United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Southern Division
For Roberta Pleasant, Merrill Pleasant, Plaintiffs: Gregory W. Aleshire, LEAD ATTORNEY, Kevin J. Rapp, Aleshire Robb, PC, Springfield, MO.
For Noble Finance Corporation, Defendant: Thomas M Schneider, Jones, Schneider & Stevens, LLC, Columbia, MO.
Kerry Williams, Defendant, Pro se.
DOUGLAS HARPOOL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Before the Court is Plaintiffs' Motion to Remand (Doc. 9). The Court, after full and careful consideration of the issues raised legal arguments provided by the parties, hereby GRANTS Plaintiffs' motion to remand (Doc. 9).
On May 22, 2014, Plaintiffs filed a petition in the Circuit Court of Greene County, Missouri. The facts giving rise to Plaintiffs' action surround two loans that were issued by Defendant Noble Finance Corporation (" Noble Finance" ) to Plaintiffs, which totaled $900. Plaintiffs allege that, after the loans were dispersed, Defendants harassed Plaintiffs by repeatedly demanding repayment via phone calls to their home, phone calls to their relatives, and aggressive " field visits." The petition alleges that the purported harassment continued even despite Plaintiffs' request(s) that Defendants cease such contacts.
Plaintiffs seek to state causes of action against both Noble Finance and Kerry Williams, the manager of the corporation, for (1) violation of the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act (MMPA), and (2) invasion of privacy. According to the petition, the alleged harassment caused Plaintiff Roberta Pleasant to suffer " medically diagnosable and medically significant emotional distress," it caused Plaintiff Merrill Pleasant " to suffer and continue to suffer loss of society, consortium, companionship, love, affection, support and care of his wife," and it caused the Plaintiffs to suffer " actual damages in the form of ascertainable losses of money as a result of Defendants' unfair practices." Plaintiffs seek judgment in their favor " in an amount that is fair and reasonable" and that includes punitive damages, attorneys' fees, costs, and any other relief to which they may be entitled.
On July 24, 2014, Defendant Noble Finance filed a notice of removal seeking to litigate the case in federal court on the basis of diversity of citizenship. Defendant's notice of removal alleges that the Plaintiffs are citizens of Missouri, Defendant Noble Finance is a citizen of Texas, and Defendant Williams is a citizen of Missouri. The notice argues, however, that Defendant Williams was fraudulently joined and therefore his Missouri citizenship should be disregarded for diversity purposes. According to Defendant, " there is no 'reasonable basis supporting' the claims [against Defendant Williams] as a matter of law." Specifically, Defendant argues the MMPA claim against Defendant Williams is " unsound" because the petition contains no allegation of wrongdoing on the part of Defendant Williams at or before the time the loans were provided to Plaintiffs, as required by law. Defendant further asserts that the petition is " void of any allegations" supporting an action for unreasonable intrusion into Plaintiffs' seclusion because the allegations do not involve a private subject matter, a right to keep the relevant information private, or an intrusion that is objectionable to a reasonable man. The notice of removal further states that the amount-in-controversy requirement is satisfied because Plaintiffs seek at least $25,000 in actual damages, in addition to recoverable punitive damages and attorney fees.
On August 22, 2014, Plaintiffs filed a motion to remand. Plaintiffs argue remand is appropriate because (1) Defendant Williams was not fraudulently joined, and (2) Defendant Noble failed to show by a preponderance of the evidence that the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000. As to their first point, Plaintiffs cite a recent decision from the Supreme Court of Missouri, decided after Defendant filed its notice of removal, that held an MMPA plaintiff need not show the alleged wrongdoing occurred at or before the time the loans were provided; instead, " the sale of a loan lasts until the last service is performed or the loan is repaid." As to their second point, Plaintiffs argue that Defendant's " unsupported and speculative argument" concerning damages is insufficient to allow removal because Defendant failed to present specific facts or evidence to show by a preponderance of the evidence that the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000.
In opposition to Plaintiffs' motion to remand, Defendant restates that the petition fails to state a valid cause of action against Defendant Williams. Defendant argues that, under the MMPA, Plaintiffs failed to show that they purchased any merchandise from Defendant Williams or that they suffered an " ascertainable loss of money or property." Under the tort of invasion of privacy, Defendant argues that Plaintiffs failed to plead sufficient facts to support any of the three required elements. Finally, as to the amount in controversy, Defendant cites Plaintiffs' initial settlement demand of $49,000 and argues that, adding in the requested punitive damages and attorney fees, a fact finder might legally conclude the total damages are greater than $75,000. Defendant asserts that the burden shifted to Plaintiffs to show that it is legally impossible to recover more than $75,000 and Plaintiffs failed to meet that burden.
In reply to Defendant's suggestions in opposition of remand, Plaintiffs argue: (1) Defendant impermissibly raised new arguments not provided in its notice of removal, (2) Defendant failed to show the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000 because the only facts/evidence provided was the settlement demand, which included actual damages as well as punitive damages and attorney fees, (3) Plaintiffs pleaded ...