Lewis v. Heartland Automotive Services II, Inc.
ORDER AND OPINION GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO REMAND. Signed on 4/13/17 by District Judge Ortrie D. Smith. (Matthes Mitra, Renea)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
WESTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI
SERVICES II, INC.,
d/b/a Jiffy Lube #2248,
Case No. 17-00056-CV-W-ODS
ORDER AND OPINION GRANTING PLAINTIFF’S MOTION TO REMAND
Pending is Plaintiff’s Motion to Remand. Doc. #7. For the reasons below, the
motion is granted, and the matter is remanded to the Circuit Court of Jackson County,
This suit arises from an alleged improperly performed oil change by Defendant
Heartland Automotive Services II, Inc. (“Heartland”) on Plaintiff’s automobile, a 2007
Mazda CX-7 Sport. Doc. #1-1. Plaintiff filed suit in the Circuit Court of Jackson County,
Missouri on May 16, 2016. Id. On January 26, 2017, the parties participated in a
confidential mediation, but were unable to resolve the matter. Immediately after the
mediation concluded, Heartland’s counsel e-mailed Plaintiff’s counsel to confirm
Plaintiff’s final offer during the mediation was $390,000. Doc. #1-3. Plaintiff’s counsel
confirmed, and Heartland filed a notice of removal that same day. Heartland argues
jurisdiction is proper because the parties are diverse, and Plaintiff’s “demand” during
mediation was the first time Heartland was on notice that the amount in controversy
exceeded the jurisdictional requisite of $75,000. Doc. #1. Plaintiff seeks remand,
arguing Heartland’s removal was not timely because the case was removed more than
thirty days after service was effectuated, and the e-mails between counsel do not
constitute “other paper” that would make the case removable.
Generally, a defendant has thirty days to file a notice of removal after receiving
the initial pleading. 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b)(1). Nevertheless, the thirty day time limit runs
only when the initial “complaint explicitly discloses the plaintiff is seeking damages in
excess of the federal jurisdictional amount.” In re Willis, 228 F.3d 896, 897 (8th Cir.
2000). Plaintiff’s Petition did not explicitly disclose Plaintiff was seeking damages in
excess of $75,000, and the Court rejects Plaintiff’s argument that Heartland should have
been on alert that this case was removable from the outset. Even assuming Plaintiff’s
right to receive punitive damages and attorney’s fees in cases alleging violations of the
Missouri Merchandising Practices Act, the suit nevertheless arises from a defective oil
change. Plaintiff also seeks damages for work missed and emotional distress, but the
Court strains to find total damages in this matter would approach an amount near
$75,000. Accordingly, remand is not granted on the basis that the initial pleading
indicated this matter was removable.
However, the Court grants Plaintiff’s motion to remand because the mediation
proceedings and the subsequent e-mail by Plaintiff are not “other paper” under section
1446(b)(3). When a case is not removable by its initial pleadings, the defendant may
file a notice of removal within thirty days after receiving “other paper from which it may
first be ascertained that the case is one which is or has become removable.” §
1446(b)(3). The term “other paper” applies to “papers and documents involved in the
case being removed.” Dahl v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., 478 F.3d 965, 969 (8th Cir.
2007). The Eighth Circuit has acknowledged that a settlement demand “may constitute
‘other paper’ for purposes of § 1446(b)(3).” Gibson v. Clean Harbors Envtl. Servs., Inc.,
840 F.3d 515, 521 (8th Cir. 2016). That said, a letter from plaintiffs’ counsel
recommending a dollar amount that would “resolve the matter” did not constitute “other
paper” because plaintiffs did not state they would definitely settle for the recommended
amount, meaning the defendant could not unambiguously ascertain jurisdictional
requirements were met. Id.
Plaintiff’s counsel’s e-mail reply to Heartland is not “other paper” under section
1446(b)(3). The e-mail was merely a continuation of a confidential mediation in which
the parties engaged in negotiations. The e-mail is not the type of “other paper” from
which Heartland could unambiguously ascertain that the amount in controversy
exceeded $75,000. It may be Heartland first learned of Plaintiff’s valuation of the matter
during the mediation, but Heartland’s attempt to frame Plaintiff’s e-mail as a settlement
demand is unpersuasive. While a demand letter may constitute “other paper,” Plaintiff’s
e-mail did not explicitly state it would settle the matter for $390,000. Rather, the e-mail
simply confirmed Plaintiff’s final bargaining position at mediation. Furthermore, the
Court will not use dollar values exchanged during a confidential mediation to find the
amount in controversy is satisfied. Accordingly, the Court grants Plaintiff’s motion to
For the above reasons, the Court remands this action to the Circuit Court of
Jackson County, Missouri for further proceedings. The Court declines to award Plaintiff
attorney’s fees incurred as a result of its motion.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
/s/ Ortrie D. Smith
ORTRIE D. SMITH, SENIOR JUDGE
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DATE: April 13, 2017
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