Miknaitis v. Doty et al
ORDER AND REASONS granting 7 Motion to Remand. Signed by Chief Judge Sarah S. Vance on 9/14/15. (Attachments: # 1 Letter to Clerk of the 22nd Judicial District Court) (Cert Copy to Clerk, 22nd JDC)(jjs)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA
JOHN J. MIKNAITIS
ROBERT W. DOTY, ET AL.
ORDER AND REASONS
Plaintiff John Miknaitis moves the Court to remand this case because his
alleged damages do not satisfy the amount in controversy requirement under
28 U.S.C. § 1332.1 For the following reasons, the Court grants the motion.
Plaintiff John Miknaitis filed this tort action in Louisiana’s Twenty-
Second Judicial District Court for the Parish of St. Tammany after a car
accident that Miknaitis alleges defendant Robert Doty caused.2 Miknaitis
alleges that as a result of accident, he “suffered injuries, coupled with pain,
[sic] and suffering, which continues to this date.”3 Miknaitis further alleges
that the accident caused him “physical and mental pain and suffering,
R. Doc. 7; R. Doc. 7-1.
See R. Doc. 1-1 (plaintiff’s state-court Petition for Damages)
Id. at 3 ¶ 5.
disability, loss of enjoyment of life and wage impairment extended to the
present date and will continue to the future medical expenses [sic].”4
Defendants Robert Doty, Three Diamond Leasing, LLC, and Zurich
American Insurance Company removed the action to this Court on July 22,
2015.5 On August 14, 2015, Miknaitis moved to remand the action on the
ground that his petition does not satisfy the requisite $75,000 amount in
controversy.6 Defendants oppose the motion.7
A defendant may generally remove a civil action filed in state court if the
federal court has original jurisdiction over the action. See 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a).
The removing party bears the burden of showing that federal jurisdiction
exists. See Allen v. R & H Oil & Gas Co., 63 F.3d 1326, 1335 (5th Cir. 1995). In
assessing whether removal is appropriate, the Court is guided by the principle,
grounded in notions of comity and the recognition that federal courts are
Id. at ¶ 7.
See R. Doc. 1.
See R. Doc. 7; R. Doc. 7-1. Miknaitis does not dispute that the
parties are diverse for jurisdictional purposes. See R. Doc. 7; R. Doc. 7-1.
See R. Doc. 9.
courts of limited jurisdiction, that removal statutes should be strictly
construed. See, e.g., Manguno v. Prudential Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co., 276 F.3d
720, 723 (5th Cir. 2002). Though the Court must remand the case to state
court if at any time before final judgment it appears that it lacks subject matter
jurisdiction, the Court's jurisdiction is fixed as of the time of removal. See 28
U.S.C. § 1447(c); Doddy v. Oxy USA, Inc., 101 F.3d 448, 456 (5th Cir. 1996).
Amount in Controversy
Under Fifth Circuit law, a removing defendant's burden of showing that
the amount in controversy is sufficient to support federal jurisdiction differs
depending on whether the plaintiff's complaint alleges a specific amount of
monetary damages. See Allen, 63 F.3d at 1335. When the plaintiff alleges a
damage figure in excess of the required amount in controversy, “that amount
controls if made in good faith.” Id. (citing St. Paul Mercury Indem. Co. v. Red
Cab Co., 303 U.S. 283, 289 (1938)). If a plaintiff pleads damages less than the
jurisdictional amount, this figure will also generally control, barring removal.
Allen, 63 F.3d at 1335. “Thus, in the typical diversity case, the plaintiff is the
master of his complaint.” Id.
Here, however, plaintiff filed his complaint in Louisiana state court, and
Louisiana law ordinarily does not permit plaintiffs to plead a specific amount
of monetary damages. See La. Code Civ. Proc. art. 893(A)(1) (“No specific
monetary amount of damages shall be included in the allegations or prayer for
relief of any original, amended, or incidental demand.”). When, as here, a
plaintiff has alleged an indeterminate amount of damages, the Fifth Circuit
requires the removing defendant to prove by a preponderance of the evidence
that the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000. See Simon v. Wal–Mart
Stores, 193 F.3d 848, 850 (5th Cir. 1999); Allen, 63 F.3d at 1335; De Aguilar
v. Boeing Co., 47 F.3d 1404, 1412 (5th Cir. 1995). A defendant satisfies this
burden either by showing that it is facially apparent that the plaintiff's claims
exceed the jurisdictional amount or by setting forth the facts in dispute that
support finding that the jurisdictional amount is satisfied. Allen, 63 F.3d at
1335. The defendant must do more than point to a state law that might allow
plaintiff to recover more than the jurisdictional minimum; the defendant must
submit evidence that establishes that the actual amount in controversy exceeds
$75,000. See De Aguilar, 47 F.3d at 1412. Where the “facially apparent” test
is not met, it is appropriate for the Court to consider summary-judgment-type
evidence relevant to the amount in controversy as of the time of removal.
Allen, 63 F.3d at 1336.
Because Miknaitis did not allege a specific amount of damages in his
complaint, defendants must prove that the amount in controversy exceeds
$75,000.8 Miknaitis alleges that as a result of the car accident, he sustained
injuries, including “physical and mental pain and suffering, disability, loss of
enjoyment of life and wage impairment.”9 He does not specify the type of
physical injury he sustained. Miknaitis does not appear to include as damages
any past medical expenses and does not allege that he has undergone or will
need to undergo any significant medical procedure, hospitalization, or other
expensive treatment. Nor does the record indicate that Miknaitis requested
a jury trial in state court, which requires the amount of a plaintiff’s cause of
action to exceed $50,000. See La. Code Civ. Proc. art. 1732(1).
When a state court petition includes “vanilla” allegations of damages,
courts generally find that the amount in controversy is not facially apparent.
See, e.g., Simon v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 193 F.3d 848, 851 (5th Cir. 1999)
(holding that $75,000 jurisdictional amount was not facially apparent when
In his motion to remand, Miknaitis stipulates that his damages
are less than $75,000. R. Doc. 7-1 at 1; R. Doc. 7-2. When the amount in
controversy is ambiguous, a court may consider a post-removal stipulation
in the form of an affidavit that clarifies a plaintiff's damages. See Gebbia v.
Wal–Mart Stores, Inc., 233 F.3d 880, 883 (5th Cir. 2000); Asociacion
Nacional de Pescadores a Pequena Escala O Artesaneles de Colombia
(ANPAC) v. Dow Quimica de Colombia S.A., 988 F.2d 559, 565 (5th Cir.
1993) (holding that a court may consider an affidavit that “clarif [ies] a
petition that previously left the jurisdictional question ambiguous” in
determining whether remand is proper). Here, however, Miknaitis has not
submitted an affidavit. Therefore, the Court does not consider his
stipulation in its analysis.
R. Doc. 1-1 at 3 ¶ 7.
plaintiff did not allege damages for “loss of property, emergency
transportation, hospital stays, specific types of medical treatment, emotional
distress, functional impairments, or disability”); Jupiter v. Lowe’s Home Ctrs.,
Inc., No. 12-895, 2012 WL 2878639, at *2 (E.D. La. July 13, 2012) (classifying
damages for “loss of enjoyment of life; physical disability; pain and suffering;
past and future mental pain and suffering; disruption of bodily tissues and
cells; and past, present and future medical expenses” as “vanilla” allegations
insufficient to satisfy the jurisdictional amount). Even when a plaintiff has
allegedly suffered “serious and debilitating injuries” or “severe and possibly
permanent injuries,” courts have found that the amount in controversy was
not facially apparent. See Jeffcoats v. Rite-Aid Pharmacy, No. 01-764, 2001
WL 1561803, at *2 (E.D. La. Dec. 6, 2001) (holding that although plaintiff
sustained “serious and debilitating injuries,” it was reasonable to conclude that
requisite jurisdictional amount was not met); Palmer v. Wal-Mart Stores,
Inc., No. 95-1723, 1996 WL 20862, at *1 (E.D. La. Jan. 17, 1996) (holding that
although plaintiff sustained “severe and possibly permanent injuries”
defendant failed to prove the jurisdictional amount was met).
Here, defendants argue that the amount in controversy requirement is
met because Miknaitis alleges that he suffered “substantial personal
injuries.”10 But, as noted, Miknaitis’s petition for damages does not reveal the
nature or extent of his injuries, and defendants have not offered any evidence
beyond Miknaitis’s petition to demonstrate that his injuries are in fact
“substantial.” Given the nature of the accident and the generalized description
of Miknaitis’s injuries, the Court finds that defendants have not proven that
the petition affirmatively reveals that the amount in controversy exceeds the
jurisdictional minimum. Accordingly, the Court orders the case remanded to
Louisiana’s Twenty-Second Judicial District Court.
For the foregoing reasons, the Court GRANTS plaintiff’s Motion to
New Orleans, Louisiana, this _______ day of September, 2015.
SARAH S. VANCE
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
R. Doc. 9 at 4.
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