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McCartney v. Marten Transport Ltd.

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Western Division

May 9, 2018

CHRISTOPHER M. MCCARTNEY, Plaintiff,
v.
MARTEN TRANSPORT LTD., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          James R. Knepp II United States Magistrate Judge.

         Introduction

         This is a state-law wrongful discharge case removed to this Court from the Hancock County Common Pleas Court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. See Doc. 1. Currently pending before the Court is Plaintiff's motion to remand (Doc. 10), to which Defendant has responded (Doc. 11), and Plaintiff has replied (Doc. 13). Also pending before the Court are Defendant's motion to dismiss Plaintiff's original complaint (Doc. 8), Defendant's motion to dismiss Plaintiff's first amended complaint (Doc. 12), and Defendant's motion to strike (Doc. 15). For the reasons stated below, Plaintiff's motion to remand (Doc. 10) is denied; Defendant's motion to dismiss the original complaint (Doc. 8) is denied as moot; and Defendant's motion to strike (Doc. 15) is denied.

         Background

         This case, alleging wrongful discharge in violation of Ohio public policy, was originally filed in the Hancock County Court of Common Pleas on February 5, 2018. (Doc. 1-2). On March 8, 2018, Defendant removed the case to this Court, citing diversity jurisdiction. (Doc. 1). On March 15, 2018, Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss for failure to state a claim. (Doc. 8). On April 2, 2018, Plaintiff filed a motion to remand to state court. (Doc. 10). Contemporaneously, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint with an altered prayer for relief asserting he seeks “less than” $74, 500.00. (Doc. 9, at 6). Defendant opposed remand (Doc. 11), and filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff's first amended complaint (Doc. 12). Petitioner filed a Reply (Doc. 23). And this Court granted Plaintiff's motion to stay his response to the motion to dismiss (Doc. 14), until after a ruling on the remand motion. See Non-document entry dated April 24, 2018. Defendant subsequently filed a motion to strike portions of Plaintiff's reply. (Doc. 15).

         Discussion

         As a general matter, a civil case brought in a state court may be removed by a defendant to federal court only if it could have been brought there originally. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). A federal district court has original “diversity” jurisdiction where “the amount in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs” and the suit is between “citizens of different states.” 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). A defendant removing a case has the burden of proving that these diversity jurisdiction requirements are met. Wilson v. Republic Iron & Steel Co., 257 U.S. 92, 97 (1921). Where, as here, the complaint specifies only “some unspecified amount that is not self-evidently greater or less than the federal amount-in-controversy requirement, ” the defendant must show by a “preponderance of the evidence” that the plaintiff's claims are greater than $75, 000. Gafford v. Gen. Elec. Co., 997 F.2d 150, 157 (6th Cir. 1993).

         “[W]hen a defendant's assertion of the amount in controversy is challenged . . . . both sides submit proof and the court decides, by a preponderance of the evidence, whether the amount-in-controversy requirement has been satisfied.” Dart Cherokee Basin Operating Co., LLC v. Owens, 135 S.Ct. 547, 554 (2014). Further, “[t]his Court may consider evidence of the amount in controversy at the time of removal regardless of whether that evidence was produced (or available) at the time of removal.” Puri v. Baugh, 2015 WL 3796346, at *3 (W.D. Ky.) (citing Holland v. Lowe's Home Ctrs., Inc., 198 F.3d 245, 1999 WL 993959, at *2 (6th Cir.) (table) (considering oral arguments before appellate court in reviewing amount in controversy determination)). Importantly, a defendant does not meet its burden if it establishes only “a mere possibility that the jurisdictional amount is satisfied.” Everett v. Verizon Wireless, Inc., 460 F.3d 818, 829 (6th Cir. 2006).

         Because there is no dispute the parties are citizens of different states, the sole issue presented by the motion to remand is whether Defendant has carried its burden of establishing that the amount-in-controversy more likely than not exceeds $75, 000. As a preliminary matter, the undersigned notes Defendant is correct that once a case is properly removed, a plaintiff cannot amend the complaint to defeat diversity jurisdiction by lowering the amount in controversy. St. Paul Mercury Indem. Co. v. Red Cab Co., 303 U.S. 283, 294 (1938) (“events occurring subsequent to the institution of suit which reduce the amount recoverable below the statutory limit do not oust jurisdiction”). As such, the Court is not bound by Plaintiff's attempt to amend his complaint to change his prayer for relief to “an amount exceeding the sum of . . . $25, 000.00 . . . but less than the sum of . . . $74, 500.00”. (Doc. 9, at 6).

         Thus, the undersigned turns to whether Defendant has shown by a preponderance of the evidence that the amount in controversy exceeded $75, 000 at the time of removal. In its original notice of removal, Defendant asserted:

8. Moreover, the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000.00, exclusive of interest and costs. Indeed, although Plaintiff's Complaint provides merely that Plaintiff seeks damages “in an amount exceeding the sum of Twenty-Five Thousand Dollars ($25, 000.00)” [Complaint, p. 5], the Ohio Rules of Civil Procedure prohibit him from specifying the precise amount of damages sought in his Complaint, see Ohio R. Civ. P. 8(A).
9. Other portions of Plaintiff's Complaint, as well as relevant background facts, clearly demonstrate that the amount Plaintiff seeks far exceeds $25, 000.00 and, in fact, exceeds $75, 000.00. Among other things, Plaintiff specifically asserts that he is entitled to compensatory damages, “including lost past and future wages and benefits, ” as well as punitive and general damages ….” [Complaint, P. 5, emphasis added.] Further, Plaintiff earned an average of approximately $5, 700.00 per month in wages during the last five months of his employment with Marten (from January 1, 2017, until June 1, 2017), an amount that equates to a little less than $70, 000.00 per year, not including the monetary value of the employment benefits he was receiving from Marten. [Declaration of Susan Deetz, submitted herewith, at ¶ 4.]

(Doc. 1, at 2-3).

         In support of its allegation that removal was proper, Defendant points to three factors: 1) Plaintiff's lost wages; 2) Plaintiff's request for general damages, including professional damage, mental, and emotional distress; and 3) Plaintiff's request for punitive damages. Defendant attaches the Second Declaration of Susan Deetz in support of its calculations regarding Plaintiff's wages and benefits when employed by Defendant. See Doc. 11-1. In his reply, Plaintiff contends: 1) Defendant's lost wages calculation is incorrect, as he has mitigated his lost wages by obtaining other employment, and 2) it is more likely than not that punitive damages would not be awarded in this case. See Doc. 13. He attaches his own Affidavit asserting he obtained substitute employment on “approximately June 22, 2017” after receiving unemployment compensation for “about three weeks of time”. (Doc. 13-1, at 1). He asserts that he earns “approximately $1000 per week” and receives insurance coverage at his new employment comparable to what he received when working for Defendant with his new employer “paying a portion of [his] premiums as [Defendant] paid a portion of [his] premiums when [he] worked for ...


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