Alden v. Eason
ORDER AND REASONS REMANDING CASE TO STATE COURT. Signed by Judge Martin L.C. Feldman on 6/19/2017. (Attachments: # 1 Remand Letter)(clc)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA
WILLIAM W. ALDEN, M.D.
JOHN K. EASON, ESQ.
ORDER AND REASONS
Before the Court is the plaintiff’s motion to remand.
the reasons that follow, the motion is GRANTED.
This defamation case, by a physician, arises out of a YouTube
video posted online by a law professor, in which the professor
states that the physician was a porn actor when he was a student
at Princeton University and that the physician had been blacklisted
by a medical association.
John Eason, a law professor and an attorney, and his wife,
Janelle Eason, sold their house located on the Northshore of New
Orleans to Ashley Steele, who is married to William Alden, M.D.
Sometime after the sale, Ms. Steele allegedly discovered numerous
redhibitory defects in the house. As a result, Ms. Steele sued the
Easons in civil district court in New Orleans. Shortly after the
redhibition suit was filed in 2014, Mr. Eason and his wife wrote
a letter to Dr. Alden and Ms. Steele.
“consequences would follow.” When neither demand was met, Mr. Eason
posted a video of himself on YouTube in which he spoke about Dr.
Alden’s character and reputation.
On July 27, 2016, Dr. Alden sued Mr. Eason in the Civil
District Court for the Parish of Orleans. On May 4, 2017, Mr. Eason
patients to Google search a doctor’s name before seeking treatment,
Dr. Alden alleges that he suffered harm to his personal and
professional reputation, loss of business income, and loss of the
respect of patients who left his practice after viewing the video.
Dr. Alden now requests that the Court remand his defamation lawsuit
to state court.
Although the plaintiff challenges removal in this case, the
removing defendant carries the burden of showing the propriety of
this Court's removal jurisdiction. See Manguno v. Prudential Prop.
& Cas. Ins. Co., 276 F.3d 720, 723 (5th Cir. 2002); see also
Jernigan v. Ashland Oil, Inc., 989 F.2d 812, 815 (5th Cir. 1993),
cert. denied, 510 U.S. 868 (1993).
Remand is proper if at any
time the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction.
28 U.S.C. §
Given the significant federalism concerns implicated by
removal, the removal statute is strictly construed “and any doubt
as to the propriety of removal must be resolved in favor of
2008)(citation omitted); Gasch v. Hartford Accident & Indem. Co.,
491 F.3d 278, 281-82 (5th Cir. 2007)(citations omitted).
Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, possessing
only the authority granted by the United States Constitution and
conferred by the United States Congress. Howery v. Allstate Ins.
Co., 243 F.3d 912, 916 (5th Cir. 2001).
A defendant may generally
remove a civil action filed in state court if the federal court
has original jurisdiction over the case – that is, if the plaintiff
could have brought the action in federal court from the outset.
See 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a).
To exercise diversity jurisdiction,
complete diversity must exist between the plaintiffs and all of
the properly joined defendants, and the amount in controversy must
See 28 U.S.C. § 1332. The only dispute here is
whether or not the amount-in-controversy requirement is met.
To determine whether it has jurisdiction, the Court must
consider the allegations in the state court petition as they
existed at the time of removal. See Manguno v. Prudential Prop. &
Cas. Ins. Co., 276 F.3d 720 (5th Cir. 2002); see also Cavallini v.
State Farm Mut. Auto Ins. Co., 44 F.3d 256, 264 (5th Cir. 1995).
Louisiana law requires that a plaintiff include “no specific amount
of damages” in his prayer for relief. LA. CODE CIV. PRO. art. 893. 1
When the plaintiff has alleged an indeterminate amount of
damages, as here, the removing party must prove by a preponderance
of the evidence that the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000.
Simon v. Wal-Mart Stores, 193 F.3d 848, 850 (5th Cir. 1999); see
also De Aguilar v. Boeing Co., 47 F.3d 1404, 1412 (5th Cir. 1995).
This showing may be made by either (1) showing that it is facially
apparent that the plaintiff’s claims likely exceeded $75,000 or
(2) setting forth “summary judgment type evidence” of facts in
controversy that support a finding of the jurisdictional amount.
Manguno, 276 F.3d at 723; Luckett v. Delta Airlines, Inc., 171
“[I]f a specific amount of damages is necessary to establish
. . . the lack of jurisdiction of federal courts due to
insufficiency of damages . . . a general allegation that the claim
exceeds or is less than the requisite amount is required.” LA. CODE
CIV. PRO. art. 893.
F.3d 295, 298 (5th Cir. 1999). “[I]f it is facially apparent from
the petition that the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000 at the
amendments reducing the amount do not deprive the district court
of jurisdiction.” Gebbia v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 233 F.3d 880,
883 (5th Cir. 2000). If the removing defendant cannot show that
the amount in controversy is facially apparent, he may be able to
“set forth the facts in controversy – preferably in the removal
petition, but sometimes by affidavit – that support a finding of
the requisite amount.” Luckett, 171 F.3d at 298. If the petition
jurisdictional amount in controversy, the Court may consider a
Associación Nacional de Pescadores a Pequeña Escala o Artesanales
de Colombia (ANPAC) v. Dow Química de Colombia, 988 F.2d 559, 565
(5th Cir. 1993), abrogated on other grounds by Marathon Oil Co. v.
Ruhgras, 145 F.3d 211, 214 (5th Cir. 1998), rev’d on other grounds
526 U.S. 574 (1999).
If the removing party satisfies his burden, the plaintiff can
only defeat removal by showing that it is “legally certain that
his recovery will not exceed the amount stated in the state
complaint.” De Aguilar v. Boeing Co., 47 F.3d 1404, 1412 (5th Cir.
1995); see St. Paul Mercury Indem. Co. v. Red Cab Co., 303 U.S.
283, 289 (1938) (“It must appear to a legal certainty that the
claim is really for less than the jurisdictional amount to justify
“[l]itigants who want to prevent removal must file a binding
stipulation or affidavit with their complaints; once a defendant
has removed the case, St. Paul makes later filings irrelevant.” De
Aguilar, 47 F.3d at 1412 (quoting In re Shell Oil Co., 970 F.2d
355, 356 (7th Cir. 1992) (per curiam)).
Dr. Alden urges remand is mandated because the amount-incontroversy requirement is not met. Mr. Eason contends that, at
the time of removal, it was facially apparent from the plaintiff's
discovery responses that his claims, if proven at trial, would
exceed $75,000 in value. But this Court finds that it is not
facially apparent from the plaintiff's state court petition that
he seeks monetary damages in excess of $75,000. Although the
plaintiff seeks to recover several types of damages, unlike a
plaintiff seeking to recover for permanent disability, there is
nothing concrete indicating that plaintiff’s damages are likely to
be more than $75,000, and, in fact, plaintiff has made a binding
Because it is not facially apparent from the plaintiff's state
court petition that he seeks monetary damages in excess of $75,000,
the Court considers whether the evidence in the record supports a
finding that the plaintiff’s damages exceed the jurisdictional
requirement is met because the plaintiff alleged a 30% loss of
defendant, these sworn discovery responses support a finding that
the plaintiff’s business losses exceed $90,000, thus surpassing
the jurisdictional minimum. Although the defendant claims that the
plaintiff’s answers suggest a drop of 30% from the $300,000 that
he was earning before the publication of the allegedly defamatory
video, there is no evidence in the record to establish that the
plaintiff was personally earning $300,000 before the video was
posted, or that a 30% decrease in patient visits translates into
a 30% decrease in revenue. According to Dr. Alden, more than 90%
of his income is derived not from the patients he sees, but,
rather, from his position as medical director. 2 Thus, the defendant
has failed to show, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the
plaintiff’s business losses exceed $75,000. While the defendant
Indeed, the plaintiff suggests that the evidence invoked by the
defendant actually shows only a loss of $5,940 in business income
suffered by Crescent City Medical Services, Inc., a non-party in
defamation claim over the jurisdictional threshold, there is no
evidence in the record to support that contention. The defendant’s
$35,000 to $55,000 fails to persuade the Court that the amount in
controversy in this case exceeds $75,000. Mere conclusions fall
short of meeting the burden to show the amount in controversy; the
amount in controversy remains ambiguous.
The Court expresses no opinion on the merits of Alden’s claim
against Eason but merely finds that the removing defendant has not
carried his heavy burden in showing, by a preponderance of the
evidence, that the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000. 3 Because
the defendant has not met his burden, the Court need not consider
whether the plaintiff has made a showing that he will not collect
more than $75,000 to a legal certainty. 4
The Court notes that if the amount in controversy actually exceeds
$75,000, the defendant will have the opportunity to remove the
case after it receives a document from which it can first ascertain
that the case has become removable. 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b)(3).
4 Accompanying the plaintiff’s motion to remand is a Stipulation
in which he states that he “do[es] not assert damages . . . in
excess of $75,000.00, exclusive of interest, costs, and attorney’s
fees.” The defendant disputes whether this Court can consider the
stipulation, noting that the plaintiff submitted it for the first
time with his motion to remand, and not with his petition. It is
suspect, the defendant insists, that the plaintiff failed to submit
this stipulation before removal. Putting aside whether this
stipulation is helpful, and contrary to the defendant’s
contention, the Court may consider post-removal stipulations for
Accordingly, because this Court lacks diversity jurisdiction,
the plaintiff’s motion to remand is GRANTED. The case is hereby
remanded to the Civil District Court for the Parish of Orleans.
New Orleans, Louisiana, June 19, 2017
MARTIN L. C. FELDMAN
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
limited purposes in determining the amount in controversy where,
as in this case, the petition is ambiguous concerning the amount
in controversy at the time of removal. ANPAC, F.2d at 565. Of
course, if later it is established that the plaintiff’s Stipulation
is indeed a ruse for forum manipulation, rather than a true
renunciation of damages exceeding $75,000, this Court will
consider whether the imposition of sanctions is warranted, bearing
in mind the nature of plaintiff’s binding judicial admission before
this Court, and the ethics of doing so.
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