United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Southern Division
DOUGLAS HARPOOL, District Judge.
Before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion to Remand (Doc. 21) and Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Count I (Doc. 23). The Court, after careful consideration of the issues raised and the legal arguments provided by the parties, hereby DENIES Plaintiff's motion (Doc. 21) and DENIES Defendant's motion (Doc. 23).
Plaintiff filed the present action in the Circuit Court of Greene County, Missouri on August 5, 2014. Plaintiff's Petition seeks to recover on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated, alleging that Defendant Kum & Go sold unleaded gasoline that improperly contained diesel fuel to its consumers at store number 473. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant's faulty gasoline caused damage to his truck and he seeks to recover based on six different legal theories: (1) violation of the Missouri Merchandising Practice Act ("MMPA"), (2) breach of the implied warranty of merchantability, (3) negligence, (4) strict products liability, (5) breach of the warranty of fitness for a particular purpose, and (6) breach of contract. Plaintiff requests that the Court certify the class and award restitution, punitive damages, reasonable attorney fees, and such other relief as may be just and proper.
Defendant filed a notice of removal on September 5, 2014. In its notice, Defendant argues two independent bases for the Court's subject matter jurisdiction. First, Defendant argues that removal is proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a) because complete diversity exists and the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000. Second, Defendant argues that removal is proper under the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 ("CAFA") because minimal diversity exists and the amount in controversy exceeds $5 million including the class allegations. According to Defendant, no exceptions to CAFA jurisdiction apply to this case.
Shortly after filing its notice of removal, Defendant served upon Plaintiff an offer of judgment pursuant to Rule 68 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for the sum of $6, 250. Defendant's offer included attorney fees and costs but did not address the claims on behalf of the putative class. Plaintiff filed a motion to strike Defendant's pre-certification offer of judgment, which the Court granted. Plaintiff also filed an amended complaint. Plaintiff's Amended Complaint is substantially the same as the Petition, other than changing certain class allegations.
Plaintiff has now filed a motion to remand the case. Defendant filed suggestions in opposition to remand. Defendant also filed a motion to dismiss Count I of Plaintiff's Amended Complaint brought under the MMPA, which Plaintiff opposes. The issues are now fully briefed and ripe for review.
"In every federal case the court must be satisfied that it has jurisdiction before it turns to the merits of other legal arguments." Carlson v. Arrowhead Concrete Works, Inc., 445 F.3d 1046, 1050 (8th Cir. 2006). Plaintiff's motion for remand challenges the Court's jurisdiction; therefore, the Court must address that issue first. See Warner v. Chase Home Fin. LLC, 530 F.App'x 614, 615 (8th Cir. 2013).
A. Motion to Remand
Plaintiff argues that the Court should remand this case because "based on Defendant's own calculations, filed with this Court, the amount in controversy is far from the required $75, 000 jurisdictional minimum." Pl.'s Mot. Remand ¶ 6. To support his argument, Plaintiff notes that Defendant's offer of judgment was for a total sum of $6, 250, inclusive of attorney fees and costs, and points out that Defendant previously stated that number is "approximately 30% greater than Plaintiff's alleged damages." Pl.'s Mot. Remand ¶¶ 4-5. Plaintiff further argues that "an estimate of punitive damages allowable under the MMPA is too speculative to sustain Defendant's burden[.]" Pl.'s Mot. Remand ¶ 6. Based on these arguments, Plaintiff requests that the Court enter an order remanding the case to state court and awarding reasonable attorney's fees to Plaintiff's counsel pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c).
Defendant argues that Plaintiff's motion to remand should be denied because (1) Plaintiff acquiesced to the Court's subject matter jurisdiction by filing an amended complaint, (2) Plaintiff's motion does not challenge the Court's CAFA jurisdiction, and (3) Plaintiff's argument based on Defendant's offer of judgment "misstates the law and the facts." Def.'s Opp'n Mot. Remand 1.
An action may be removed from state court to federal district court if the case falls within the original jurisdiction of the district court. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). If the case is not within the original jurisdiction of the district court, the court must remand the case to the state court from which it was removed. 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). A defendant seeking removal "bears the burden of establishing that the district court ha[s] original jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence." Knudson v. Sys. Painters, Inc., 634 F.3d 968, 975 (8th Cir. 2011). "All doubts ...