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Franklin v. Tom Hassel Transport, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

July 2, 2019

WAYNE FRANKLIN, SR.
v.
TOM HASSEL TRANSPORT, INC., ET AL.

         SECTION: “H”

          ORDER AND REASONS

          JANE TRICHE MILAZZO UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion to Remand (Doc. 6). For the following reasons, the Motion is GRANTED .

         BACKGROUND

         This personal injury suit arises out of a motor vehicle accident that occurred on May 15, 2018 in Orleans Parish. The accident was between Plaintiff Wayne Franklin Sr. and Defendant Nathaniel McDaniel. At the time of the accident, Defendant McDaniel was allegedly acting within the course and scope of his employment with Defendant Tom Hassel Transport, Inc., which is insured by Defendant National Interstate Insurance Company (“National”).

         On March 10, 2019, Defendant National removed Plaintiff's suit to this Court on diversity grounds. On April 9, 2019, Plaintiff filed the instant Motion to Remand arguing that diversity jurisdiction does not exist because the amount in controversy does not exceed $75, 000.[1] Defendants oppose.[2]

         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.[3] The burden is on the removing party to show “that federal jurisdiction exists and that removal was proper.”[4] When determining whether federal jurisdiction exists, courts consider “the claims in the state court petition as they existed at the time of removal.”[5] District courts must “strictly construe” the removal statute, “and any doubt about the propriety of removal must be resolved in favor of remand.”[6] “If at any time before final judgment it appears that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the case shall be remanded.”[7]

         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.[8] Here, the parties agree that complete diversity exists; 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.”[9] Here, Plaintiff's petition does not seek a specific sum of damages. That's because Louisiana law prohibits plaintiffs in personal injury suits from alleging a “specific monetary amount of damages.”[10] Accordingly, Plaintiff's petition alleges generalized damages for past, present and future pain and suffering, medical expenses, lost wages, and any other damages which may be proven at trial.[11]

         In cases where a plaintiff does not plead a specific amount of monetary damages, there are two ways a defendant can show that the amount in controversy has been met. Under the first, a defendant need only point to the petition itself if it is “facially apparent” that the amount in controversy has been met.[12] If, however, it is not facially apparent from the petition that the amount in controversy has been met, the defendant must produce summary judgment type evidence to show that the amount in controversy is greater than $75, 000.[13]

         I. Facially Apparent Standard

         It is not “facially apparent” from a Complaint that the amount in controversy is more than $75, 000 when a plaintiff's allegations fail to describe a plaintiff's injuries in more than boilerplate terms.[14] “[S]uch allegations alone, unaccompanied by pertinent factual detail, ‘simply provide the usual and customary damages set forth by personal injury plaintiffs and do not provide the Court with any guidance as to the actual monetary amount of damages the plaintiff has or will incur.'”[15]

         Here, Plaintiff's Complaint does not assert any specific injury that would indicate that the amount in controversy has been met.[16] He merely alleges that he suffered “severe and debilitating injuries” as a result of the accident.[17] As such, it is not facially apparent from Plaintiff's Complaint that the amount in controversy is above $75, 000.

         II. Summary Judgement Evidence

         “[T]he removing defendant must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000.”[18] “An uncertainty or contingency concerning the amount of damages does not satisfy the defendant's burden of proving the amount in controversy.”[19]

         Here, Defendants have shown that Plaintiff has incurred $15, 235 in medical bills.[20] Defendants also point to an MRI report describing how plaintiff suffered annular fissures at lumbar discs at the L3/4 and L4/5 levels.[21] What Defendants have not introduced is any evidence to show that Plaintiff will suffer future damages or a loss in earning capacity. Furthermore, the MRI report reflects mostly minor injuries as a result of the accident in question.[22]

         Defendants nevertheless attempt to prove the amount in controversy is more than $75, 000 by citing to several decisions from Louisiana state courts where other plaintiffs have been awarded damages over $75, 000 for allegedly similar injuries. This is insufficient to establish subject matter jurisdiction.[23]These damages are highly individualized awards that are decided after a trial on the ...


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