The opinion of the court was delivered by: A. RICHARD CAPUTO, District Judge.
Plaintiff Richard Carrick filed a complaint in the Court of Common
Pleas of Lackawanna County on November 21, 2002 against Defendant Sears,
Roebuck and Co. alleging various state law claims.*fn1 Defendant removed
the action to federal court. (Doc. 1.) Defendant filed a motion to
dismiss. (Doc. 2.) Plaintiff subsequently filed a motion for remand to
state court. (Doc. 8.) The Court heard oral arguments on February 24,
2003. This matter has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition.
Because the Court finds that Defendant has not satisfied the
amount-in-controversy requirement, the Court will grant Plaintiff's
motion to remand. Defendant's motion to dismiss will be denied as moot.
This case concerns the rates that Sears charges customers for alignment
services. According to the complaint filed in state court, Plaintiff took
his Chevrolet S-10 Blazer to Sears for an alignment. Plaintiff's Blazer,
like many SUVs and pick-up trucks, is designed so that the rear wheels
cannot be adjusted. Aligning a Blazer involves adjusting only the front
wheels. Sears charged Plaintiff $49.99 for what the invoice referred to
as an "all wheel" alignment. This is the same price Sears
charges customers whose vehicles require adjustment of all four wheels.
Plaintiff argues that Sears is essentially charging customers with
vehicles requiring adjustment of only the front two wheels for work that
is not done; viz., adjustment of the back wheels. Plaintiff states in his
state court complaint that he seeks to become representative of a class
all customers of Defendant's Auto Centers who, since
November 1996, received wheel alignments on vehicles
that were mechanically incapable of having their rear
wheel alignments adjusted and were nevertheless
charged by Defendant's Auto Centers for an "all
wheel" or four-wheel alignment.
(Pl.Compl., ¶ 31.) This case has not been certified. It remains a
"putative" class action.
Plaintiff brings action under the common law theories of breach of
contract, breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing, and unjust
enrichment. Plaintiff also brings action under 73 Pa. Stat. Ann. §
201-9.2, which authorizes a private right of action under the
Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law. In
addition to seeking class certification, Plaintiff's complaint demands
declaratory and injunctive relief, statutory damages under §
201-9.2, monetary damages pursuant to the common law contract theories,
punitive damages, and attorneys' fees.*fn2
A. Jurisdictional Questions Addressed First
Plaintiff, in his motion to remand, calls into question the Court's
subject matter jurisdiction over this case. (Doc. 8.) A federal court
cannot address a case's merits without first determining that it has
subject matter jurisdiction. See Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better
Environ., 523 U.S. 83, 94, 118 S.Ct. 1003, 140 L.Ed.2d 210 (1998). See
also Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. v. Ward Trucking Corp., 48 F.3d 742, 750 (3d
Cir. 1995) (federal courts have an "everpresent obligation to satisfy
themselves of their subject matter jurisdiction"). Therefore, the Court
addresses the motion to remand first.
B. Requirements For Removal
Defendant removed on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. Removal on
this basis requires: (1) diversity of citizenship, and (2) an amount in
controversy exceeding $75,000. Neither party disputes the diversity of
citizenship. The sole jurisdictional question is whether the
amount-in-controversy requirement has been satisfied.
C. Standard For Determining if Removal Was Proper
When deciding whether removal of a case from state court is proper, it
is important to recognize the basic principle that federal courts are
courts of limited jurisdiction. Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of
Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377, 114 S.Ct. 1673, 128 L.Ed.2d 391 (1994); Chase
Manhattan Bank (Nat'l Asso.) v. South Acres Dev. Co., 434 U.S. 236,
239-40, 98 S.Ct. 544, 54 L.Ed.2d 501 (1978). Courts must strictly
construe all removal statutes and resolve doubts about removal
jurisdiction in favor of remand.*fn3 The Court of
Appeals for the Third Circuit recently cautioned against "relying
exclusively" on the "supposed `presumption' in favor of remand," calling
this presumption a "questionable doctrine whose `basis has never been
very clearly explained.'" Cook v. Wikler, 320 F.3d 431, 436 n. 6 (3d
Cir. 2003) (citing Thomas v. Shelton, 740 F.2d 478, 488 (7th Cir.
1984)). I interpret the appeals court's words to mean that, when
considering motions to remand, courts should not allow adherence to the
general presumption to justify the omission of a rigorous "analysis of
the text and context of the [removal] statute." Id. Cook does not purport
to abolish the long-standing presumption against federal jurisdiction,
nor does Cook assert that this presumption lacks any basis in law or
logic. Compare Brown v. Francis, 75 F.3d 860, 865 (3d Cir. 1996)
("[b]ecause lack of jurisdiction would make any decree in the case void
and the continuation of the litigation in federal court futile, the
removal statute should be strictly construed and all doubts resolved in
favor of remand").*fn4 The burden of establishing federal jurisdiction
rests upon the party asserting jurisdiction. McNutt v. General Motors
Acceptance Corp., 298 U.S. 178, 182-183, 56 S.Ct. 780, 80 L.Ed. 1135
(1936). See also Ariel Land Owners v. Dring, 245 F. Supp.2d 589 (M.D.Pa.
Moreover, a plaintiff is the master of his own claim. Wilbur v. H
& R Block, Inc., 170 F. Supp.2d 480, 481 (M.D.Pa. 2000) (citing
Caterpillar, Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 391 & n. 7, 107 S.Ct.
2425, 96 L.Ed.2d 318 (1987)). Although a defendant may remove a case to
federal court in certain situations, a defendant's right to remove is not
on equal footing with a plaintiff's right to choose his forum. Wilbur,
170 F. Supp.2d at 481. When a plaintiff chooses a state forum, and the
defendant seeks to negate that choice by removing to federal court, the
defendant bears the burden of establishing, by a preponderance of the
evidence, that the case satisfies all of the jurisdictional requirements
for removal. See Wilbur, 170 F. Supp.2d at 483; Werwinski v. Ford Motor
Co., 2000 WL 375260, 2000 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 4602 at *5 n. 1 (E.D.Pa. Apr.
11, 2000), aff'd, 286 F.3d 661 (3d Cir. 2002); McFadden v. State Farm
Ins. Co., 1999 WL 715162, ...