United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division
VIRGINIA M. HERNANDEZ COVINGTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter comes before the Court sua sponte. As set
forth below, this case is remanded to state court because the
Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction.
courts have limited subject matter jurisdiction.”
Morrison v. Allstate Indem. Co., 228 F.3d 1255,
1260-61 (11th Cir. 2000). Before delving into the merits of
any case, this Court must determine “whether
subject-matter jurisdiction exists, even in the absence of a
challenge from any party.” Arbaugh v. Y&H
Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 514 (2006). Indeed, “it is
well settled that a federal court 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, 410 (11th Cir. 1999). “Without
jurisdiction the court cannot proceed at all in any
cause.” Id. In removed cases, 28 U.S.C. §
1447(c) specifies: “If at any time before final
judgment it appears that the district court lacks subject
matter jurisdiction, the case shall be remanded.” The
Court is mindful that any doubt about the propriety of
removal should be resolved in favor of remand. Tauriga
Sciences, Inc. v. Clear Trust, LLC, No. 8:14-
cv-2545-T-33TBM, 2014 WL 5502709, at *2 (M.D. Fla. Oct.
2014)(citing Butler v. Polk, 592 F.2d 1293, 1296
(5th Cir. 1979)).
slip-and-fall action was removed to this Court on November 6,
2019, on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. (Doc. # 1).
When jurisdiction is premised upon diversity of citizenship,
28 U.S.C. § 1332(a) requires, among other things, that
“the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of
$75, 000, exclusive of interests and costs.” 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).
Complaint does not allege a specific amount of damages. (Doc.
# 1-3 at ¶ 1)(“This is an action for damages that
exceeds Fifteen Thousand Dollars ($15, 000.00) . . .”).
Instead, in their Notice of Removal, Defendant Republic
Refrigeration Inc. relies on Plaintiff George Odell's
past medical expenses and a pre-suit demand letter. (Doc. # 1
at 3). On November 7, 2019, the Court entered an Order (Doc.
# 3) explaining that it was not convinced that the amount in
controversy requirement had been satisfied by a preponderance
of the evidence and giving Republic Refrigeration the
opportunity to submit additional information.
Refrigeration timely filed its response to the Court's
Order on November 13, 2019. (Doc. # 5). In its response,
Republic Refrigeration notes that the April 11, 2019,
pre-suit demand letter reported that Odell had incurred $ 37,
520.91 in past medical expenses at that time, with a
workers' compensation lien in the amount of $26, 436.11.
(Id. at 5). However, this amount falls short of the
jurisdictional threshold. While Republic Refrigeration notes
that Odell may have undergone additional medical procedures
prior to removal that were not included in the past medical
expenses calculation, Republic Refrigeration provides no
information on the cost of those procedures. (Id. at
the response emphasizes the pre-suit demand letter's
demand for $250, 000 from Republic Refrigeration.
(Id. at 5; Doc. # 5-3 at 3). As the Court explained
in its November 7 Order, demand letters do not automatically
establish the amount in controversy. See Lamb v. State
Farm Fire Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., No. 3:10-cv-615-J-32JRK,
2010 WL 6790539, at *2 (M.D. Fla. Nov. 5, 2010)(stating that
demand letters and settlement offers “do not
automatically establish the amount in controversy for
purposes of diversity jurisdiction”); Piazza v.
Ambassador II JV, L.P., No. 8:10-cv-1582-T-23-EAJ, 2010
WL 2889218, at *1 (M.D. Fla. July 21, 2010)(same). Rather,
courts evaluate whether demand letters “‘reflect
puffing and posturing'” or “whether they
provide ‘specific information to support the
plaintiff's claim for damages.'” Lamb,
2010 WL 6790539, at *2 (quoting Jackson v. Select
Portfolio Servicing, Inc., 651 F.Supp.2d 1279, 1281
(S.D. Ala. 2009)); see also Jenkins v. Myers, No.
8:16-cv-344-T-17EAJ, 2016 WL 4059249, at *4 (M.D. Fla. July
27, 2016)(stating a demand letter that appears to be mere
puffery or an attempt at posturing, “is insufficient to
prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the amount in
controversy meets or exceeds $75, 000”).
the demand letter mentions less than $75, 000 in past medical
expenses, while demanding $250, 000. Because there are no
specific facts to support the $250, 000 total requested
settlement in light of the far lower medical expenses, it
appears this demand is mere puffery, rather than an accurate
assessment of the amount in controversy. See Rodriguez v.
Family Dollar, No. 8:17-cv-1340-T-33JSS, 2017 U.S. Dist.
LEXIS 88594 (M.D. Fla. June 9, 2017)(remanding case where the
amount in controversy was based on hypothetical future
medical damages and reasoning that the pre-suit settlement
offers were negotiation tactics).
no information is provided regarding future medical expenses,
pain and suffering, or lost wages. Because no concrete
information is provided, these categories of damages are too
speculative to include in the amount in controversy
calculation. Nor is the Court persuaded by Republic
Refrigeration's citation to cases where a slip-and-fall
plaintiff obtained over $75, 000 in damages after a jury
trial. (Doc. # 5 at 4-5). Although Republic Refrigeration
asserts the injuries in those cases are similar to
Odell's, there is no evidence that those plaintiffs had
medical expenses or other damages similar to Odell's.
short, Republic Refrigeration has not carried its burden of
establishing this Court's diversity jurisdiction. The
Court, finding that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction,
remands the case to state court.
it is now
ADJUDGED, and DECREED:
Clerk is directed to REMAND this case to
state court ...