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JOHNSON v. GERBER PRODS. CO.

December 18, 1996

MICHELLE JOHNSON, Plaintiff
v.
GERBER PRODUCTS CO., Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: PADOVA

 Padova, J.

 December 18, 1996

 Plaintiff, Michelle Johnson, originally filed this action in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County on April 23, 1996, as a putative class action. As in a number of other recent cases brought in various parts of the country, the gravamen of the Complaint is that Defendant, Gerber Products Company ("Gerber"), intentionally used false and misleading advertising to misrepresent the nutritional value of much of its baby food. See e.g., Bernard v. Gerber Food Products Co., 938 F. Supp. 218 (S.D.N.Y. 1966); Tylka v. Gerber Products Co, 1996 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 8480, 1996 WL 341441, Nos. 96-1647-49, 96-1664 (N.D. Ill., June 14, 1996). As part of its plan to remove all such cases to federal court and then transfer them to the Western District of Michigan, Gerber removed this case to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C.A. § 1441 (West 1994), claiming federal jurisdiction in diversity under 28 U.S.C.A. § 1332 (West 1993). *fn1" Plaintiff now moves to remand the case to state court pursuant to 28 U.S.C.A. § 1447(c) (West 1994), claiming this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction because her claim does not exceed $ 50,000, exclusive of interest and costs, as required by statute. 28 U.S.C.A. § 1332. For reasons discussed below, I will grant Plaintiff's Motion to Remand.

 BACKGROUND

 Plaintiff's Complaint alleges that Gerber, which dominates the baby food market, has been conducting, and continues to conduct a pervasive campaign of false and misleading advertising. Gerber allegedly states in advertisements that its baby food products are nutritionally equal or superior to other brands of baby food when, in fact, many of its products are allegedly nutritionally inferior in that they contain modified starch, sugar, and water. Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to the consumer protection statutes of all fifty states and the District of Columbia. In addition she sues for common law fraud, negligent representation, and breach of express warranty. The class period began on February 15, 1990, at which time Plaintiff claims that she began purchasing the Gerber products in question.

 In her Complaint, Plaintiff seeks class certification, compensatory damages, reasonable attorneys' fees, injunctive relief to stop the false and misleading advertising and provide corrective advertising, and any other relief the Court deems appropriate. The Complaint contains no specific dollar amount demand for Plaintiff as an individual or for the class.

 In her Motion to Remand, Plaintiff asserts that her individual claims do not and cannot exceed $ 50,000. She further states that, as a matter of law, class plaintiffs cannot aggregate the value of their claims, punitive damages, or attorneys' fees to meet the jurisdictional amount. Therefore, she argues, this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction.

 DISCUSSION

 A. Aggregation of Compensatory and Punitive Damages

 Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction and have only the power given them by the Constitution and federal statutes. Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co., 511 U.S. 375, 114 S. Ct. 1673, 1675, 128 L. Ed. 2d 391 (1994); Employers Ins. of Wausau v. Crown Cork & Seal Co., 905 F.2d 42, 45 (3d Cir. 1990). Federal district courts have diversity jurisdiction over civil actions "where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $ 50,000, exclusive of interest and costs, and is between citizens of different states." 28 U.S.C.A. § 1332(a). As the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has stated, "This provision must be narrowly construed so as not to frustrate the congressional purpose behind it: to keep the diversity caseload of the federal courts under some modicum of control." Packard v. Provident National Bank, 994 F.2d 1039, 1044-45 (3d Cir.), cert. denied sub nom. Upp v. Mellon Bank, N.A., 510 U.S. 964, 114 S. Ct. 440, 126 L. Ed. 2d 373 (1993). "The removal statute should be construed strictly and all doubts should be resolved in favor of remand." Abels v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Co., 770 F.2d 26, 29 (3d Cir. 1985). Where a plaintiff and defendant clash over jurisdiction, uncertainties are to be resolved in favor of remand. Boyer v. Snap-On Tools Corp., 913 F.2d 108, 111 (3d Cir. 1990), cert. denied, 498 U.S. 1085, 111 S. Ct. 959, 112 L. Ed. 2d 1046 (1991). Neff v. General Motors Corp., 163 F.R.D. 478, 481 (E.D. Pa. 1995). Because Gerber has invoked federal jurisdiction, it bears the burden of showing that such jurisdiction exists. Columbia Gas Transmission Corp. v. Tarbuck, 62 F.3d 538, 541 (3d Cir. 1995).

 With respect to jurisdictional amount, Gerber claims that dismissal and remand are appropriate only if this Court is certain that the jurisdictional amount cannot be met. That is a fair statement of the law with respect to cases originally brought in federal court, but the standard for cases removed from state court may be somewhat different. In St. Paul Mercury Indem. Co. v. Red Cab Co., 303 U.S. 283, 58 S. Ct. 586, 82 L. Ed. 845 (1938), the Supreme Court stated, on the one hand, that the jurisdictional amount in controversy would be deemed satisfied unless it appeared "to a legal certainty" that a plaintiff's claim was for less than that amount. 303 U.S. at 289, 58 S. Ct. at 590-91. On the other hand, the Court stated that, in a case removed from state court, "there is a strong presumption that the plaintiff has not claimed a large amount in order to confer jurisdiction on a federal court" because she could have brought the case in federal court had she so desired. *fn2" 303 U.S. at 290-91, 58 S. Ct. at 591. This presumption is reinforced by the Third Circuit's directive to resolve uncertainties in favor of remand. Boyer, 913 F.2d at 111. In this case, however, the result is the same whether a stricter or more lenient standard is used.

 In calculating the amount in controversy in class actions, class plaintiffs cannot aggregate the value of their individual claims to meet the jurisdictional amount, and Gerber has not claimed that the actual damages suffered by any single plaintiff meet the jurisdictional amount. Snyder v. Harris, 394 U.S. 332, 338, 89 S. Ct. 1053, 1067, 22 L. Ed. 2d 319 (1969); Packard, 994 F.2d at 1045. Gerber does, however, claim that the punitive damages meet the jurisdictional amount because, it argues, each class plaintiff has an undivided interest in the punitive claim.

 While the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has not spoken on this point, district courts in this Circuit have not allowed the aggregation of punitive damages in class actions for purposes of meeting the jurisdictional amount. See, e.g., Hamel v. Allstate Indemnity Co., 1996 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 2685, No. 95-6554, 1996 WL 106210 (E.D. Pa., March 5, 1996) (punitive damages cannot be aggregated under principle of Snyder v. Harris where "each class member was injured individually, and in a unique amount that in theory must be proved separately"); Pierson v. Source Perrier, S.A., 848 F. Supp. 1186, 1189 (E.D. Pa. 1994) (in class action claiming false advertising of bottled water, defendant's cost of complying with injunction cannot be used in determining amount in controversy); Garcia v. General Motors Corp., 910 F. Supp. 160, 166 (D.N.J. 1995) ("If each of the Putative Plaintiffs must independently satisfy the amount in controversy with respect to damages, it is illogical to depart from that requirement in the case of punitive damages"); Bishop v. General Motors Corp. 925 F. Supp. 294 (D.N.J. 1996) (punitive damages may be aggregated only where there is a single indivisible res, such as a piece of property); Weinberg v. Sprint Corp., 165 F.R.D. 431, 442 (D.N.J. 1996) (punitive damages in class action against long-distance telephone company for fraudulent advertising could not be aggregated to meet jurisdictional amount because each plaintiff was injured individually). The court in Garcia stated that aggregating punitive class damages "would undermine the purpose and intent ...


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