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Williams v. Stockstill

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

February 11, 2019

SONYA WILLIAMS, ET AL
v.
BARRY STOCKSTILL, ET AL

          ORDER AND REASONS

         Plaintiffs filed a motion to remand, alleging that defendants' Notice of Removal was procedurally defective. Rec. Doc. 9-1 at 2. Defendants timely filed a response in opposition. Rec. Doc. 12. For the reasons discussed below, IT IS ORDERED that the motion to remand is GRANTED.

         IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the motion for attorney's fees is DENIED.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiffs filed a complaint against defendants Barry Stockstill and Contract Freighters, Inc. (“CFI”) in Orleans Civil District Court for injuries resulting from a motor vehicle collision on January 29, 2018. Rec. Doc. 1-1 at 1. Plaintiffs allege that defendant Barry Stockstill's negligence in operating the vehicle, owned by CFI, caused the collision, and that he was in the course and scope of his employment with CFI at the time of the accident. Rec. Doc. 1-2. Defendants filed their answers in state court, denying plaintiff's allegations and asserting that any damages plaintiffs may have sustained were the result of plaintiff's own negligence. Rec. Doc. 1-1 at 9-18. Further, defendants asserted that they reserved their right to remove the case at a later date as it was not facially apparent from the petition whether the federal diversity jurisdictional amount of $75, 000 in dispute was present. Id. Defendants filed a notice of removal on October 3, 2018 on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. Rec. Doc. 1. Defendants asserted that the parties had diverse citizenship and the amount in controversy exceeded the $75, 000 minimum amount, as stated in plaintiff's Offer of Judgment provided to defendants on September 20, 2018. Id. at 5.

         Plaintiffs filed the instant motion to remand and for attorney's fees, claiming that defendants' removal notice was procedurally deficient because it was untimely. Rec. Doc. 9-1. Defendants filed a response in opposition stating that their notice of removal was timely filed within 30 days of the point at which it became clear that plaintiff's claims met the minimum threshold for diversity jurisdiction. Rec. Doc. 12.

         THE PARTIES' CONTENTIONS

         Plaintiffs argue that defendants' notice of removal was untimely because it was not filed within thirty days of defendants' receipt of papers from which it was ascertainable that the case was removable. Rec. Doc. 9-1 at 2-3. Although it was not facially apparent from the initial pleadings that the jurisdictional amount was met, plaintiffs state that they provided discovery responses and medical records to defendants on April 20, 2018 demonstrating that the value of the case was greater than $75, 000. Id. at 5-6. Specifically, plaintiffs claim that Sonya Williams stated her damages exceed $75, 000 in her response to defendants' interrogatories and also provided medical records disclosing that Ms. Williams underwent a Lumbar Epidural Steroid Injection. Rec. Doc. 9-5 at 3. Therefore, plaintiffs argue that defendants' thirty-day clock for a timely removal began upon receipt of this information on April 20, 2018, making the notice of removal filed on October 3, 2018 untimely.

         Defendants oppose remand, arguing that their notice of removal was timely because the thirty-day window did not begin to run until they received plaintiff's Offer of Judgment on September 20, 2018. Rec. Doc. 12. Defendants assert that the documents provided by plaintiffs prior to the Offer of Judgment were not sufficient to trigger removal because it must be “unequivocally clear and certain” that the amount in dispute is met so as to allow the defendant to present the required summary judgment-type evidence in support of the preponderance of evidence burden placed upon him. Id. at 5. Defendants claim this burden was first met on September 20, 2018 when plaintiffs provided their formal Offer of Judgment letter and supporting information reflecting continued treatment for ongoing complaints and a second round of epidural steroidal injections. Id. at 8. Defendants filed their notice of removal on October 3, 2018, thirteen days after receipt of the Offer of Judgment letter, and therefore argue that it was timely. Id.

         LAW AND ANALYSIS

         District Courts have original jurisdiction, called diversity jurisdiction, over all civil actions where the matter in controversy exceeds $75, 000 and is between citizens of different states. 28 U.S.C. §1332(a). If a civil action over which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction is brought in a State Court, it “may be removed by the defendant or defendants, to the district court of the United States for the district and division embracing the place where such action is pending.” 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). Defendants must file a notice of removal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1446. Generally,

“[t]he notice of a removal of a civil action or proceeding shall be filed within 30 days after the receipt by the defendant, through service or otherwise, of a copy of the initial pleading setting forth the claim for relief upon which such action or proceeding is based, ”

28 U.S.C. § 1446(b)(1).

         However,

“if the case stated by the initial pleading is not removable, a notice of removal may be filed within 30 days after receipt by the defendant, through service or otherwise, of a copy of an amended pleading, motion, order or other paper from which it may first be ...

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