Clark et al v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company
ORDER granting 17 Motion to Remand to State Court. This case is hereby remanded to the 22nd Judicial District Court for the Parish of St. Tammany, State of Louisiana. Signed by Judge Susie Morgan on 9/6/2017. (caa) (Additional attachment(s) added on 9/7/2017: # 1 Transmittal Letter) (caa).
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA
KATHLEEN CLARK, ET AL.
STATE FARM MUTUAL
ORDER AND REASONS
This matter comes before the Court on a motion to remand filed by Plaintiffs,
Kathleen and Peter Clark. 1 On December 27, 2016, Defendant State Farm Mutual
Automobile Insurance Company (“State Farm”) removed this case to the Eastern District
of Louisiana. 2 On September 5, 2017, Plaintiffs filed a motion to remand, including a
binding affidavit stipulating that it is a legal certainty that they will not be able to recover
more than $75,000. 3 The Court finds Plaintiffs’ affidavit is sufficient to demonstrate that
it is a “legal certainty” Plaintiffs will not be able to recover damages beyond the
jurisdictional amount. For the reasons that follow, the motion to remand 4 is GRANTED,
and this action is hereby remanded to the 22nd Judicial District Court for the Parish of
St. Tammany, State of Louisiana.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
On November 7, 2016, Plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in the 22nd Judicial District Court
for the Parish of St. Tammany, State of Louisiana. Plaintiffs allege personal injuries as a
result of an automobile accident that occurred on or about November 19, 2014. 5 In their
R. Doc. 17.
R. Doc. 1.
3 R. Doc. 17-2.
4 R. Doc. 4.
5 R. Doc. 1-1, at 4.
original petition, Plaintiffs do not specify the amount of damages they are claiming, though
the petition does state “The matter [sic] in controversy is less than SEVENTY-FIVE
THOUSAND ($75,000.00) DOLLARS.” 6 Instead, Plaintiffs allege that as a result of this
accident and resulting injuries, they sustained damages as follows: (1) Medical expenses,
past, present and future; (2) Pain and suffering, past, present and future; (3) Loss of Wages
and/or earning capacity; (4) Loss of enjoyment of life; (5) Disability; (6) Attorneys’ Fees;
(7) Bad faith damages; and (8) Past and Future loss of consortium and society. 7
On December 27, 2016, State Farm removed this case to federal court.8 In their
notice of removal, State Farm explains, “Plaintiffs’ petition and the facts set forth in this
removal notice establish that the amount in controversy exceeds SEVENTY-FIVE
THOURSAND [sic] and NO/100s ($75,000.00) DOLLARS, exclusive of interest and costs
despite the allegation in the petition that the matter in controversy is less than $75,000.” 9 On
September 5, 2017, Plaintiffs filed a motion to remand, including an affidavit stipulating
that it is a legal certainty they will not be able to recover more than $75,000. 10
Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction and possess only the authority
conferred upon them by the United States Constitution or by Congress. 11 Federal law
allows for state civil suits to be removed to federal courts in certain instances. Generally,
removal jurisdiction is governed by 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a), which provides:
Except as otherwise expressly provided by Act of Congress, any civil action
brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have
original jurisdiction, may be removed by the defendant or the defendants,
R. Doc. 1-1, at 6.
Id. at 5.
8 R. Doc. 1.
9 R. Doc. 1, at 3, ¶ 7.
10 R. Doc. 17-2.
11 Howery v. Allstate Ins. Co., 243 F.3d 912, 916 (5th Cir. 2001).
to the district court of the United States for the district and division
embracing the place where such action is pending. 12
“The removing party bears the burden of showing that federal jurisdiction exists
and that removal was proper.” 13 When removal is based on federal diversity jurisdiction,
the removing party must show that (1) complete diversity of citizenship exists between
the parties, and (2) the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000.00, exclusive of interest
and costs 14 “The jurisdictional facts supporting removal are examined as of the time of
removal.” 15 “Ambiguities are construed against removal and in favor of remand because
removal statutes are to be strictly construed.” 16
LAW AND ANALYSIS
The Fifth Circuit has “established a clear analytical framework for resolving disputes
concerning the amount in controversy for actions removed from Louisiana state courts
pursuant to 1332(a)(1).”17 Because Louisiana law prohibits state-court plaintiffs from
claiming a specific amount of damages, 18 the removing defendant must establish by a
preponderance of the evidence that the amount in controversy exceeds the $75,000.00
jurisdictional amount at the time of removal.19 The removing defendant may meet its burden
in one of two ways, either (1) by demonstrating that it was “facially apparent” from the
allegations of the state court petition that the amount in controversy exceeded the
28 U.S.C. § 1441(a).
See Manguno v. Prudential Property and Cas. Ins. Co., 276 F.3d 720, 723 (5th Cir. 2002).
14 Garcia v. Koch Oil Co. of Tex., Inc., 351 F.3d 636, 638 (5th Cir. 2003) (citing St. Paul Reinsurance Co. v.
Greenburg, 134 F.3d 1250, 1253 (5th Cir. 1998)).
15 Poche v. Eagle, Inc., No. 15-5436, 2015 WL 7015575, at *2 (E.D. La. Nov. 10, 2015) (citing Gebbia v. WalMart Stores, Inc., 233 F.3d 880, 883 (5th Cir. 2000)).
16 Poche, 2015 WL 7015575, at *2 (citing Manguno, 276 F.3d at 723).
17 Gebbia v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 233 F.3d 880, 882 (5th Cir. 2000) (citing Luckett v. Delta Airlines,
Inc., 171 F.3d 295, 298 (5th Cir. 1999)). See also Manguno v. Prudential Property and Cas. Ins. Co., 276
F.3d 720, 723 (5th Cir. 2002).
18 See LA. CODE CIV. PROC. Art. 893.
19 Simon v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 193 F.3d 848, 850 (5th Cir. 1999); Luckett, 171 F.3d at 298.
$75,000.00 jurisdictional threshold, or (2) by offering “summary-judgment type evidence”
of facts in controversy, which support a finding that the requisite amount is in controversy. 20
Even if the removing defendant meets its burden in either of these ways, a plaintiff
can defeat removal by showing, to a legal certainty, that its recovery will be less than
$75,000.00. 21 A plaintiff’s post-removal affidavit or stipulation offered for this purpose
may be considered in limited circumstances. If the amount in controversy is not facially
apparent from the allegations in the state court petition and, in fact, is ambiguous at the
time of removal, the court may consider a post-removal affidavit or stipulation to assess
the amount in controversy as of the date of removal. 22 If, on the other hand, the amount
in controversy is clear from the face of the state court petition, post-removal affidavits or
stipulations that purport to reduce the amount of damages a plaintiff seeks cannot deprive
the court of jurisdiction. 23 Looking to the pleadings, Court finds that, at the time of
removal, the amount in controversy in this case was ambiguous.
Because the amount in controversy was ambiguous at the time of removal, the
Court may consider a post-removal affidavit. Plaintiffs’ attached affidavit is sufficiently
binding. Plaintiffs’ affidavit stipulates the amount in controversy is less than $75,000.00
and states that Plaintiffs renounce “any portion of any judgment which may be rendered
White v. FCI USA, Inc., 319 F.3d 672, 674 (5th Cir. 2003). See also Simon, 193 F.3d at 850; Luckett, 171
F.3d at 298.
21 De Aguilar v. Boeing Co., 47 F.3d 1404, 1411-12 (5th Cir. 1995). See also Sterns v. Scottsdale Ins. Co.,
No. 09-6449, 2010 WL 2733771, at *3 (E.D. La. July 8, 2010).
22 Gebbia, 233 F.3d 880, 883 (5th Cir. 2000); Associacion Nacional de Pescadores v. Dow Quimica de
Columbia S.A., 988 F.2d 559, 565 (5th Cir. 1993) (When the affidavit “clarify[ies] a petition that
previously left the jurisdictional question ambiguous,” the court may consider the affidavit in determining
whether remand is proper.). See also Cummings v. Winn-Dixie Montgomery, LLC, No. 15-195-SDD-RLB,
2015 WL 4772185 (M.D. La. Aug. 12, 2015); Nelson v. Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co., 192 F. Supp. 2d 617, 619
(E.D. La. 2001) (“[I]f it is facially apparent from the petition that the amount in controversy exceeds
$75,000 at the time of removal, post-removal affidavits, stipulations, and amendments reducing the
amount do not deprive the district court of jurisdiction.”).
23 Gebbia, 233 F.3d at 883.
in their favor against Defendant State Farm Mutual Automobile Company which is in
excess of $75,000, exclusive of interest and costs.” 24 A plaintiff’s stipulation regarding the
amount in controversy is binding “if, within that stipulation, [he] expressly renounced his
right to recover in excess of $75,000.00 in the event he was awarded above that amount
in state court.” 25 In this case, Plaintiffs have (1) expressly stipulated, by way of a binding
affidavit, that the amount in controversy does not exceed $75,000.00, (2) waived any
damages over $75,000.00, and (3) agreed to not enforce a judgment in which more than
$75,000.00 is awarded. 26 As a result, the Court finds it is without jurisdiction to hear this
matter. Remand is warranted.
For the foregoing reasons;
IT IS ORDERED that Plaintiffs’ motion to remand 27 this case to state court is
GRANTED, and this case is hereby remanded to the 22nd Judicial District Court for the
Parish of St. Tammany, State of Louisiana.
New Orleans, Louisiana, this 6th day of September, 2017.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
R. Doc. 17-2, ¶ 5.
McGlynn v. Huston, 693 F. Supp. 2d 585, 593 (M.D. La. 2010). See also Cummings, 2015 WL 4772185,
at *4; Guidry v. Murphy Oil USA, Inc., No. 12-559-SDD-RLB, 2013 WL 4542433, at *7 (M.D. La. Aug. 27,
2013); Printworks, Inc. v. Dorn. Co., Inc., 869 F. Supp. 436, 440 (E.D. La. 1994) (stipulations which “fall
short of stipulating that the claimant will not seek more than the jurisdictional amount” are not binding).
See also Latiolais v. Union Pacific R. Co., No. 6:14-2582, 2014 WL 6455595, at *2 (W.D. La. Nov. 12, 2014);
Smith v. State Farm Mut. Aut. Ins. Co., No. 09-6522, 2010 WL 3070399, at *2 (E.D. La. Aug. 3, 2010)
(“Ambiguity over the amount in controversy was created by the pre-removal petition’s allegation that the
claims would likely exceed that amount. Through binding affirmative post-removal affidavits attached to
the second remand motion, plaintiffs have met their burden of clarifying with legal certainty that their
claims at the date of filing in state court are for less than the diversity jurisdictional amount. Therefore,
remand is warranted.”).
26 See R. Doc. 17-2.
27 R. Doc. 17.
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