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Brooks v. Sears, Roebuck and Co.

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Orlando Division

July 2, 2018

THOMAS H. BROOKS, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
SEARS, ROEBUCK AND CO., Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          DANIEL C. IRICK UNITES STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This cause comes before the Court for consideration following Defendant's response (Doc. 10) to the Court's Order to Show Cause (Doc. 7). On December 7, 2017, Plaintiff filed a complaint in state court alleging that he was injured when he slipped and fell on a slippery substance in Defendant's store. Doc. 2. Plaintiff did not include any factual allegations regarding the nature of his alleged injury. Id. Plaintiff pled that he is a resident of Orange County, Florida. Id.

         On April 10, 2018, Defendant filed a Notice of Removal alleging that this Court has jurisdiction over the parties pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Doc. 1. Citing to the Complaint, Defendant alleged that “Plaintiff is a resident of Florida.” Id. at 2. Defendant also alleged that the amount-in-controversy exceeds $75, 000.00. Id. at 3. To support its allegation, Defendant attached Plaintiff's proposal for settlement, wherein Plaintiff requested $135, 000.00 in exchange for Plaintiff agreeing to voluntarily dismiss the action with prejudice. Doc. 1-2. Plaintiff's proposal for settlement did not include any medical records, bills, or descriptions of Plaintiff's injuries or damages. Id. Defendant did not provide the Court with any additional information regarding the amount-in-controversy or the nature of Plaintiff's injuries. Id.

         On May 7, 2018, the Court entered an Order to Show Cause (OTSC) why this case should not be remanded to state court for lack of federal subject matter jurisdiction. Doc. 7.

         On May 17, 2018, Defendant filed a response to the Court's OTSC (the Response). Doc. 10. In doing so, Defendant chose not to provide the Court with any additional evidence to support the existence of federal subject matter jurisdiction. Id. Instead, Defendant simply argued that its Notice of Removal is sufficient to establish federal subject matter jurisdiction. Id.

         Defendant's argument is unavailing. Further, in its OTSC, the Court identified in detail the jurisdictional defects at issue and provided Defendant an opportunity to cure those defects. See, e.g., Travaglio v. Am. Expresss Co., 735 F.3d 1266, 1270 (11th Cir. 2013) (allowing defective allegations regarding citizenship to be cured through record evidence). The Court takes Defendant's decision not to attempt to cure the jurisdictional defects through record evidence as a tacit concession that it has no further information that may satisfy this Court's jurisdictional requirements. Thus, the undersigned finds that this case should be remanded to state court.

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW.

         This Court is a court of limited jurisdiction and, as such, “is obligated to inquire into subject matter jurisdiction sua sponte whenever it may be lacking.” Univ. of S. Ala. V. Am. Tobacco Co., 168 F.3d 405, 409-10 (11th Cir. 1999); see also Hernandez v. U.S. Atty. Gen., 513 F.3d 1336, 1339 (11th Cir. 2008) (per curiam) (“As a preliminary matter, we must inquire into subject matter jurisdiction sua sponte whenever it may be lacking.”). “A defendant seeking to remove a case bears the burden of proving that the federal district court has original jurisdiction.” Alilin v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., No. 6:14-cv-1183-Orl-41DAB, 2014 WL 7734262, at *2 (M.D. Fla. Jan. 30, 2014) (citing Williams v. Best Buy Co., Inc., 269 F.3d 1316, 1319 (11th Cir. 2001)). In cases where the damages are unspecified, “the removing party bears the burden of establishing the jurisdictional amount by a preponderance of the evidence.” Lowery v. Ala. Power Co., 483 F.3d 1184, 1208 (11th Cir. 2007). Statutes governing removal are strictly construed and, thus, “all doubts about jurisdiction should be resolved in favor of remand to state court.” Univ. of S. Ala., 168 F.3d at 411.

         II. DISCUSSION.

         A federal court has diversity jurisdiction over civil actions where there is complete diversity of citizenship among the opposing parties and the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000.00, exclusive of interest and costs. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a).

         A. Amount-in-Controversy.

         “A court's analysis of the amount-in-controversy requirement focuses on how much is in controversy at the time of removal, not later.” Pretka v. Kolter City Plaza II, Inc., 608 F.3d 744, 751 (11th Cir. 2010) (citations omitted); see also S. Fla. Wellness, Inc. v. Allstate Ins. Co., 745 F.3d 1312, 1315 (11th Cir. 2014) (“What counts is the amount in controversy at the time of removal.”); Adventure Outdoors, 552 F.3d at 1294-95. “Where . . . the plaintiff has not pled a specific amount of damages, the removing defendant must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the amount in controversy exceeds the jurisdictional requirement.” Williams, 269 F.3d at 1319 (citations omitted). However, “a removing defendant is not required to prove the amount in controversy beyond all doubt or to banish all uncertainty about it.” Pretka, 608 F.3d at 754 (citations omitted). Rather, a court may consider the evidence combined with reasonable deductions, reasonable inferences, and other reasonable extrapolations. See id.; see also S. Fla. Wellness, 745 F.3d at 1315.

         In determining whether a removing defendant has carried its burden of proving that the amount-in-controversy satisfied the jurisdictional requirement at the time of removal, a court may consider post-removal evidence. Williams, 269 F.3d at 1319. This post-removal evidence may include a plaintiff's settlement offer and attached medical records. Alilin, 2014 WL 7734262, at *2 (citing Burns v. Windsor Ins. Co., 31 F.3d 1092, 1097 (11th Cir. 1994)). But although medical records attached to a settlement offer are entitled to great weight, a plaintiff's settlement offer itself is “not conclusive proof of the amount in controversy as these offers, particularly pre-suit offers, typically ‘reflect puffing and posturing' on the part of the plaintiff.” Alilin, 2014 WL 7734262 at *2 (citations omitted); see also Jackson v. Select Portfolio Servicing, Inc., 651 F.Supp.2d 1279, 1281, 1283 (S.D. Ala. 2009) (involving a post-suit settlement offer and stating that whether or not a settlement offer “counts for something” depends on the circumstances). With that said, “offers that provide specific information to support the plaintiff's claim for damages suggest the plaintiff is offering a reasonable assessment of the value of his claim and are entitled to more weight.” Id. (citation omitted).

         Here, Plaintiff did not plead a specific amount of damages. See Doc. 2. Thus, it was Defendant's burden to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the amount-in-controversy exceeds the jurisdictional requirement. Williams, 269 F.3d at 1319 (citations omitted). Defendant failed to do so. Although Plaintiff's proposal for settlement seeks $135, 000.00 to settle this case, the proposal for settlement does not provide any specific information to suggest that $135, 000.00 is a reasonable assessment of Plaintiff's claim. Doc. 1-2. And Defendant did not provide the Court with any specific information - such as the amount of Plaintiff's medical bills or the nature and severity of Plaintiff's injuries - that the Court could use to reasonably infer that the amount-in-controversy exceeds the jurisdictional amount. ...


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