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McLauchlin v. Sight

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division

August 1, 2016

ZACHARY MCLAUCHLIN, Plaintiff,
v.
THOMAS SIGHT, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO REMAND

          GREG KAYS, CHIEF JUDGE

         This lawsuit arises out of Plaintiff’s allegation that Defendant’s car hit him as he was attempting to cross a roadway. Plaintiff filed this case in the Circuit Court of Jackson County, Missouri, and Defendant removed to federal court by invoking the Court’s diversity jurisdiction.

         Now before the Court is Plaintiff’s Motion to Remand (Doc. 6). Plaintiff argues the Court lacks diversity jurisdiction to hear this case because his post-removal stipulation states the amount in controversy does not exceed $75, 000. The Court holds the post-removal stipulation does not deprive the Court of subject matter jurisdiction to hear this case. But since both parties agree to return to state court, the Court construes the pending motion as a consent motion to remand and grants it.

         Standard

         A state court action may be removed by the defendant to federal court if the case falls within the original jurisdiction of the district courts. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). If the case is not within the original subject matter jurisdiction of the district court, the district court must remand the case to the state court from which it was removed. Id. § 1447(c). The burden of establishing federal jurisdiction is on the party seeking removal, In re Bus. Men’s Assurance Co. of Am., 992 F.2d 181, 183 (8th Cir. 1993), and all doubts are resolved in favor of remand. Baker v. Martin Marietta Materials, Inc., 745 F.3d 919, 923 (8th Cir. 2014).

         A case falls within the court’s original diversity jurisdiction if the parties are citizens of different states and the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). The party invoking federal jurisdiction bears the burden of proving the requisite amount by a preponderance of the evidence. Rasmussen v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 410 F.3d 1029, 1031 (8th Cir. 2005). The removing party need not prove that “the damages are greater than the requisite amount, ” but that “the claims . . . could, that is might, legally satisfy the amount in controversy requirement.” James Neff Kramper Family Farm P’ship v. IBP, Inc., 393 F.3d 828, 833 (8th Cir. 2005) (citations omitted).

         Whether the amount in controversy requirement is met is determined by looking at the complaint as of the time the notice of removal is filed. Halsne v. Liberty Mut. Group, 40 F.Supp.2d 1087, 1089 (N.D. Iowa 1999). “A subsequent change, such as the plaintiff’s post-removal voluntary reduction of his claim to less than the jurisdictional amount, does not defeat federal jurisdiction acquired through removal.” Hatridge v. Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co., 415 F.2d 809, 814 (8th Cir. 1969); St. Paul Mercury Indem. Co. v. Red Cab Co., 303 U.S. 283, 289-90 (1938) (“Events occurring subsequent to the institution of suit which reduce the amount recoverable below the statutory limit do not oust jurisdiction.”). The court may consider post-removal stipulations, affidavits, or amendments to the complaint only to the extent they clarify, rather than amend, whether the requirement is met. Neighbors v. Muha, No. 05-472-CV-W-GAF, 2005 WL 2346968, at *3 (W.D. Mo. Sept. 26, 2005).

         Background

         There is no dispute that the parties are citizens of different states and Defendant timely filed the notice of removal; the issue is whether the amount in dispute is more than $75, 000. Relevant to this question, the Petition (Doc. 6-1) alleges that as a result of Defendant’s negligence, Plaintiff sustained injury “to his head, left knee, left leg, and body” which “are permanent, painful, and progressive, ” and will in the future cause “great pain and suffering.” Pet. ¶ 8, 11. Plaintiff has incurred some medical bills already and will incur more in the future. Id. ¶ 9. Also, he has sustained noneconomic damages as a result of his diminished ability to enjoy life. Id. ¶ 10. Defendant’s notice of removal (Doc. 1) states Plaintiff’s alleged damages exceed $75, 000.[1]

         Attached to Plaintiff’s motion to remand is a one-sentence stipulation made post-removal stating that “the amount in controversy is less than $75, 000.” Stipulation (Doc. 6-2).

         Discussion

         Plaintiff argues that his stipulation to an amount of damages less than $75, 000 is sufficient to deprive the Court of subject matter jurisdiction. He notes that the Petition does not set forth a specific amount of damages, apparently referencing the fact that under Missouri’s pleading rules, a petition in a tort case may not include a request for a specific amount of damages. But he does not deny that at the time of removal the amount in dispute was more than $75, 000.

         Defendant responds that diversity jurisdiction was proper “based on the record when Defendant filed his Notice of Removal.” Resp. (Doc. 8) at 1. Interestingly, Defendant also reports he does not oppose remand, subject to the condition that “any order of remand provide that Plaintiff has stipulated to his damages being less than $75, 000 and is legally bound by that stipulation.” Id. at 2.

         As a threshold matter, the Court finds the amount in dispute requirement was met at the time Defendant filed the notice of removal in federal court. The question is not whether Plaintiff’s damages are actually greater than $75, 000, but whether the claims could legally satisfy the amount in controversy requirement. James Neff Kramper, 393 F.3d at 833. The Petition alleged the accident hurt Plaintiff’s “head, left knee, left leg, and body” leaving him with permanent and progressive injuries, present and future medical bills, and noneconomic damages. A jury could easily award more than ...


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