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Rodriguez v. Wal-Mart Louisiana, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

July 12, 2018

RODRIGUEZ
v.
WAL-MART LOUISIANA, LLC and WAL-MART STORES, INC.

         SECTION: “G” (2)

          ORDER

          NANNETTE JOLIVETTE BROWN, CHIEF JUDGE.

         Pending before the Court are Plaintiff Wallace Rodriguez's (“Plaintiff”) “Memorandum on Amount in Controversy”[1] and Defendants Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. and Wal-Mart Louisiana LLC's (collectively, “Defendants”) “Memorandum on Amount in Controversy.”[2] On August 21, 2017, Plaintiff filed a petition for damages in the Civil District Court for the Parish of Orleans, State of Louisiana, for injuries allegedly sustained on August 28, 2016, as a result of a slip and fall.[3]Defendants removed the action to this Court, asserting diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332.[4]

         On July 10, 2018, finding that the parties failed to confirm that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000 in the “Proposed Pre-Trial Order” and that the notice of removal lacked sufficient information to support subject matter jurisdiction, the Court ordered the parties to submit briefing regarding the amount in controversy at the time of removal of this case.[5] On July 11, 2018, the parties submitted separate memoranda as to the amount in controversy.[6] Having considered the petition for damages, the notice of removal, and the memoranda on the amount in controversy, the Court finds that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the case and remands the action to state court.

         I. Parties' Arguments

         A. Defendants' Memorandum on Amount in Controversy

         Defendants argue that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000, as Plaintiff is alleging a torn medial and lateral meniscus, prepatellar swelling, medial collateral ligament sprain, aggravation of prior spinal herniations at L4-C5, and herniations of the L4-L5 vertebrae.[7]Defendants assert that Louisiana courts have consistently awarded an excess of $50, 000 in general damages for a torn meniscus.[8] Moreover, Defendants assert that Louisiana courts have consistently awarded an excess of $100, 000 in general damages for an unoperated herniated disc.[9] As a result, Defendants argue that the amount in controversy for Plaintiff's alleged injuries well exceeds $75, 000.

         B. Plaintiff's Memorandum on Amount in Controversy

         Plaintiff asserts that in his petition, he disclosed no amount in controversy, but Plaintiff argues that his damages “may exceed $75, 000.”[10] Plaintiff asserts that his orthopedist determined that Plaintiff has suffered “a torn lateral and [medial] meniscus and that [Plaintiff] would require a lateral and medial menisctectomy and chondroplasty.”[11] Moreover, Plaintiff contends that his orthopedist also determined that Plaintiff “would need spinal ‘injections' or a ‘discectomy,' for his neuro-compressed areas of his spine that include C-4 through C-5 [and] L-4 through L-5.”[12]However, Plaintiff asserts that although his orthopedist plans to testify as to the anticipated cost of these procedures, “Plaintiff is uncertain what those amounts may be.”[13] As a result, Plaintiff contends that he “can only rely upon a review of quantum of other similarly situated cases.”[14]

         Plaintiff avers that his case is similar to Payton v. City of New Orleans, where the Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal found a general damages award of $100, 000 was not unreasonable where the plaintiff suffered spinal injuries and a knee injury after tripping and falling.[15] Moreover, Plaintiff also asserts that his case is similar to Gaston v. G & D Marine, where the Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal similarly found that a $100, 000 award for spinal injuries suffered after the plaintiff stepped off a “crew boat” was not unreasonable when the injuries constituted a re-aggravation of existing conditions.[16]

         II. Legal Standard

         A defendant may remove a state civil court action to federal court if the federal court has original jurisdiction over the action.[17] A federal court has subject matter jurisdiction over an action “where the matter for controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000” and the action “is between citizens of different states.”[18] “When removal is based on diversity of citizenship, the diversity must exist at the time of the removal.”[19] The removing party bears the burden of demonstrating that federal jurisdiction exists.[20] In assessing whether removal was appropriate, the Court is guided by the principle, grounded in notions of comity and the recognition that federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, that “removal statute[s] should be strictly construed in favor of remand.”[21]Remand is appropriate if the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, and “doubts regarding whether removal jurisdiction is proper should be resolved against federal jurisdiction.”[22]

         Pursuant to Fifth Circuit precedent, a removing defendant's burden of showing that the amount in controversy is sufficient to support federal jurisdiction differs depending on whether the plaintiff's complaint alleges a specific amount of monetary damages.[23] When the plaintiff alleges a figure in excess of the required amount in controversy, “that amount controls if made in good faith.”[24] If the plaintiff pleads less than the jurisdictional amount, this figure will also generally control, barring removal.[25]

         However, Louisiana law ordinarily does not allow a plaintiff to plead a specific amount of damages.[26] When, as here, the plaintiff has alleged an indeterminate amount of damages, the Fifth Circuit requires the removing defendant to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000.[27] A defendant satisfies this burden either: “(1) by demonstrating that it is facially apparent that the claims are likely above $75, 000, or (2) by setting forth facts in controversy-preferably in the removal petition, but sometimes by affidavit-that support a finding of the requisite amount.”[28] The defendant must do more than point to a state law that might allow the plaintiff to recover more than the jurisdictional minimum; the defendant must submit evidence that establishes that the actual amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000.[29]

         III. Analysis

         Defendants assert that a quantum study of Plaintiff's injuries demonstrates that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000.[30] Plaintiff acknowledges that he is uncertain what the amount in controversy may be, but he asserts that plaintiffs in two similar cases were awarded more than $75, 000.[31]

         Considering Plaintiff's petition was filed in Louisiana state court, he has not pled a specific amount of damages, so the burden is on removing Defendants to prove by a preponderance of the ...


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