United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
L. WHITE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is before the Court on Respondent's Motion to
Dismiss Petitioner's Petition to Compel Arbitration and
for Injunctive Relief for Lack of Jurisdiction and Failure to
State a Claim (ECF No. 12). This matter is fully briefed and
ready for disposition.
courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. The requirement
that jurisdiction be established as a threshold matter
springs from the nature and limits of the judicial power of
the United States and is inflexible and without
exception." Godfrey v. Pulitzer Pub. Co., 161
F.3d 1137, 1141 (8th Cir. 1998) (internal citations and
quotations omitted); Kessler v. Nat'l Enterprises,
Inc., 347 F.3d 1076, 1081 (8th Cir. 2003). When the two
parties to an action are citizens of different states, a
federal district court's jurisdiction extends to
"all civil actions where the matter in controversy
exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000, exclusive of interest
and costs." 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a); Kopp v.
Kopp, 280 F.3d 883, 884 (8th Cir. 2002).
complaint that alleges the jurisdictional amount in good
faith will suffice to confer jurisdiction, but the complaint
will be dismissed if it 'appear[s] to a legal certainty
that the claim is really for less than the jurisdictional
amount.'" Larkin v. Brown, 41 F.3d 387, 388
(8th Cir. 1994) (quoting St. Paul Mercury Indem. Co. v.
Red Cab Co., 303 U.S. 283, 289, 58 S.Ct. 586, 82 L.Ed.
845 (1938)). "The legal certainty standard is met where
the 'legal impossibility of recovery [is] so certain as
virtually to negative the plaintiffs good faith in asserting
the claim.'" Schubert v. Auto Owners Ins.
Co., 649 F.3d 817, 822 (8th Cir. 2011) (quoting JTH
Tax, Inc. v. Frashier, 624 F.3d 635, 638 (4th Cir.2010)
(internal quotation marks and citation omitted)); see
also Horton v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 367 U.S. 348, 353,
81 S.Ct. 1570, 6 L.Ed.2d 890 (1961) ("The general
federal rule has long been to decide what the amount in
controversy is from the complaint itself, unless it appears
or is in some way shown that the amount stated in the
complaint is not claimed 'in good faith.'").
"If the defendant challenges the plaintiffs allegations
of the amount in controversy, then the plaintiff must
establish jurisdiction by a preponderance of the
evidence." Kopp, 280 F.3d at 884-85 (citing
McNutt v. General Motors Acceptance Corp., 298 U.S.
178, 188-89, 56 S.Ct. 780, 80 L.Ed. 1135 (1936); see also
Federated Mut. Implement and Hardware Ins. Co. v.
Steinheider, 268 F.2d 734, 737-38 (8th Cir. 1959)).
Thus, "[t]he district court has subject matter
jurisdiction in a diversity case when a fact finder could
legally conclude, from the pleadings and proof adduced to the
court before trial, that the damages that the plaintiff
suffered are greater than $75, 000." Kopp, 280
F.3d at 885.
November 3, 2017, Petitioner Bell American Group, LLC d/b/a
Taco Bell ("Petitioner" or "Taco Bell")
filed a Petition to Compel Arbitration and for Injunctive
Relief in Aid of Arbitration (ECF No. 1) in this Court.
Petitioner seeks an Order (1) compelling Respondent Roxanna
Ellis ("Respondent" or "Ellis") to submit
to binding arbitration all disputes between Petitioner and
Respondent pursuant to their arbitration agreement in the
Receipt of Dispute Resolution Program and Agreement to Abide
by Dispute Resolution Program entered into on August 14, 2013
("Arbitration Agreement"); and (2) enjoining Ellis
from initiation, maintaining or pursuing any claims in
contravention of the Arbitration Agreement, including, but
not limited to, the action filed by Ellis in the
21st Judicial Circuit Court of St. Louis County,
Missouri, captioned Elllis v. Chris Count, et al,
Case Number 17SL-CC01876 (hereinafter the "State Court
Action"). See Petition to Compel Arbitration
and Injunctive Relief in Aid of Arbitration (hereinafter
"Complaint"), ECF No. 1. Ellis's State Court
Petition seeks actual damages in excess of $25, 000 and
punitive damages, together with the maximum rate of interest
allowed by law, cost of suit, and attorneys' fees in each
of the four counts asserted. (Complaint, ¶7). Taco Bell
argues that the total of all of relief sought in the State
Court Petition is in excess of $75, 000. (Id.) In
her State Court Action, Ellis alleges she was terminated
based upon disability (scoliosis)
December 15, 2017, Ellis filed a Motion to Dismiss
Petitioner's Petition to Compel Arbitration and for
Injunctive Relief for Lack of Jurisdiction and Failure to
State a Claim. (ECF No. 12). Therein, Ellis claims that there
is no federal question jurisdiction under the Federal
Arbitration Act ("FAA") and no diversity
jurisdiction because the amount in controversy does not
exceed $75, 000. See 28 U.S.C. §§1331,
Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction
only issue before this Court is whether Taco Bell has
demonstrated that the amount in controversy exceeds $75,
Both parties concede that there is complete diversity of
citizenship between Taco Bell and Ellis.
Bell argues that Ellis's allegations in her state court
Petition seeking actual damages, compensatory damages for
emotional distress, punitive damages, prejudgment interest
and attorney's fees establishes "at least by a
preponderance of the evidence" that the amount in
controversy exceeds $75, 000. (ECF No. 18 at 3). Taco Bell
claims that "Missouri juries commonly award verdicts in
excess of $75, 000 for non-pecuniary compensatory damages
under the MHRA," even with a claim for garden variety
emotional distress. (ECF No. 18 at 3). Taco Bell maintains
that Ellis's claim for loss of pay and benefit damages is
sufficient to demonstrate that the amount in controversy
exceeds $75, 000. Taco Bell notes that Ellis's salary in
2014 was $34, 746, and her gross pay in 2015 was $22, 600.36
through October 27, 2015. (ECF No. 18 at 5). Taco Bell claims
that Ellis's "unmitigated lost wages, alone, would
be $60, 000" for the last two years, and will be three
years, or $90, 000, by the time this case goes to trial in
another year. (ECF No. 18 at 5).
Bell further asserts that Ellis's claim for punitive
damages will push her damages claim above the $75, 000
threshold. (ECF No. 18 at 5-6). Taco Bell cites Kopp v.
Kopp, 280 F.3d 883, 884 (8th Cir. 2002) as support for
its proposition that punitive damages can be in excess of
$75, 000 where the actual damages fall below the requisite
amount. In Kopp, Ms. Kopp was attacked, restrained,
and sexually assaulted in her own home by her ex-husband,
Donald Kopp. The Eighth Circuit noted that "an award of
damages of more than $75, 000 would not have to be set aside
as excessive under Missouri law, nor would such an award be
so 'grossly excessive' as to violate the due process
clause of the United States Constitution." Id.
at 886; see also Frump ex rel. Aubuchon v. Claire's
Boutiques, Inc., No. 10-1106-CV-W-SWH, 2011 WL 1103055,
at *4 (W.D. Mo. Mar. 22, 2011) ("If a plaintiff has
authority under state law to seek punitive damages, however,
the claim will generally satisfy the amount in controversy
requirement because it cannot be stated to a legal certainty
that the value of the plaintiffs claim is below the statutory
minimum.") (internal citation omitted).
Taco Bell maintains that Ellis's insistence that she is
not seeking more than $75, 000 fails to demonstrate that
Ellis's damages fall short of the statutory threshold.
(ECF No. 18 at 7-8). Rather, Taco Bell states that
Ellis's unwillingness to stipulate to receiving less than
$75, 000 indicates that a jury might award her in excess of
$75, 000. In particular, Taco Bell notes that Ellis's
attorney's fees should be included when evaluating
whether her claims meet the $75, 000 amount, and "[i]t
is well ...