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Keithly v. Mocadlo

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

April 21, 2017

MICHAEL KEITHLY, Plaintiff,
v.
LINDSEY MOCADLO, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          JOHN M. BODENHAUSEN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This Court considers Plaintiff Michael Keithly's (“Plaintiff”) Second Motion for Remand to state court.[1] (ECF No. 20) Defendant Lindsey Mocadlo (“Defendant”) opposes this motion. (ECF No. 22) Plaintiff has filed a reply, and the issues are fully briefed. (ECF No. 24) The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). For the following reasons, the Court denies Plaintiff's Second Motion for Remand.

         I. Background

         On September 21, 2016, Plaintiff filed a petition in the Circuit Court of the Twenty-First Judicial Circuit, St. Louis County, Missouri (“the Petition”). (ECF No. 7) In the Petition, Plaintiff alleges that, on August 18, 2016, he was driving east on Interstate Highway 64 in St. Louis County when his vehicle was struck by a vehicle driven by Defendant, injuring Plaintiff. (Id. at ¶ 5) Plaintiff alleges negligence by Defendant due to Defendant operating her vehicle at an excessive speed, failing to keep a careful lookout, failing to yield, and/or failing to slacken speed, stop, swerve, and sound a warning. (Id. at ¶ 6) Plaintiff claims that the accident caused permanent, progressive, and disabling injuries to various bones, joints, muscles, nerves, and systems of his body, damage to his automobile, and damage to his personal property. (Id. at ¶ 7) He further alleges that these injuries caused loss of wages, permanent impairment of his ability to work, labor, and enjoy life, as well as making him incur towing, storage and rental car fees. (Id.)

         Defendant denies Plaintiff's allegations and offers four affirmative defenses. (ECF No. 6) First, Defendant alleges that Plaintiff failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. (Id.) Second, Defendant alleges that Plaintiff made his injuries worse by his own failure to mitigate. (Id.) Third, Defendant alleges that Plaintiff caused his own injuries by his own negligence. (Id.) Finally, Defendant alleges that the actions of others who are not a party to the lawsuit caused Plaintiff's injuries. (Id.)

         A. Removal and the First Motion to Remand

         On December 5, 2016, Defendant removed this matter to federal court. (ECF No. 1) Removal was based upon and allegation that the Court has diversity jurisdiction, which requires complete diversity of citizenship among the litigants and an amount in controversy greater than $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). Plaintiff is a resident of Missouri. (ECF No. 7 at ¶ 1) In the Notice of Removal, Defendant alleged that she is a resident of Wisconsin. (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 3) Plaintiff has not challenged Defendant's citizenship in either of his motions to remand.

         Having established diversity of citizenship, the parties disputed whether the amount in controversy exceeded $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs. In his first Motion for Remand, Plaintiff asserted that he lacked sufficient information to determine the amount in controversy. (ECF No. 12) Defendant responded that, due to the alleged extent and severity of Plaintiff's injuries and his refusal to stipulate that he was seeking less than $75, 000, the “amount in controversy” met the Eighth Circuit standards for establishing diversity jurisdiction. (ECF No. 15)

         This Court denied Plaintiff's first Motion to Remand. (ECF No. 16) The undersigned found that the removing party had shown, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the amount in controversy meets the jurisdictional requirements. (Id. at 2-3) (citing Bell v. Hershey Co., 557 F.3d 953, 956 (8th Cir. 2009); In re Minnesota Mut. Life Ins. Co. Sales Practices Litig., 346 F.3d 830, 834 (8th Cir. 2003); Kopp v. Kopp, 280 F.3d 883, 885 (8th Cir. 2002)) As noted in that ruling, “[t]he jurisdictional fact . . . is not whether the damages are greater than the requisite amount, but whether a fact finder might legally conclude they are.” (Id. at 3) (quoting James Neff Kramper Family Farm P'ship v. IBP, Inc., 393 F.3d 828, 833 (8th Cir. 2005))

         The Petition alleged that Plaintiff had suffered “permanent, progressive and disabling” injuries to his back, neck, left knee, and left elbow, and that such injuries impaired (presumably also permanently) his ability to work. The Court found that these allegations were sufficient to raise the possibility that a finder of fact might legally conclude that damages exceeded the jurisdictional limit.[2] (ECF No. 16 at 3, 4)

         Having found that the removing party had met its burden on jurisdictional amount, the burden then shifted to Plaintiff as the party seeking remand to demonstrate “to a legal certainty” that the amount in controversy does not exceed $75, 000. (Id. at 3). Plaintiff failed to meet that burden, because Plaintiff's position was that he did not know the amount he was claiming, and he failed to demonstrate that an award over $75, 000 was not legally possible. (Id.)

         In its Memorandum and Order, the Court noted that the Eighth Circuit does allow parties in states that forbid naming a sum certain in a prayer for damages (including Missouri) to clarify via binding stipulation that the amount in controversy does not and will not exceed $75, 000, thus demonstrating that fact to a legal certainty and removing any question of diversity jurisdiction. (Id. at 3) This is only one method of demonstrating to a legal certainty that the jurisdictional amount cannot be exceeded. The Court noted that Plaintiff had declined to enter such a binding stipulation. (Id. at 4) Because Defendant met its burden for removal and Plaintiff did not meet its burden in opposing it, the Court denied the Motion to Remand.

         B. Stipulation and Second Motion to Remand

         Approximately one month after the Court denied its Motion to Remand and one day prior to the Rule 16 Scheduling Conference, Plaintiff filed a Stipulation. (ECF No. 19) In that Stipulation, Plaintiff's counsel represented that the “total medical special damages” were under $13, 000 at that point, and that “no major future medical procedures are foreseeable.” (Id. at ¶ 1) Plaintiff stipulated that “the amount of damages he claims is less than $75, ...


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