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Stoval v. Wal-Mart Louisiana, L.L.C.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

September 12, 2019

LUCIOUS STOVAL, on behalf of his minor children, ET AL.
v.
WAL-MART LOUISIANA, L.L.C., ET AL.

         SECTION "F"

          ORDER AND REASONS

          MARTIN L. C. FELDMAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is the plaintiffs' motion to remand. For the reasons that follow, the motion is DENIED.

         Background

          This lawsuit arises from an incident in which Wal-Mart employees chasing shoplifters allegedly knocked over a cart with a child in it, causing the child to hit the concrete floor and suffer a brain injury and causing the child's family emotional distress.

         On April 8, 2018, Kennette Terrance and her two children were shopping at Wal-Mart located at 4001 Behrman Place in New Orleans. Ms. Terrance was standing with her children in a checkout line; her minor son was strapped into a shopping cart while her other child stood with her. Wal-Mart employees chasing after an alleged shoplifter ran into Ms. Terrance's shopping cart, knocking it over, and causing her son to hit his head on the concrete floor.

         Nine months later, Ms. Terrance and her husband, Lucious Stovall, Sr., sued Wal-Mart Louisiana, L.L.C., Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., and Wal-Mart, Inc. on behalf of themselves and their minor children.[1] They allege that Wal-Mart's negligence caused their son to suffer a brain injury and caused their other child to suffer mental anguish and emotional distress as a result of the accident. Finally, Mr. Stovall and Ms. Terrance claim damages for “loss of consortium, service and society along with medical expenses and other costs as a result of the subject accident.” For their minor son's “serious injuries, ” the plaintiffs seek to recover for past, present and future pain and suffering, medical expenses, and loss of earning capacity. On March 15, 2019, the defendants removed the lawsuit to this Court, invoking the Court's diversity jurisdiction.[2] The plaintiffs now move to remand.

         I.

         Although the plaintiffs challenge removal in this case, the removing defendants carry the burden of showing the propriety of this Court's removal jurisdiction. See Manguno v. Prudential Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co., 276 F.3d 720, 723 (5th Cir. 2002); see also Jernigan v. Ashland Oil, Inc., 989 F.2d 812, 815 (5th Cir. 1993). Remand is proper if at any time the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). Given the significant federalism concerns implicated by removal, the removal statute is strictly construed “and any doubt about the propriety of removal must be resolved in favor of remand.” Gutierrez v. Flores, 543 F.3d 248, 251 (5th Cir. 2008)(citation omitted); Gasch v. Hartford Accident & Indem. Co., 491 F.3d 278, 281-82 (5th Cir. 2007)(citations omitted).

         A defendant may generally remove a civil action filed in state court if the federal court has original jurisdiction over the case -- that is, if the plaintiff could have brought the action in federal court from the outset. See 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). To exercise diversity jurisdiction, complete diversity must exist between the plaintiffs and all of the properly joined defendants, and the amount in controversy must exceed $75, 000. See § 1332(a)(1). Where at least one plaintiff's claim satisfies the amount-in-controversy requirement, the Court has jurisdiction over that claim and may exercise supplemental jurisdiction over other claims that do not independently meet the $75, 000 threshold. See Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Allapattah Services, Inc., 545 U.S. 546, 599 (2005).

         The only dispute to be resolved is whether the amount-in-controversy requirement is met. To determine whether it has jurisdiction, the Court must consider the allegations in the state court petition as they existed at the time of removal. See Manguno, 276 F.3d at 723 (citing Cavallini v. State Farm Mut. Auto Ins. Co., 44 F.3d 256, 264 (5th Cir. 1995)). Louisiana law requires that a plaintiff include “no specific amount of damages” in his prayer for relief. La. Code Civ. Proc. art. 893. However, it also provides that “if a specific amount of damages is necessary to establish . . . the lack of jurisdiction of federal courts due to insufficiency of damages . . . a general allegation that the claim exceeds or is less than the requisite amount is required.” Id.

         When the plaintiff has alleged an indeterminate amount of damages, the removing party must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000. See De Aguilar v. Boeing Co., 47 F.3d 1404, 1412 (5th Cir. 1995). This showing may be made by either (1) showing that it is facially apparent that the plaintiff's claims likely exceed $75, 000, or (2) setting forth “summary judgment type evidence” of facts in controversy that support a finding of the jurisdictional amount. Manguno, 276 F.3d at 723; Luckett v. Delta Airlines, Inc., 171 F.3d 295, 298 (5th Cir. 1999). In examining the petition, courts are permitted to “make common-sense inferences about the amount put at stake by the injuries the plaintiffs claim.” Robertson v. Exxon Mobil Corp., 814 F.3d 236, 240 (5th Cir. 2015). “[I]f it is facially apparent from the petition that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000 at the time of removal, post-removal affidavits, stipulations, and amendments reducing the amount do not deprive the district court of jurisdiction.” Gebbia v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 233 F.3d 880, 883 (5th Cir. 2000). If the removing defendant cannot show that the amount in controversy is facially apparent, it may be able to “set[] forth the facts in controversy - preferably in the removal petition, but sometimes by affidavit - that support a finding of the requisite amount.” Luckett, 171 F.3d at 298. If the petition is ambiguous as to whether the alleged damages surpass the jurisdictional amount in controversy, the Court may consider a post-removal affidavit that clarifies the original complaint. Asociación Nacional de Pescadores a Pequeña Escala o Artesanales de Colombia (ANPAC) v. Dow Química de Colombia, 988 F.2d 559, 565 (5th Cir. 1993), abrogated on other grounds by Marathon Oil Co. v. Ruhgras, 145 F.3d 211, 214 (5th Cir. 1998), rev'd on other grounds, 526 U.S. 574 (1999).

         If the removing party satisfies its burden, the plaintiff can only defeat removal by showing that it is “legally certain that his recovery will not exceed the amount stated in the state complaint.” De Aguilar, 47 F.3d at 1412; see St. Paul Mercury Indem. Co. v. Red Cab Co., 303 U.S. 283, 289 (1938) (β€œIt must appear to a legal certainty that the claim is really for less than the jurisdictional amount to justify dismissal.”). Absent a statute that restricts recovery, β€œ[l]itigants who want to prevent removal must file a binding stipulation or affidavit with their complaints; once a defendant has removed ...


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