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CARRICK v. SEARS

March 17, 2003

Richard CARRICK, Plaintiff,
v.
SEARS, ROEBUCK AND CO., Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: A. RICHARD CAPUTO, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM

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.

  BACKGROUND

  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

[252 F. Supp.2d 118]

      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 consisting of:
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

  DISCUSSION

 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

[252 F. Supp.2d 119]

      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. 2003).

  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, ...


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