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Taylor v. Interstate Hyundai, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Monroe Division

March 5, 2018

EVA TAYLOR
v.
INTERSTATE HYUNDAI, INC., ET AL.

          Robert G. James, Judge

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          Karen L. Hayes, Judge

         Before the undersigned Magistrate Judge, on reference from the District Court, is a motion to remand [doc. # 6] filed by plaintiff Eva Taylor. The motion is opposed. For reasons explained below, it is recommended that the motion to remand be GRANTED.

         Background

         On an unspecified date, Eva Turner purchased a 2014 Hyundai Elantra from Interstate Hyundai, Inc. Taylor purchased the vehicle because an Interstate sales representative assured her that, in the event of a crash, the air bags and seat belt pre-tensioner would deploy to protect the passengers. (Petition, ¶¶ V-VI).

         On August 29, 2016, Taylor was operating her Elantra on I-20 westbound, approaching Vicksburg, [1] when another vehicle in front of her suddenly switched into her lane thereby requiring Taylor to take evasive maneuvers. Id., ¶¶ IV, VII. Although Taylor managed to avoid hitting the unidentified vehicle, she lost control of her car which entered the median and rolled over. Id., ¶ VIII. Despite the significant forces of the crash, none of the air bags in the Elantra deployed, and the seatbelt pre-tensioner failed to activate. Id. ¶¶ IX-XI. Post-crash testing of the Elantra's electronic data recorder confirmed that the air bag system sent engagement signals to both the frontal/side air bags and the pre-tensioner for the shoulder harness, but neither system responded to the commands. Id., ¶ XVIII. As a result of the crash, and the associated failure of the air bag protective system, Taylor suffered significant injuries. Id., XII.

         On August 28, 2017, Taylor filed the instant suit in the 4th Judicial District Court for the Parish of Ouachita, State of Louisiana, to recover damages for injuries that she sustained in the August 29, 2016, incident. Named defendants included: Hyundai Motor Company, the manufacturer of the 2014 Elantra; Hyundai Motor America (incorrectly sued as “Hyundai Motor America Corporation, ” or alternatively, “Hyundai Motor America, Inc.”) (hereinafter, “Hyundai”), the U.S. distributor of the 2014 Elantra; Interstate Hyundai, Inc. (hereinafter, “Interstate”), the seller of the 2014 Elantra; and State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company (hereinafter, “State Farm”), Taylor's uninsured motorist carrier.

         On October 12, 2017, Hyundai removed the suit to federal court on the sole basis of diversity jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1332. (Notice of Removal). Hyundai is a California corporation, with its principal place of business in said state. Id., ¶ VI. State Farm is a Delaware corporation, with its principal place of business in Illinois. Id. Plaintiff is a citizen of Louisiana citizen, as is defendant, Interstate. Id., ¶¶ VI-VII.

         To circumvent the patent lack of diversity between the parties, Hyundai contends that plaintiff has no reasonable possibility of recovery against Interstate, and that it was improperly joined in an effort to defeat removal. See Notice of Removal. Plaintiff disagrees with Hyundai's assessment of her claims against Interstate, and on November 7, 2017, filed the instant motion to remand because of incomplete diversity, i.e. lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Perplexingly, plaintiff further argued that because she sued State Farm as her UM carrier, “the claim does not arise within the definition of diversity of citizenship.” (M/Remand, Memo., pgs. 5-6).

         On November 28, 2017, Hyundai filed its opposition to the motion to remand, which State Farm joined in, and adopted. [doc. #s 11-14]. Plaintiff did not file a reply brief, and the time to do so has lapsed. See Notice of Motion Setting [doc. # 7]. Thus, the matter is ripe.

         Analysis

         Federal law authorizes a defendant to remove to federal court “any civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction . . .” 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). “The removing party bears the burden of showing that federal jurisdiction exists.” De Aguilar v. Boeing Co., 47 F.3d 1404, 1408 (5th Cir. 1995) (citing Gaitor v. Peninsular & Occidental S.S. Co., 287 F.2d 252, 253-54 (5th Cir. 1961)). Because federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, a suit is presumed to lie outside this limited jurisdiction unless and until the party invoking federal jurisdiction establishes to the contrary. Howery v. Allstate Ins. Co., 243 F.3d 912, 916 (5th Cir. 2001) (citation omitted).

         Hyundai invoked this court's subject matter jurisdiction via diversity, which requires an amount in controversy greater than $75, 000, and complete diversity of citizenship between plaintiff and defendants, 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). The court will address each component of the diversity statute, in turn.

         I. Amount in Controversy

         Plaintiff does not contest that the amount in controversy exceeded $75, 000 at the time of removal. However, a “party may neither consent to nor waive federal subject matter jurisdiction.” Simon v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 193 F.3d 848, 850 (5th Cir.1999). When, as here, the state court petition seeks a money judgment, but state law does not permit a demand for a specific sum, then the removing defendant may assert the amount in controversy in its notice of removal. 28 U.S.C. § 1446(c)(2)(A). Furthermore, “a defendant's notice of removal need include only a plausible allegation that the amount in controversy exceeds the jurisdictional threshold. Evidence establishing the amount is required by § 1446(c)(2)(B) only when the plaintiff contests, or the court questions, the defendant's allegation.” Dart Cherokee Basin Operating Co., LLC v. Owens, 135 U.S. __, 135 S.Ct. 547, 554 (2014) (equating 28 U.S.C. § 1446(a)'s pleading requirement to Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)).

         The instant case presents the latter circumstance.[2] First, it is not “facially apparent” from the bare injury and damages allegations in the complaint that the claims are likely above $75, 000. Simon, supra. Second, removing defendant's conclusory allegation that, based upon unspecified information from the plaintiff, [3] the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000 does not suffice to meet the plausibility standard. See Deamer v. TA Operating, LLC, No. 12-2625, 2012 WL 5877982 (W.D. La. Nov. 20, 2012) and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009) (discussing plausibility under Rule 8(a)).

         Removing defendant's failure to establish that the amount in controversy exceeded the jurisdictional minimum at the time of removal, precludes the court's exercise of subject matter jurisdiction, and provides an additional basis for remand. See discussion, infra.

         II. ...


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