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Zhang v. Home Depot Usa, Inc.

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

December 6, 2017




         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiffs Xiaohong Zhang and Michael Saigh's Motions to Remand to State Court. (Docs. 10, 13.) Plaintiffs argue that the Court lacks jurisdiction over their case because the amount in controversy is too low, there is not complete diversity, and they advance no federal claims. (Doc. 13.) Defendant has responded. (Doc. 14.)


         On May 1, 2017, Zhang, a woman of Asian descent, and Saigh, a Caucasian man, purchased an item at the Home Depot store in Overland, Missouri. (Doc. 5 at PageID #: 28.) The couple inadvertently left the item at the self-check-out terminal and exited the store. (Id.) When Zhang returned to retrieve the item, a note had been taped to it that read, “Lady Charlie w/ Man & Dog.” (Doc. 5-1, 5-2.) Zhang understood “Lady Charlie” to be “slang for Vietcong or woman communist, ” and interpreted the note as discriminatory. (Doc. 5 at PageID #: 28-29.) .

         On July 28, 2017, Plaintiffs filed suit in the Circuit Court of St. Louis County, Missouri, raising a single count of racial discrimination in violation of Missouri Law. (Id. at PageID #: 29.) Thereafter, Defendant removed the suit to federal court on the basis of both diversity and federal question jurisdiction. (Doc. 1.) Plaintiffs have since filed two Motions to Remand, raising the same substantive arguments that they do not meet the jurisdictional requirements for federal court. (Docs. 10, 13.)


         “A defendant may remove a state law claim to federal court only if the action originally could have been filed there.” 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a); In re Prempro Prods. Liab. Litig., 591 F.3d 613, 619 (8th Cir. 2010) (citing Phipps v. FDIC, 417 F.3d 1006, 1010 (8th Cir. 2005)). The party invoking jurisdiction bears the burden of establishing federal jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence. Id. (citing Altimore v. Mount Mercy Coll., 420 F.3d 763, 768 (8th Cir. 2005). “All doubts about federal jurisdiction should be resolved in favor of remand to state court.” Id. at 620 (citing Wilkinson v. Shackelford, 478 F.3d 957, 963 (8th Cir. 2007)).

         A. Diversity Jurisdiction

         Federal district courts have original jurisdiction in civil actions between citizens of different states if the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs. 28 U.S.C. § 1332. For purposes of diversity, corporations are citizens of the state or states where it is incorporated and where it has its principle place of business. § 1332(c)(1). Plaintiffs are both Missouri citizens. (Doc. 5 at PageID #: 27-28.) Defendant is incorporated in Delaware and has its principal place of business in Georgia. (Doc. 1 at PageID #: 2.) The Court concludes that the parties are completely diverse.

         The amount in controversy is to be determined by “the value to the plaintiff of the right sought to be enforced.” Advance Am. Servicing of Ark. v. McGinnis, 526 F.3d 1170, 1173 (8th Cir. 2008); see also Schubert v. Auto Owners Ins. Co., 649 F.3d at 821. Plaintiffs seek compensation for medical bills, “humiliation, emotional distress, and other damages, ” punitive damages, and expenses. (Doc. 5 at PageID #: 29-30.) Defendant argues that “[b]ased upon these emotionally charged discrimination allegations, the relevant social climate, and Plaintiffs' claims for compensatory damages, punitive damages, and equitable relief, it is more likely than not that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000.00.” (Doc. 14 at PageID #: 86.) Plaintiffs respond that they did not demand $75, 000 in their complaint and that Defendant's speculation is insufficient to establish jurisdiction.

         The Court agrees with Plaintiffs. The burden is on Defendant to show each jurisdictional element by a preponderance of the evidence and doubts are resolved in favor of remand. Prempro, 591 F.3d at 619, 620. Here, Defendant offers no substantive evidence from which the Court could conclude that the value of Plaintiffs' claims exceed the jurisdictional limit. See Kedrowski v. Lycoming Engines, No. CIV. 15-19 DSD/LIB, 2015 WL 2165798, at *4 (D. Minn. May 8, 2015) (holding that allegations of “severe emotional distress . . . including but not limited to substantial fright, extraordinary stress, anxiety and apprehension culminating in severe damages and pain and suffering . . . insufficient to establish the jurisdictional amount by a preponderance of the evidence”).

         The Court thus concludes that Defendant has not established the presence of diversity jurisdiction.

         B. Federal Question Jurisdiction

         Federal district courts have original jurisdiction over cases arising under federal statutes. 28 U.S.C. § 1331. In their complaint, Plaintiffs allege that Defendant's actions violated Missouri law and “Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964[], as amended by the Civil Rights Act of 1991.” (Doc. 5 at PageID #: 25.) Later, they quote from 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Id.) Finally, they allege that Defendant ...

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