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Monroe v. Walmart, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

May 20, 2019

RONALD MONROE AND KRISTINE MONROE, BOTH INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF THEIR MINOR DAUGHTER TAYLOR MONROE
v.
WALMART, INC. AND SAM'S WEST, INC.

          NOTICE AND ORDER

          ERIN WILDER-DOOMES UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This is a civil action involving claims for damages based upon the injuries allegedly sustained by Kristine Monroe (“Kristine”) and her minor daughter, Taylor Monroe (“Taylor”) (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) in East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana.[1] Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that on April 1, 2018, Kristine brought her 2005 Honda Accord to a Sam's Club retail store owned and/or operated by Sam's West, Inc. (“Sam's”) and Walmart, Inc. (“Walmart”) (collectively, “Defendants”) for the replacement of one of the car's tires. Later the day the tire was replaced, Kristine drove the car on Interstate 110 with her daughter as a passenger. Plaintiffs allege that the car began to shake and then Kristine lost control of the car “as the vehicle rolled over on its sides” (the “Accident”).[2] Plaintiffs allege that the Accident was caused by the fault and negligence of Defendants for failing to properly re-affix the wheel to the car.[3]

         On or about March 29, 2019, Kristine and her husband Ronald Monroe (“Ronald”) filed their Petition for Damages (“Petition”) against Defendants in the Nineteenth Judicial District Court for the Parish of East Baton Rouge, individually and on behalf of Taylor as her parents and natural tutor.[4] On May 15, 2019, Defendants removed the matter to this Court asserting that this Court has diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332.[5]

         Proper information regarding the citizenship of all parties, and the amount in controversy, is necessary to establish the Court's diversity jurisdiction, as well as to make the determination required under 28 U.S.C. § 1441 regarding whether the case was properly removed to this Court. The Notice of Removal alleges that Plaintiffs are domiciliaries of Louisiana, Walmart is a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Arkansas, and Sam's is an Arkansas corporation with its principal place of business in Arkansas; therefore, complete diversity of citizenship appears to exist.[6]

         It is not clear from the Notice of Removal or the Petition whether Plaintiffs' claims likely exceed $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs.[7] The Petition alleges Plaintiffs' injuries as follows:

As a result of the accident referred to [] herein, Petitioner Kristine Monroe, and her minor daughter Taylor Monroe, sustained severe and disabling bodily injuries.
As a result of the accident and injuries referred to herein, Petitioner Kristine Monroe and her minor daughter Taylor Monroe have suffered disabling and debilitating physical and emotional pain and injury, and will continue to suffer such pain and injury in the future.
Petition (sic) Kristine Monroe and her minor daughter Taylor Monroe have suffered special damages in the form of medical expenses incurred as a result of the accident in suit herein, and will continue to suffer such special damages in the future.
As a result of the accident and injuries referred to herein, Petitioner Kristine Monroe has been caused to suffer from an impairment of her quality of life.[8]

         In connection with Kristine's and Taylor's injuries and medical expenses, Plaintiffs seek “reasonable” damages on behalf of Kristine and Taylor, and loss of consortium damages on behalf of Ronald due to the injuries sustained by Kristine and Taylor.[9] Ronald, the registered owner of the car, seeks damages for repair/total loss damages related to the car.[10] Plaintiffs also seek “judgment in an amount reasonable for the injuries sustained by Petitioners…and the past, present, and future damages advanced by Petitioners herein, ” as well as interest and court costs.[11]

         In the Notice of Removal, Defendants rely on the above allegations as support for the assertion that “All of these damage allegations make it facially apparent that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs.”[12] Additionally, Defendants assert that on May 7, 2019, they requested that Plaintiffs executed a proposed stipulation that the amount in controversy does not exceed the jurisdictional minimum; however, on May 13, 2019, Plaintiffs' counsel responded and “refused” to sign the stipulation.[13] According to Defendants, “This refusal clearly supports that Plaintiffs' amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs.”[14] Defendants then removed the matter to this Court.

         The foregoing does not provide enough information to determine if Plaintiffs' claims will exceed $75, 000 exclusive of interest and costs. First, Plaintiffs' general allegations in the Petition of “severe and disabling bodily injuries, ” “disabling and debilitating physical and emotional pain and injury, ” and “an impairment of [Kristine's] quality of life”)[15] and demands for general categories of damages (e.g., “reasonable” damages, “special damages in the form of medical expenses, ” “loss of consortium damages, ” and “repair and total loss damages” with respect to the car)[16] are insufficient to establish the amount in controversy. “Courts have routinely held that pleading general categories of damages, such as ‘pain and suffering, disability, lost wages, loss of earning capacity, medical expenses, etc.,' without any indication of the amount of the damages sought, does not provide sufficient information for the removing defendant to meet his burden of proving that the amount in controversy is satisfied under the ‘facially apparent' test.” Davis v. JK & T Wings, Inc., and cases cited therein.[17]

         In this case, there is no description of any of the actual injuries suffered by any of the Plaintiffs, the nature of Plaintiffs' medical treatment, the actual amount of medical expenses Plaintiffs have incurred thus far, the nature of Kristine's alleged “impairment of quality of life, ” Plaintiffs' prognosis and recommended future treatment, and whether Kristine is working/can work. Defendants have not offered any specific medical information regarding Plaintiffs' injuries, treatment, prognosis, and expenses in support of the amount in controversy. Defendants have also not offered any specific information regarding the alleged damage to the car. There is also no evidence of any settlement demands, discovery responses, or relevant documents produced in discovery that would have bearing on the amount in controversy.

         Further, Defendants' reliance on Plaintiffs' response to the proposed stipulation, i.e., “[b]ased upon recent conversations with the client, at this time we cannot complete the stipulation, ”[18] is also insufficient to establish the amount in controversy. It is not clear from this response whether Plaintiffs cannot stipulate because they do not believe their damages exceed $75, 000 or because they do not know. Regardless, a Plaintiff's refusal to stipulate that his damages are below the federal jurisdictional minimum, while it may be considered, is not determinative of whether the amount in controversy is met.[19] Based on the foregoing and ...


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