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Tuckey v. Intermatic, Inc.

United States District Court, Third Circuit

January 24, 2014

STEPHEN F. TUCKEY, Plaintiff,
v.
INTERMATIC, INC., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM

CHRISTOPHER C. CONNER, District Judge.

Presently before the court in the above-captioned action is plaintiff Stephen Tuckey's ("Tuckey") motion to remand to state court. (Doc. 9). Tuckey contends that the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a) because the amount in controversy does not exceed $75, 000. Therefore, he requests that the court remand the above-captioned matter to state court. For the reasons that follow, the court will deny the motion.

I. Factual Background and Procedural History

The instant action arises from a fire at the home of plaintiff Stephen Tuckey on November 29, 2011. (Doc. 1, Ex. A ¶¶ 4-5). In his complaint, Tuckey alleges that a defective timer sold by defendant Intermatic, Inc. ("Intermatic") caught on fire and caused extensive property damage. (Id.) On June 20, 2013, Tuckey instituted a state court action against Intermatic in the Court of Common Pleas of Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, alleging claims of negligence, strict liability, and breach of express and implied warranties. (Id. ¶¶ 6-21). Tuckey seeks judgment against Intermatic "in an amount in excess of $50, 000.00, plus costs incident to this suit, delay damages, and attorney fees." (Id.)

On August 6, 2013, Intermatic removed this action to federal court in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 3-13). The parties agree that diversity of citizenship exists. (Id. ¶ 8; id., Ex. A ¶¶ 1-2). Tuckey resides in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, and Intermatic is a Delaware corporation, with its principal place of business in Illinois. (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 3, 7-8; id., Ex. A ¶¶ 1-2; Doc. 4 ¶ 2). However, on December 16, 2013, Tuckey filed the instant motion to remand to state court. (Doc. 9). Tuckey asserts that the amount in controversy will not exceed $75, 000 as required for diversity jurisdiction. (Id. ¶ 4; see also id., Exs. C-E). Intermatic argues that the damages will likely exceed $75, 000 due to unspecified delay damages. (Doc. 11 at 7-11). The motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition.

II. Legal Standard

Under 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a), a defendant may remove an action brought in state court to federal district court if the claims fall within the scope of federal jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a); Allbritton Commc'ns Co. v. NLRB , 766 F.2d 812, 820 (3d Cir. 1985). However, a plaintiff may challenge the removal to district court for lack of jurisdiction by filing a motion to remand to state court. See Dunfee v. Allstate Ins. Co., No. 08-CV-01425, 2008 WL 2579799, at *2 (E.D. Pa. June 26, 2008). If the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the district court must remand the action to state court. See 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c).

As the removing party asserting federal jurisdiction, the defendant bears the burden of proving that the action is properly before the district court. See McNutt v. Gen. Motors Acceptance Corp. of Ind. , 298 U.S. 178, 189 (1936); Packard v. Provident Nat'l Bank , 994 F.2d 1039, 1045 (3d Cir. 1993); Boyer v. Snap-On Tools Corp. , 913 F.2d 108, 111 (3d Cir. 1990). In order to establish diversity jurisdiction, the defendant must establish that the matter is between citizens of different states and the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). In the case sub judice, the parties do not dispute diverse citizenship because Tuckey is a resident of Pennsylvania and Intermatic is incorporated in Delaware with its principal place of business in Illinois; however, Tuckey asserts that the alleged damages do not satisfy the amount in controversy requirement.

The Supreme Court established the prevailing standard by which the court must consider a challenge to the amount in controversy requirement:

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.

St. Paul Mercury Indem. Co. v. Red Cab Co. , 303 U.S. 283, 288-89 (1938). When applying this standard, federal courts must be certain that the jurisdictional threshold cannot be met before dismissal is appropriate. See, e.g., Columbia Gas Transmission Corp. v. Tarbuck , 62 F.3d 538, 541 (3d Cir. 1995); Nelson v. Keefer , 451 F.2d 289, 293 (3d Cir. 1971); Jaconski v. Avisun Corp. , 359 F.2d 931 (3d Cir. 1966) ("[The test] is whether it appears to a legal certainty' that [plaintiff] cannot recover an amount above the jurisdictional minimum.").

The plaintiff is the "master of the case" and may limit the claims in the complaint to keep the amount in controversy below the jurisdictional threshold. Morgan v. Gay , 471 F.3d 469, 474 (3d Cir. 2006) (internal quotations and citation omitted). When the plaintiff does not specifically aver in the complaint that the amount in controversy is less than $75, 000, the court applies a two-step analysis for a motion to remand to state court. See Samuel-Bassett v. KIA Motors Am., Inc. , 357 F.3d 392, 397-98 (3d Cir. 2004). First, the defendant has the burden of establishing by competent proof and by a preponderance of the evidence that the claims exceed $75, 000. See id.; see also McNutt , 298 U.S. at 189. Second, once the defendant meets this burden, the court must determine whether it is apparent to a "legal certainty" that the plaintiff cannot recover more than the amount in controversy. See Samuel-Bassett , 357 F.3d at 397-98. If the plaintiff cannot recover more than $75, 000 to a "legal certainty, " the court must dismiss the action. Id . at 397.

III. Discussion

With the above legal standard in mind, the court must determine whether the instant action satisfies the amount in controversy requirement for diversity jurisdiction. In the complaint, Tuckey seeks compensatory damages "in an amount in excess of $50, 000.00, plus costs incident to this suit, delay damages, and attorney fees." (Doc. 1, Ex. A). The court notes that Tuckey does not specifically limit his claim for damages to less than $75, 000. Accordingly, the court will apply the two-step Samuel-Bassett ...


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