisdictional requirement,” Tapscott v. MS Dealer Serv. Corp., 77 F.3d 1353, 1357 (11th Cir.
1996), overruled on other grounds by Cohen v. Office Depot, Inc., 204 F.3d 1069, 1072 (11th
Cir. 2000). Defendant highlights (1) the types of claims Plaintiff raises (i.e., products liability
and negligence claims that seek compensatory damages), (2) the value of similar cases, and
(3) the severity of burns that Plaintiff suffered.
Defendant has met its burden and has demonstrated by a preponderance of the evidence
that the amount in controversy more likely than not exceeds the jurisdictional requirement. A
defendant may satisfy its burden by submitting additional evidence to demonstrate that the
jurisdictional minimum is met. See Pretka, 608 F.3d at 772-74 (confirming that a district court
may consider jurisdictional evidence attached to a brief opposing remand in an action removed
within 30 days of service of the complaint).
Here, Defendant has submitted photographic
evidence of the severe burns over a large portion of Plaintiff’s leg. And, it is at least instructive
that Plaintiff has at no point argued that he seeks less than $75,000. In his reply brief, Plaintiff
insists that the court cannot rely exclusively on this refusal to stipulate because relying on such
strategic conduct by a party improperly shifts the burden of proof from the removing party.
(Doc. # 18 at 3-4). The court agrees. Nevertheless, the court can consider the lack of such a
stipulation as a factor against remanding an action, in conjunction with other evidence supporting
the amount in controversy requirement. Jones v. Novartis Pharm. Co., 952 F. Supp. 2d 1277,
1286-87 (N.D. Ala. 2013).
Armed with its “judicial experience and common sense,” the court finds that Defendant
has demonstrated that the amount in controversy more likely than not exceeds $75,000. Roe, 613
F.3d at 1062. In addition to the evidence presented, the court is permitted to make “reasonable
deductions, reasonable inferences, or other reasonable extrapolations” when assessing the
amount in controversy. Pretka, 608 F.3d at 754. Here, Plaintiff suffered burn injuries and seeks
compensatory damages for both the resulting medical expenses and his pain and suffering. (See
Complaint at ¶ 16). Plaintiff’s counsel has conceded on the record that the hospital lien for
medical expenses is approximately $50,000. Alabama law requires a jury to award sufficient
compensation for pain and suffering damages, in addition to a plaintiff’s uncontradicted special
damages.1 Allen v. Briggs, 60 So. 3d 899, 905 (Ala. Civ. App. 2010). In Allen, a negligence
action arising from a motor vehicle accident, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals affirmed a
$30,000 verdict that included approximately $14,000 for uncontroverted special damages and
approximately $16,000 in compensation for other damages, including pain and suffering. See id.
at 905-06. If a jury awarded Plaintiff pain and suffering damages roughly equivalent to the
medical expenses established by the hospital lien, then that jury would award Plaintiff a verdict
which well exceeds $75,000. Based on the court’s common sense valuation, and informed by
reasonable deduction, the court concludes that “[w]hile it would be speculative to specify the
exact dollar amount at issue in this case, it is not speculative” to conclude that it exceeds
$75,000. Roe v. Michelin N. Am., Inc., 637 F. Supp. 2d 995, 999 (M.D. Ala. 2009).
It is well settled that a jury has discretion to calculate the appropriate amount of damages. E.g., Ex parte
Courtney, 937 So. 2d 1060, 1062 (Ala. 2006) (quoting Smith v. Darring, 659 So. 2d 678, 679 (Ala. Civ. App.
For the reasons outlined above, Plaintiff’s Motion to Remand (Doc. # 10) is due to be
denied. A separate Order consistent with this Memorandum Opinion will be entered.
DONE and ORDERED this April 24, 2017.
R. DAVID PROCTOR
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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