Thompson v. Ortensie et al
Order directing Plaintiff to file a memorandum of law regarding the amount in controversy by 9/28/2017, Responses due by 10/5/2017. Signed by District Judge William H. Steele on 9/14/17. (tgw)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
ROBERT A. ORTENSIE, et al.,
CIVIL ACTION 17-0333-WS-B
This removal action was recently transferred to the undersigned’s docket. It now comes
before the Court sua sponte on preliminary review of the Notice of Removal (doc. 1) and
exhibits filed by defendants, Robert A. Ortensie and Prewitt and Son Trucking Company.
In light of its narrowly circumscribed jurisdiction, this Court bears an affirmative duty to
inquire sua sponte whenever it appears that subject matter jurisdiction may be lacking. See
Williams v. Chatman, 510 F.3d 1290, 1293 (11th Cir. 2007) (“Federal courts are obligated to
inquire into subject-matter jurisdiction sua sponte whenever it may be lacking.”) (citation and
internal quotation marks omitted).1 The Notice of Removal filed by Ortensie and Prewitt
predicates federal jurisdiction exclusively on the diversity provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1332. “For
federal diversity jurisdiction to attach, all parties must be completely diverse … and the amount
in controversy must exceed $75,000.” Underwriter’s at Lloyd’s, London v. Osting-Schwinn, 613
F.3d 1079, 1085 (11th Cir. 2010) (citations omitted). Of course, it is defendants’ burden (as the
parties invoking federal jurisdiction) to demonstrate the existence of § 1332 jurisdiction,
including the requisite amount in controversy. See Dudley v. Eli Lilly and Co., 778 F.3d 909,
913 (11th Cir. 2014) (“We have repeatedly held that the removing party bears the burden of proof
See also Bochese v. Town of Ponce Inlet, 405 F.3d 964, 975 (11th Cir. 2005)
(similar); Smith v. GTE Corp., 236 F.3d 1292, 1299 (11th Cir. 2001) (“[B]ecause a federal court
is powerless to act beyond its statutory grant of subject matter jurisdiction, a court must
zealously insure that jurisdiction exists over a case, and should itself raise the question of subject
matter jurisdiction at any point in the litigation where a doubt about jurisdiction arises.”).
to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that the amount in controversy exceeds the
jurisdictional minimum.”). To meet this burden, defendants must show either that it is “facially
apparent from the pleading itself that the amount in controversy exceeds the jurisdictional
minimum,” or that there is “additional evidence demonstrating that removal is proper.” Roe v.
Michelin North America, Inc., 613 F.3d 1058, 1061 (11th Cir. 2010) (citations omitted). What
defendants may not do, however, is resort to “conjecture, speculation, or star gazing” to satisfy
the $75,000 threshold. Pretka v. Kolter City Plaza II, Inc., 608 F.3d 744, 754 (11th Cir. 2010).
Upon review of the Notice of Removal, the Court has reservations about the adequacy of
defendants’ legal and factual showing as to the amount-in-controversy requirement, as
summarized in the foregoing authorities. Defendants rely on vague allegations in the Complaint
that the plaintiff, Anthony Thompson, “suffered bodily injuries,” “suffered physical pain,”
sought “medical treatment,” and “incurred medical expenses,” and that Thompson seeks punitive
damages. Such a threadbare showing tells the Court essentially nothing about the nature and
extent of Thompson’s physical injuries (did he suffer a nick and a bruise, broken bones and
damaged organs, or something else altogether? Were these injuries transitory or permanent? Is
Thompson impaired in any way?) and likely compensatory damages, and appears to reduce to a
legally incorrect statement that the § 1332 amount-in-controversy threshold is satisfied simply
because the plaintiff has asked for punitive damages. See, e.g., Crocker v. Lifesouth Community
Blood Centers, Inc., 2016 WL 740296, *3 (S.D. Ala. Feb. 23, 2016) (“a claim for punitive
damages in a negligence / wantonness case does not automatically, necessarily vault the amount
in controversy over the § 1332 jurisdictional threshold”).
Accordingly, the following briefing schedule (confined to jurisdictional issues relating to
the amount in controversy) is entered: Plaintiff must file a memorandum of law, supported by
legal authority as appropriate, on or before September 28, 2017, setting forth his position as to
whether the amount-in-controversy requirement is satisfied. Defendants will be allowed until
October 5, 2017 to file a response. If the Court determines that oral argument is appropriate, the
parties will be notified and a hearing will be scheduled. Otherwise, the jurisdictional issue will
be taken under submission after October 5, 2017.
DONE and ORDERED this 14th day of September, 2017.
s/ WILLIAM H. STEELE
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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