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Kukla v. Wal-Mart Stores East, L.P.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

December 8, 2017

WILLIAM KUKLA & MARY KUKLA
v.
WAL-MART STORES EAST, LP,

          MEMORANDUM

          R. BARCLAY SURRICK, J.

         Presently before the Court is Plaintiffs' Motion to Remand. (ECF No. 4.) For the following reasons, Plaintiffs' Motion will be denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff William Kukla alleges that he suffered serious injuries on July 6, 2016, while on the premises of Defendant Wal-Mart Stores East, LP, when a rolling door in the rear delivery area of the Wal-Mart fell down on Kukla and struck him in the head and neck. (Compl. ¶ 7, Def.'s Notice of Removal Ex. A, ECF No. 1.) Kukla was making a delivery to the Wal-Mart at the time, acting in his capacity as a driver and deliveryman for New Penn Motor Express. (Id. ¶¶ 7-8.) On June 1, 2017, Kukla filed a Complaint against Wal-Mart in the Court of Common Pleas for Philadelphia County, asserting a claim of negligence and seeking damages “in excess of $50, 000” for his injuries, medical bills, and pain and suffering. (Id. ¶¶ 11-16.) Mary Kukla, William Kukla's wife, asserted a claim for loss of consortium, also seeking damages “in excess of $50, 000.” (Id. ¶¶ 18-22.) On July 28, 2017, Wal-Mart filed an Answer to Plaintiffs' Complaint. (Def.'s Answer, ECF No. 3.)

         On September 12, 2017, Plaintiffs filed and provided Defendant with a “Case Management Conference Memorandum.” (Not. of Removal Ex. B.) This Memorandum set forth William Kukla's injuries and his medical expenses. (Id.) It also indicated that there was an outstanding workers' compensation lien of $153, 000, and set forth a settlement demand of $500, 000. (Id.) On October 5, 2017, Defense counsel emailed Plaintiffs' counsel to notify Plaintiffs of Defendant's intent to remove the matter to federal court. (Def.'s Resp. Ex. A, ECF No. 5.) Plaintiffs' counsel responded, stating that the “time period for removal has tolled.” (Id.) Defense counsel asked Plaintiffs' counsel what the basis was for thinking that the removal window had tolled. (Id.) He never received a response. (Id.; Def.'s Resp. ¶ 4.)

         On October 11, 2017, Wal-Mart filed a Notice of Removal. On October 26, 2017, Plaintiffs filed the instant Motion to Remand. (Mot. to Remand, ECF No. 4.) Attached to Plaintiffs' Motion is a “Statement of Claim.” (Id. Ex. 3.) This document, purportedly prepared on May 24, 2017, provides a detailed breakdown of William Kukla's medical bills and expected wage losses, and it notes the $153, 000 workers' compensation lien and the $500, 000 demand. (Id.) Plaintiffs contend that this Statement of Claim was sent to Wal-Mart on or about May 24, 2017. (Mot. to Remand ¶ 4.) Wal-Mart claims that it never received this document and had never seen it before it was attached to Plaintiffs' Motion to Remand. (Def.'s Resp. ¶ 4.) On October 30, 2017, Wal-Mart asked Plaintiffs' counsel to provide any information related to the Statement of Claim. (Id.) On November 8, 2017, Wal-Mart received an email from Plaintiffs' counsel. (Id.) There was no text in the body of the email but the email did have a PDF of a letter attached to it. (Id.) The PDF letter was written on the letterhead of Plaintiffs' counsel, was dated May 23, 2017, and purported to accompany a “specials package with a Statement of Claim ….” (Def.'s Resp. Ex. B.) Wal-Mart filed a Response to Plaintiffs' Motion to Remand on November 9, 2017.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         “[A]ny 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 or the defendants, to the district court of the United States for the district and division embracing the place where such action is pending.” 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). A defendant may remove a civil action to a district court in cases 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).

         Removal statutes “are to be strictly construed against removal and all doubts should be resolved in favor of remand.” In re Briscoe, 448 F.3d 201, 217 (3d Cir. 2006) (quoting Batoff v. State Farm Ins. Co., 977 F.2d 848, 851 (3d Cir. 1992)). The party seeking federal jurisdiction through removal has the burden of showing that the case is properly before the federal court. Frederico v. Home Depot, 507 F.3d 188, 193 (3d Cir. 2007).

         III. DISCUSSION

         The central issue in this dispute is whether Wal-Mart timely sought removal under 28 U.S.C § 1446(b). Plaintiffs do not dispute that this case satisfies both the complete diversity and amount in controversy requirements for federal jurisdiction.[1] Instead, Plaintiffs argue that Wal-Mart missed its deadline to file for removal. Plaintiffs contend that Wal-Mart was put on notice of the amount in controversy here when it was sent the Statement of Claim document on May 24, 2017. They also argue that the Complaint, filed on June 1, 2017, set forth both William and Mary's individual demands for sums in excess of $50, 000, and so a “simple calculation” (i.e., 50, 000 50, 000 = 100, 000) would have made clear to Wal-Mart that the damages exceeded $75, 000. (Mot. to Remand ¶ 3.) Plaintiffs argue that because Wal-Mart did not file a notice of removal until October, 11, 2017, it missed the 30-day removal window.

         Wal-Mart argues that the separate nature of William and Mary's claims prevents them from being aggregated to satisfy the amount in controversy requirement, and so the Complaint could not have put Wal-Mart on notice of removability. Wal-Mart further argues that it never received the Statement of Claim prior to it being attached to Plaintiffs' Motion to Remand, and so it only became aware of the matter's removability when it received the Case Management Conference Memorandum noting the workers' compensation lien and $500, 000 settlement demand. Wal-Mart filed for removal less than 30 days after receiving that document, and therefore contends it did not miss the filing deadline.

         A. Removability Based on the Initial Pleading

         In general, a defendant must file a notice of removal “within thirty days after the receipt by the defendant … of a copy of the initial pleading setting forth a claim for relief upon which such action or proceeding is based ….” 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b)(1). However, this 30-day window for removal is “only triggered when ‘the four corners of the pleading … informs the reader, to a substantial degree of specificity, [that] all the elements of federal jurisdiction are present.'” In re Asbestos Prods. Liab. Litig. (No. VI), 770 F.Supp.2d 736, 740 (E.D. Pa. 2011) (quoting Foster v. ...


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