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Parham v. Osmond

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

August 15, 2019

SHANNON PARHAM and BRANDY O'NEILL, Plaintiffs,
v.
BRIAN OSMOND, Defendant.

          ORDER

          TOM BARBER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before this Court are plaintiffs Shannon Parham and Brandy O'Neill's motions for remand. (Doc. ## 6, 13). Defendant Brian Osmond has responded in opposition to both motions. (Doc. ## 7, 14). For the reasons that follow, the motions are granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Background

         A vehicle driven by Osmond collided with a vehicle driven by Parham in which O'Neill was a passenger. As a result, Parham and O'Neill - both Florida residents - filed two separate negligence actions against Osmond - a resident of Canada - in the Circuit Court for the Sixth Judicial Circuit in and for Pinellas County, Florida. Thereafter, Osmond timely removed both cases to this Court, asserting the requirements for diversity jurisdiction had been satisfied. (Doc. # 1); O'Neill v. Osmond, 8:19-cv-594-T-17JSS (Doc. # 1).[1]

         Upon realizing both cases involved nearly identical parties, facts, and legal issues, the Court sua sponte consolidated the cases. (Doc. ## 9, 12). Parham and O'Neill now seek to remand this action back to state court and demand attorney's fees for Osmond's improper removal. (Doc. ## 6, 13).

         II. Remand

         Parham and O'Neill contend this action should be remanded because Osmond failed to establish the amount-in-controversy requirement was met when their cases were removed. (Doc. # 6 at 3-4; Doc. # 13 at 3-4). “If at any time before final judgment it appears that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the case shall be remanded.” 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). Removal statutes are strictly construed against removal. Shamrock Oil & Gas Co. v. Sheets, 313 U.S. 100, 108 (1941). The removing defendant bears the burden of establishing federal jurisdiction. Adventure Outdoors, Inc. v. Bloomberg, 552 F.3d 1290, 1294 (11th Cir. 2008). Any doubt as to propriety of removal should be resolved in favor of remand to state court. Butler v. Polk, 592 F.2d 1293, 1296 (5th Cir. 1979).

         Osmond predicates federal jurisdiction on the diversity provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1332. “For federal diversity jurisdiction to attach, all parties must be completely diverse . . . and the amount in controversy must exceed $75, 000.” Underwriters at Lloyd's London v. Osting-Schwinn, 613 F.3d 1079, 1085 (11th Cir. 2010). The parties do not dispute the existence of complete diversity - Parham and O'Neill are citizens of Florida, and Osmond is a citizen of Canada. Rather, the parties only dispute whether the amount-in-controversy requirement is met.

         Neither complaint states a specified claim to damages but simply alleges the damages in these actions exceed $15, 000. (Doc. # 1-1 at ¶ 1; O'Neill, Doc. # 1-1 at ¶ 2). If “the jurisdictional amount is not facially apparent from the complaint, the court should look to the notice of removal and may require evidence relevant to the amount in controversy at the time the case was removed.” Williams v. Best Buy Co., 269 F.3d 1316, 1319 (11th Cir. 2001). When “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). “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). A removing defendant should make “specific factual allegations establishing jurisdiction” and be prepared to “support them (if challenged by the plaintiff or the court) with evidence.” Id. at 754.

         In both notices of removal, Osmond contends the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000 for four reasons: (1) the complaints' allegations of Parham and O'Neill's purported injuries; (2) Parham and O'Neill's past and future medical expenses; (3) Parham and O'Neill's pre-suit demand letters; and (4) jury verdicts in comparable cases. (Doc. # 1 at ¶¶ 10-16; O'Neill, Doc. # 1 at ¶¶ 10-16). Additionally, in his response to O'Neill's motion, Osmond attempts to further support his argument by noting that O'Neill refused to stipulate that the amount in controversy does not exceed $75, 000 when the parties discussed the possibility of remand. (Doc. # 14 at 8-9). As explained below, the Court concludes Osmond has not met his burden of establishing the amount in controversy.

         Osmond begins by pointing to the complaints' allegations of Parham and O'Neill's purported injuries to establish the amount in controversy. Among other things, Parham asserts Osmond's alleged negligence caused her to “sustain severe, continuing and permanent injuries . . . and [she] has in the past and will in the future suffer from the effects of said injuries . . . incur expenses in the care and treatment of said injuries . . . [and] experience loss of earnings and earning capacity.” (Doc. # 1-1 at ¶ 7). Similarly, O'Neill asserts Osmond's alleged negligence caused her to sustain “bodily injury, great physical pain and suffering, disability . . . mental anguish, loss of or diminution of earnings or earning capacity . . . [and] medical and related expenses, past and future, incurred in seeking a cure for her injuries.” (O'Neill, Doc. # 1-1 at ¶ 8).

         Although the Court recognizes that Parham and O'Neill generally claim to have suffered as a result of Osmond's alleged negligence, “mere allegations of severe injuries are insufficient to establish the amount in controversy.” Green v. Travelers Indem. Co., No. 3:11-cv-922-J-37TEM, 2011 WL 4947499, at *3 (M.D. Fla. Oct. 18, 2011). Furthermore, the complaints' vague and inexact allegations of unspecified damages are too imprecise to include in the amount-in-controversy calculation. Indeed, as further explained below, the Court has not been provided with evidence of these broad categories of damages to find that the amount in controversy has been met. And ascribing any monetary value to these damages would require pure speculation by the Court. See Nelson v. Black & Decker (U.S.), Inc., No. 8:16-cv-869-T-24JSS, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 116623, at *9 (M.D. Fla. Aug. 30, 2016) (“[T]he Court will not engage in speculation regarding the value of [the plaintiff's] claim for pain and suffering.”).

         Next, Osmond relies on Parham and O'Neill's past and future medical expenses to establish the amount in controversy. In his notices of removal, Osmond originally stated Parham had incurred approximately $13, 000 in medical expenses and O'Neill had incurred approximately $44, 887.82 in medical expenses. (Doc. # 1 at ¶ 13; O'Neill, Doc. # 1 at ¶ 13). Nevertheless, Osmond also acknowledged in his notices of removal that he did not have the complete medical records for either Parham or O'Neill. (Doc. # 1 at ¶ 11; O'Neill, Doc. # 1 at ¶ 12). Now, though, Osmond states that following removal, he received O'Neill's complete medical records, which supposedly indicate O'Neill actually had incurred approximately $80, 352.84 in medical expenses by the time this case was removed. (Doc. # 14 at 2, 5).

         Yet despite citing multiple exhibits and describing Parham and O'Neill's past medical treatment in his notices of removal and responses to the pending motions, Osmond fails to provide the Court with any supporting documentation, such as medical reports or bills. While Osmond is not required to prove the amount in controversy beyond all doubt, he must support his jurisdictional allegations with evidence where the propriety of removal is challenged by the non-removing parties. Pretka, 608 F.3d at 754. Because there is ambiguity regarding the amount of Parham and O'Neill's past medical expenses, Osmond cannot satisfy his burden of establishing the amount in controversy by a preponderance of the evidence without supporting evidence. See Llanes v. Scottsdale Ins. Co., No. 19-21877-CIV-ALTONAGA/Goodman, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 119948, at *12 (S.D. Fla. July 16, 2019) (holding defendant did not meet its burden because it failed to provide evidence to support its assertions of the amount in controversy); ...


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