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Sims v. Family Dollar Stores of Louisiana, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

January 8, 2019

LORI SIMS
v.
FAMILY DOLLAR STORES OF LOUISIANA, INC.

          ORDER AND REASONS

          JANE TRICHE MILAZZO UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion to Remand (Doc. 7). For the following reasons, the Motion is GRANTED .

         BACKGROUND

         This personal injury suit arises out of Plaintiff Lori Sims's slip-and-fall in a Family Dollar store in Houma, Louisiana. An “unmarked liquid substance” allegedly caused Plaintiff's fall on August 29, 2017.[1] She seeks damages for unspecified injuries.

         On September 13, 2018, Defendant Family Dollar Stores of Louisiana, Inc. (“Family Dollar”) removed Plaintiff's suit to this Court on diversity grounds.[2] Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff filed the instant Motion to Remand arguing that diversity jurisdiction does not exist because the amount in controversy does not exceed $75, 000.[3] Defendant opposes.[4]

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Generally, a defendant may remove a civil state court action to federal court if the federal court has original jurisdiction over the action.[5] The burden is on the removing party to show “that federal jurisdiction exists and that removal was proper.”[6] When determining whether federal jurisdiction exists, courts consider “the claims in the state court petition as they existed at the time of removal.”[7] District courts must “strictly construe” the removal statute, “and any doubt about the propriety of removal must be resolved in favor of remand.”[8] “If at any time before final judgment it appears that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the case shall be remanded.”[9]

         LAW AND ANALYSIS

         Federal diversity jurisdiction exists when no plaintiff has the same citizenship as any defendant-complete diversity-and the “amount in controversy” exceeds $75, 000.[10] Here, the parties agree that complete diversity exists; but they disagree about whether the amount in controversy requirement has been met.

         “Generally, the amount of damages sought in [a plaintiff's state court] petition constitutes the amount in controversy, so long as the pleading was made in good faith.”[11] Here, Plaintiff's petition does not seek a specific sum of damages.[12] Instead, it seeks

damages as are reasonable in the premises, including past physical pain and suffering, future physical pain and suffering, past, present, and future mental pain and suffering, past, present, and future medical expenses, loss of past and future earnings, loss of future earning capacity, past and future loss of enjoyment of life, permanent disability to the body, loss of consortium, and penalties and attorneys' fees together with legal interest thereon from date of judicial demand until paid, and for all costs of these proceedings . . . .[13]

         “[W]hen the plaintiff's complaint does not allege a specific amount of damages, the removing defendant must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the amount in controversy exceeds $[75, 000].”[14] Defendant argues that Plaintiff's prayer for present and future pain and suffering and medical expenses “plainly suggest[s]” that Plaintiff seeks more than $75, 000 in damages.[15] In support, Defendant cites to another section of this Court's decision in Tauzier v. Dodge.[16] In Tauzier, the plaintiff had suffered “broken ribs, a punctured lung, a ruptured silicone breast implant, and . . . was rendered unconscious” in a car crash.[17] In rejecting the plaintiff's argument that the amount in controversy did not exceed $75, 000, the court noted that “the alleged medical expenses alone exceeded $20, 000” and that the plaintiff had untimely filed her motion to remand.[18]

         This case is distinguishable from Tauzier. Here, Sims does not allege such severe injuries. In fact, her petition alleges no specific injuries whatsoever. Moreover, she timely filed her Motion to Remand. Other cases cited to by Defendant are equally distinguishable and unpersuasive.[19]

         Defendant has produced no evidence about Plaintiff's injuries in this case. Defendant's focus on Plaintiff's vague allegation of “permanent disability” and loss of earning capacity in her petition is insufficient to carry its burden of proof to justify removal. Even ignoring Plaintiff's post-removal stipulation of an amount in controversy less than $75, 000, Defendant has failed to show that the jurisdictional amount ...


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