United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Fort Myers Division
NCH HEALTHCARE SYSTEM, INC. Plaintiff,
THE LEAPFROG GROUP, Defendant.
POLSTERCHAPPLL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the Court is Defendant The Leapfrog Group's Response to
Order to Show Cause. (Doc. 8). The Court ordered
Leapfrog to show cause as to why the amount in controversy
meets the federal jurisdictional minimum. (Doc. 3 at
3-4). Leapfrog again contends the damages exceed $75,
000. (Doc. 8). Not so fast, says Plaintiff NCH
Healthcare System, Inc. (Doc. 9). NCH argues
Leapfrog failed to satisfy its burden, so the Court should
remand. (Doc. 9 at 5). The Court agrees with NCH and
remands this case to state court.
publishes hospital safety grades. (Doc. 5 at 4).
Leapfrog will soon publish a “D” safety grade for
(Doc. 5 at 2). NCH disagrees with the grade,
alleging it is a false and deceptive statement. (Doc. 5
at 2). NCH brought three state-law claims and sought
injunctive relief to prevent the grade's release.
(Doc. 5 at 14-21). The Complaint merely alleges the
amount in controversy exceeds $15, 000. (Doc. 5 at
is only proper when the district court has original
jurisdiction over the case. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a).
“Where, as here, 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
v. Best Buy Co., 269 F.3d 1316, 1319 (11th Cir. 2001).
Because of “significant federalism concerns, ”
courts interpret removal statutes strictly and resolve all
doubts in favor of remand. Univ. of S. Ala. v. Am.
Tobacco Co., 168 F.3d 405, 411 (11th Cir. 1999).
bottom, Leapfrog has a two-part position. First, the
Complaint alleges NCH will suffer damages in “the loss
of patients and revenue to the hospital [which] would be a
significant harm to NCH and impair its ability to
operate.” (Doc. 5 at 20). So according to
Leapfrog, this single statement means NCH is alleging
“its very ability to continue to operate is
threatened.” (Doc. 8 at 2). Somehow, that
allegation brings NCH's “ability to maintain
operational solvency” into the mix. (Doc. 8 at
2). Considering NCH has $528, 783 in annual revenue
along with $18 million in assets, the “logical
deduction to be drawn from that allegation is that [NCH]
claims hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars of
damage.” (Doc. 8 at 2). Second, given the
sheer cost of medical procedures, says Leapfrog, just losing
one or two patients would cause damages over $75, 000.
(Doc. 8 at 4-7). The problem for Leapfrog is the
former is unsupported by the Complaint and the latter is
Complaint seeks injunctive relief to prevent Leapfrog's
publication of NCH's safety grade. (Doc. 5 at
14-21). That is where Leapfrog finds the allegation that
a loss a patients and revenue will significantly harm NCH and
“impair its ability to operate.” (Doc. 5 at
20). A fair reading of the Complaint, however, does not
portend NCH will be unable to operate. Rather, the Complaint
simply alleges NCH will suffer damages to its reputation and
maybe lose patients. Nowhere in the Complaint does NCH hint
at the publication of this grade will cause it to operate at
a loss, forcing NCH to draw on its assets or obtain a line of
credit. It is Leapfrog-not the Complaint-that raises those
concerns. (Doc. 8 at 2). So the Court rejects
Leapfrog's first argument.
Leapfrog asks the Court to assume that NCH will lose
patients, incurring damages. (Doc. 8 at 4-7). And
those damages will exceed $75, 000 because most medical
procedures cost a lot of money. But that this is the type of
speculation courts refuse to engage in. E.g.,
Pretka v. Kolter City Plaza II, Inc., 608 F.3d 744,
754 (11th Cir. 2010) (noting courts may make
“reasonable inferences” but cannot engage in
“conjecture, speculation, or star gazing”). None
of those damages occurred and it is unclear whether they ever
will. What is more, this argument also rests on a flawed
premise-that courts can speculate on some future damages that
may arise later. It is hornbook law “the
amount-in-controversy requirement focuses on how much is in
controversy at the time of removal, not later.” Id.
at 751; Sierminski v. Transouth Fin. Corp., 216
F.3d 945, 949 (11th Cir. 2000) (“[T]he jurisdictional
facts that support removal must be judged at the time of
removal, and any post-petition affidavits are allowable only
if relevant to that period of time.” (citation
omitted)). As NCH makes clear, all that was in controversy at
the time of removal was whether an injunction would issue.
(Doc. 9 at 1 (“[T]he Complaint is a complaint
for injunctive relief, not damages.”)). That injunction
is valued from NCH's perspective, Morrison v.
Allstate Indem. Co., 228 F.3d 1255, 1268 (11th Cir.
2000), and NCH was not seeking damages for any lost patients
or revenue at the time of removal. On this record, there is
no indication outside pure guesswork there will be over $75,
000 in damages. See Univ. of S. Ala., 168
F.3d at 411 (holding all jurisdictional doubts are resolved
in favor of remand).
short, Leapfrog failed to carry its burden to show this case
meets the amount in controversy requirement. So the Court
does not have subject-matter jurisdiction and must remand to
state court. 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c).
it is now
case is REMANDED to the Circuit Court of the
Twentieth Judicial Circuit in and for Collier County,
Clerk is DIRECTED to transmit a certified
copy of this Order to the Clerk of the Circuit Court of the
Twentieth Judicial Circuit in and for Collier County,
Clerk is DIRECTED to terminate any pending
motions or deadlines and close the file.