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Echevarria v. Schindler Elevator Corp.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

January 26, 2015

ANGELICA ECHEVARRIA Plaintiff,
v.
SCHINDLER ELEVATOR CORP. and SCHINDLER ENTERPRISES, INC. Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

C. DARNELL JONES, II, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff commenced a suit against Defendants in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas for injuries she allegedly sustained while entering an elevator on Defendants' premises. Defendants removed the action to this Court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction, claiming that although Plaintiff's state court demand was for damages "not in excess of $50, 000, " she could recover more than that if the matter results in an arbitration appeal. Defendants further claimed removal was appropriate because of Plaintiff's refusal to sign a stipulation capping damages at $75, 000. Upon removal, Plaintiff filed the instant Motion for Remand.

For the reasons set forth hereinbelow, Plaintiff's Motion shall be granted.

II. FACTUAL & PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff alleges that on or about July 18, 2012, she was caught and pinned by elevator doors closing on her in the middle elevator on the fourth floor of Defendants' premises. (Compl. ¶ 6.) As a result of this incident, Plaintiff alleges she suffered "severe and permanent bodily injury" and seeks to hold Defendants liable under various theories of negligence. (Compl. ¶¶ 7, 10.) On April 4, 2014, Plaintiff filed her Complaint in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. However, Defendants removed same on April 25, 2014, claiming diversity jurisdiction. (Removal Notice ¶¶ 2-4, 8.) On July 7, 2014, Plaintiff filed the instant Motion to Remand. (Mot. Remand, 1). Diversity of citizenship is not disputed: Plaintiff is a citizen and resident of Pennsylvania, while Defendants are incorporated in Delaware with their principal place of business in New Jersey.[1] (Compl. ¶ 1; Removal Notice, ¶ 3.) Instead, the issue at bar is amount in controversy.

Although Plaintiff notes that she would "demand[] a jury trial in an amount in excess of $50, 000" if an arbitration decision is appealed at the state level, her prayers for relief demand judgment "not in excess of $50, 000, plus all reasonable costs and any other relief the court deems necessary." (Compl. ¶¶ 8, 15, 22, 24.) Defendants offered a stipulation to cap damages at $75, 000 and Plaintiff refused to sign same. (Removal Notice, Ex. B; Pl.'s Remand Br. n.2.)

Plaintiff's Complaint sets forth general and specific allegations of injury. She alleges in pertinent part that she suffered "various serious and permanent personal injuries, serious impairment of body function and/or permanent serious disfigurement, and/or aggravation of pre-existing conditions, including, but not limited to: arm and shoulder contusion; neck sprains and strains, and any other ills, injuries, all to plaintiff's great loss and detriment." (Compl. ¶ 11.) Plaintiff further claims that she has suffered "great financial detriment, " and has, is, and "may in the future suffer great pain, anguish, sickness and agony and will continue to suffer for an indefinite time." (Compl.¶ 12.) Plaintiff alleges that she suffered emotional and physical injuries, and as a result "may in the future undergo a great loss of earnings and/or earning capacity." (Compl. ¶¶ 13-14.) Finally, Plaintiff alleges she has incurred or will incur "medical, rehabilitative and other related expenses in the amount equal to and/or in excess of any applicable health insurance coverage for which plaintiff has not been reimbursed." (Compl. ¶ 15.)

III. DISCUSSION

A. Diversity Jurisdiction

"Except as otherwise expressly provided by an Act of Congress, any civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction, may be removed by the defendant..." 28 U.S.C.A. § 1441(a). Section 1446 clarifies that removal is accomplished by filing a Notice of Removal in the appropriate U.S. District Court within 30 days of receipt of the original pleading by defendant. 28 U.S.C. § 1446 (a), (b). That notice must contain a short and plain statement of the grounds for removal. Id. In cases in which subject-matter jurisdiction is lacking, remand is appropriate. 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). "[R]emoval thus depends on whether the case originally could have been filed in federal court." City of Chicago v. Int'l Coll. of Surgeons, 522 U.S. 156, 163 (1997).

The United States District Courts are "courts of limited jurisdiction." Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Allapattah Servs., Inc., 545 U.S. 546, 552 (2005). Under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a), this Court has subject-matter jurisdiction if the controversy is (1) between citizens of different states; and (2) the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000, because in such instances, diversity jurisdiction exists. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). The amount in controversy requirement is significant "[t]o ensure that diversity jurisdiction does not flood the federal courts with minor disputes." Exxon Mobil, 545 U.S. at 552. The amount in controversy applies to both removed cases and those originally filed in federal court." Samuel-Bassett v. KIA Motors Am., Inc., 357 F.3d 392, 396 (3d Cir. 2004). When assessing the propriety of removal, "all doubts [should be] resolved in favor of remand." Brown v. Francis, 75 F.3d 860, 865 (3d Cir. 1996).

B. Burden of Proof

The Federal Courts Jurisdiction and Venue Clarification Act of 2011, H.R. 394, P.L. 112-63, standardized how courts evaluate the amount in controversy requirement for removal actions.[2] This provision, codified at 28 U.S.C. § 1446(c)(2), states that the "sum demanded in good faith in the initial pleading shall be deemed to be the amount in controversy." 28 U.S.C. § 1446(c)(2).[3] If the initial pleading seeks "nonmonetary relief" or "the State practice does not permit demand for a specific sum or permits recovery of damages in excess of the amount demanded, " then "removal of the action ...


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