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CINALLI v. KANE
March 12, 2002
ROBERT A. CINALLI, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
ROBERT C. KANE, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joyner, U.S. District Judge
This is a contract case brought by Plaintiffs Robert A. and Susan W.
Cinalli ("Plaintiffs") against a multitude of Defendants, who allegedly
had some connection with Plaintiffs' purchase of a condominium unit in
Avalon, New Jersey. Those Defendants include Robert C. and Dorothy A.
Kane ("Kanes"), the sellers of the condominium unit; Tim Kerr's Power
Play Realty ("Power Play"), the realty agency retained by the Kanes;
Chris Gallagher ("Gallagher"), the Power Play agent who handled the
Kanes' account; Avalon Real Estate Agency ("AREA"), the realty agency
retained by Plaintiffs; William Soens ("Soens"), the AREA agent who
handled Plaintiffs' account; Pillar to Post ("Pillar"), the building
inspection service hired by Plaintiffs to inspect the Kanes' condominium
unit prior to Plaintiffs' purchase; Bob Galster ("Galster"), the Pillar
employee who performed the inspection on the Kanes' property; Cornell
Harbor Condominium Association ("Cornell Harbor"), the condominium
association with which the Kanes' property was affiliated; Lois Stave
("Stave"), the President of Cornell Harbor; Joe Carnuccio ("Carnuccio"),
the Vice President of Cornell Harbor; McCorristin-Desmond
("McCorristin-Desmond"), the property managing company responsible for
maintenance of the common areas at Cornell Harbor; and Jack Desmond
("Desmond"), owner of McCorristin-Desmond (collectively "Defendants").
Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint alleges several claims against all or
some of the above Defendants. Among the claims alleged are breach of
contract/warranties; promissory estoppel; misrepresentation; negligence;
unfair trade practices; and breach of fiduciary duty. Presently before
the Court are five separate motions to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P.
12(b). Also before the Court is Plaintiffs' Motion to Transfer this case
to the District Court for the District of New Jersey. For the reasons
that follow, we will dismiss the claims against the Kanes, Cornell
Harbor, Stave, Carnuccio, McCorristin-Desmond, and Desmond for lack of
subject matter jurisdiction. Further, we will transfer Plaintiffs' claims
against Power Play, Gallagher, AREA, Soens, Pillar, and Galster to the
District of New Jersey.
The facts of this case are relatively simple. In December 1999,
Plaintiffs entered into an agreement of sale for a condominium unit
located in Avalon, New Jersey. The unit was part of a larger condominium
complex governed by Cornell Harbor. The individual unit at issue was
owned by Robert and Dorothy Kane. The closing on the sale of the property
occurred in January 2000.
Plaintiffs' purported causes of action all arise from various
Defendants' alleged material omissions, misrepresentations, and
non-disclosure about the condition of the property and surrounding
areas. Specifically, Plaintiffs claim that there were undisclosed defects
in the condominium's windows, needed repairs to the condominium complex's
bulkhead and docks, and several property code violations. As a result of
these conditions, Plaintiffs alleged they incurred certain costs which
they seek to recover in this action, along with punitive and treble
In considering a motion to dismiss, a court must accept as true all
facts alleged in a complaint and view them in the light most favorable to
the plaintiff. See Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906
(3d Cir. 1997). A motion to dismiss may only be granted where the
allegations fail to state any claim upon which relief can be granted.
See id. Notwithstanding these standards, a court "need not credit a
complaint's bald assertions or legal conclusions." See In re Burlington
Coat Factory Secs. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1429-30 (3d Cir. 1997)
(internal quotations omitted).
II. Subject-matter Jurisdiction
Federal courts have diversity jurisdiction over actions where "the
matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75,000, exclusive of
interest and costs, and is between . . . citizens of different States .
. . ." 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). This jurisdictional amount is generally
determined by the good faith allegations made by a plaintiff in his or
her complaint. See In re Life USA Holding, Inc., 242 F.3d 136, 143 (3d
Cir. 2001). The plaintiff bears the continuing burden to show that
jurisdiction is proper, and courts rigorously enforce this requirement.
See Packard v. Provident Nat'l Bank, 994 F.2d 1039, 1044-45 (3d Cir.
1993). Here, there is no question that Plaintiffs and the various
Defendants are diverse: Plaintiffs hail from Pennsylvania, the Kanes from
North Carolina, and all other Defendants from New Jersey. At issue is
whether Plaintiffs have satisfactorily established that the amount in
controversy in this case exceeds $75,000.
All parties agree that Plaintiffs have alleged actual damages of
$35,803.35. While that amount is well short of the $75,000 threshold
required under § 1332(a), Plaintiffs have also made claims under
Pennsylvania and New Jersey consumer protection acts, which can
potentially provide treble damages. In addition, Plaintiffs ask for common
law punitive damages. Plaintiffs argue that by virtue of these potential
other damages, they have satisfied the amount in controversy requirement
for subject-matter jurisdiction.
The long-held standard for determining whether a plaintiff has
satisfied the amount in controversy requirement was set out in St. Paul
Mercury Indemnity Co. v. Red Cab. Co., 303 U.S. 283, 58 S.Ct. 586, 82
L.Ed.2d 845 (1938), as follows:
The rule governing dismissal for want of
jurisdiction in cases brought in the federal court is
that, unless the law gives a different rule, the sum
claimed by the plaintiff controls if the claim is
apparently made in good faith. It must appear to a
legal certainty that the claim is really for less than
the jurisdictional amount to justify dismissal.
Id. at 288-89. The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
has further stated that "dismissal is appropriate only if the federal
court is certain that the jurisdictional amount cannot be met." Suber v.
Chrysler Corp., 104 F.3d 578, 583 (3d Cir. 1997) (quoting Columbia Gas
Transmission Corp. v. Tarbuck, 62 F.3d 538, 541 (3d Cir. 1995)). In cases
where punitive or treble damages are recoverable, these types of damages
are properly considered in determining whether the jurisdictional amount
is satisfied. See Suber, 104 F.3d at 586-87 (noting that, when
calculating amount in controversy, court should include treble damages);
Packard, 994 F.2d at 1046 (same, punitive damages). In addition, in cases
where a plaintiff has alleged "independent, several liability against
more than one defendant, plaintiff's claims against each defendant must
individually satisfy the amount in controversy requirement." C.D. Peacock
v. Neiman Marcus Group, Inc., No. CIV.A. 97-5713, 1998 WL 111738, at n. 2
(E.D.Pa. Mar. 9, 1998). In view of these principles, we must determine
whether it is a legal certainty that Plaintiffs' claims for actual,
treble and/or punitive damages in combination fall short of satisfying
the amount in controversy requirement for each Defendant.
Defendants argue that punitive damages are not available to Plaintiff
in this action. We agree.
When considering punitive damages claims, Pennsylvania courts follow
section 908(2) of the Restatement (Second) of ...