United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
A. MCHUGH, J.
Hamlet Garcia, II brings this civil action against the Bank
of America Corporation. For the following reasons, the Court
will grant Mr. Garcia leave to proceed in forma
pauperis and will dismiss the Complaint for lack of
subject matter jurisdiction without prejudice to Mr. Garcia
refiling his claims in state court.
Garcia alleges that in March of 2017, Bank of America
("BOA") "confiscate[ed]" a check made out
to him from the IRS for approximately $1, 6901.00. (Compl. at
1.) He contends that he informed BOA of the mistake on March
23, 2017, and that a representative "stated to wait
until the BOA returns the check as they cannot cash a check
that is under a different name." (Id.) The
check was improperly deposited to another account on March
29, 2017. (Id.) According to Mr. Garcia, the holder
of that account gave notice to BOA of the unauthorized
transaction on April 1, 2017. (Id.) BOA directed Mr.
Garcia to file an amended tax form. (Id.) On October
10, 2017, Mr. Hamlet was directed to address all questions to
Green Dot. (Id.) Green Dot then notified BOA about
the mistake in depositing the check, and BOA "replied
'...account closed . . .". (Id.) Mr. Garcia
believes that his funds are still in BOA's possession.
(Id. at 2.) As relief, he requests the original $1,
691.00 as well as $100, 000.00 "for trespassing and
theft." (Id.) He also states that "[o]ne
dollar will be added . . .for every second [he is] without
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Court grants Mr. Garcia leave to proceed in forma
pauperis because it appears that he is not capable of
paying the fees to commence this civil action. Accordingly,
28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) applies, which requires the
Court to dismiss the complaint if it is frivolous, malicious,
or fails to state a claim, or seeks relief from an immune
defendant. Moreover, "if the court determines at any
time that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, the court
must dismiss the action." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3). As Mr.
Garcia is proceeding pro se, the Court construes his
allegations liberally. Higgs v. Att'y Gen., 655
F.3d 333, 339 (3d Cir. 2011).
Court understands Mr. Garcia to be raising a fraud, forgery,
or trespass claim under state law against BOA. The only
possible basis for subject matter jurisdiction is 28 U.S.C.
§ 1332(a), which grants district courts jurisdiction
over a case in which "the matter in controversy exceeds
the sum or value of $75, 000, exclusive of interest and
costs, and is between . . . citizens of different
states." Here, Mr. Garcia's Complaint fails to
establish that the parties are diverse for purposes of §
event, the amount in controversy does not exceed the
jurisdictional threshold. "As a general rule, [the
amount in controversy] is determined from the good faith
allegations appearing on the face of the complaint."
Spectacor Mgmt. Grp. v. Brown, 131 F.3d 120, 122 (3d
Cir. 1997). "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."
Dardovitch v. Haltzman, 190 F.3d 125, 135 (3d Cir.
1999) (quotations omitted). Punitive damages "must
[also] be considered in determining the amount in
controversy." Coulter v. Paul Laurence Dunbar Cmty.
Ctr., 685 Fed.Appx. 161, 165 (3d Cir. 2017) (citations
Pennsylvania law, punitive damages do not have to be
"proportional" to the compensatory damages. See
Moss v. Aaron's, Inc., 140 F.Supp.3d 441, 449 (E.D.
Pa. 2015) ("When punitive damages are awarded along with
compensatory damages, the punitive damages need not be
proportional to the compensatory damages.") (citing
Kirkbride v. Lisbon Contractors, Inc., 555 A.2d 800,
803-04 (Pa. 1989)). However, "[w]hile States possess
discretion over the imposition of punitive damages, it is
well established that there are procedural and substantive
constitutional limitations on these awards." State
Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Campbell, 538 U.S. 408,
416-17 (2003) (citations omitted). While there is no
"bright-line ratio" for courts to apply, "few
awards exceeding a single-digit ratio between punitive and
compensatory damages, to a significant degree, will satisfy
due process." Id. at 425 (explaining that,
historically, double, treble, or quadruple damages have been
used to deter and punish) (citation omitted).
it is apparent from Mr. Garcia's Complaint that his
actual damages are $1, 691.00 even though he seeks, at
minimum, $101, 691.00. Thus, Mr. Garcia would need to receive
a punitive damages award of $73, 309.00 in order to satisfy
the amount in controversy requirement. Such an award would
result in a ratio of punitive and compensatory damages of
43:1, which far exceeds ratios that have been deemed
unconstitutional. See, e.g., CGB Occupational Therapy,
Inc. v. RHA Health Servs., Inc., 499 F.3d 184, 193 (3d
Cir. 2007) ("Heeding the Supreme Court's admonition
that few awards exceeding the single-digit threshold will
satisfy due process, we conclude that the 18:1 ratio in this
case crosses the line into constitutional impropriety.")
(citing Pacific Mut. Life Ins. Co. v. Haslip, 499
U.S. 1, 24 (1991)). Accordingly, it is clear to a legal
certainty that Mr. Garcia's damages do not exceed the
jurisdictional threshold and that subject matter jurisdiction
is lacking. If Mr. Garcia seeks to pursue his claims, he must
proceed in state court.
foregoing reasons, the Court will dismiss Mr. Garcia's
Complaint without prejudice to his right to refile his claims
in state court. Mr. Garcia will not be given leave to amend
because amendment would be futile. See Grayson v. Mayview
State Hosp.,293 F.3d 103, 112-13 (3d ...