United States District Court, D. New Jersey
For MICHAEL DEJOSEPH, Plaintiff: LOUIS J. SERAFINI, LEAD ATTORNEY, SERAFINI & SERAFINI, WAYNE, NJ.
For CONTINENTAL AIRLINES, INC., also known as CONTINENTAL AIRLINES, UNITED AIR LINES, INC., also known as UNITED AIRLINES, also known as UNITED, doing business as CONTINENTAL AIRLINES, doing business as ABC CORPORATION, doing business as XYZ CO., Defendants: CAROLYN GERACI FROME, LEAD ATTORNEY, WINNE, BANTA, HETHERINGTON & BASRALIAN, ESQS., HACKENSACK, NJ.
Hon. Kevin McNulty, United States District Judge.
This matter comes before the court on the Report and Recommendation of Hon. Michael A. Hammer, United States Magistrate Judge, recommending that the Plaintiff's motion to remand this action to State court (Docket No. 5) be denied. For good cause that came to light after the entry of the Magistrate Judge's well-reasoned Report and Recommendation, and for the reasons set forth below, the motion for remand will be GRANTED.
Plaintiff DeJoseph is a resident of Cedar Grove in Essex County, New Jersey. Compl. (Docket No. 1) at 1. Defendant Continental Airlines, Inc., is now known as United Airlines, Inc., and United, too is a Defendant. United is incorporated in Delaware and has its principal place of business in the State of Illinois. Notice of Removal (Docket No. 1) at 2-3. Also named as defendants are John Does 1 through 10.
Plaintiff DeJoseph brings this case against Defendants based on personal injuries he allegedly suffered while on an airplane owned or operated by Continental (now United). Compl. at 2-4. DeJoseph alleges that while he was on the airplane, a " food/soup/product/hot liquid" served by United's employees spilled in his lap and he was injured. Compl. at 2-3. DeJoseph alleges that United acted negligently, carelessly, and recklessly and that he suffered " severe and disabling injuries" that have resulted in past and ongoing medical treatment, absences from work, pain, and interruptions from his normal pursuits or daily activities. Compl. at 4-11 (Counts 1-4). In the fifth Count of the Complaint, DeJoseph alleges that United acted willfully and that he suffered " serious and permanent injuries" and/or fractures, disfigurement, dismemberment, and permanent loss or limitation of the use of an organ or bodily system. Id. at 14. In the sixth and final Count, DeJoseph further alleges that Defendants are strictly liable. In addition to the previously listed injuries, his alleged injuries in Count 6 include non-permanent injury or impairment " which prevents the performance of substantially all of his daily activities for at least 90 of the first 180 days after the accident." Id. at 16.
DeJoseph's Complaint requests compensatory damages, interest, costs, and any
other relief the Court finds appropriate for Counts 1-4. Id. at 5-11. For Count 5, DeJoseph also requests punitive damages and attorneys fees. Id. at 12, 14. In accordance with the Rules of the New Jersey state court where the Complaint was filed, it states no specific monetary amount of damages.
DeJoseph filed his Complaint on October 18, 2013 in Superior Court in Essex County, New Jersey. Compl. at 1. United was served with the Complaint on December 4, 2013. Notice of Removal at 2. Defendants removed the action to this Court on December 20, 2013. (Docket No. 1). DeJoseph then moved to remand the action to state court, asserting that this federal court did not have subject matter jurisdiction over the action. (Docket No. 5).
Magistrate Judge Hammer issued a Report and Recommendation (" R& R" ), recommending that the Court deny the motion to remand, because the prerequisites of diversity jurisdiction appeared from the face of the Complaint. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332. (Docket No. 9). He reasoned, soundly, that the diverse citizenship of the parties was not disputed and the amount of damages demanded, though not stated, could easily be inferred to exceed $75,000. Magistrate Judge Hammer did not need to carry his analysis any farther to establish that federal court jurisdiction was appropriate.
DeJoseph objected to the R& R, and in doing so, stipulated that he does not seek damages exceeding $75,000. Pl. Obj. (Docket No. 10) at 3. As a result, the amount in controversy does not exceed the threshold for diversity jurisdiction.
Defendants argue in the alternative, as they did before Magistrate Judge Hammer, that there is nevertheless federal question jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Def. Obj. Opp. (Docket No. 11) at 2-3. Magistrate Judge Hammer quite properly did not reach that issue. But now, based on the Plaintiff's belated diversity-destroying concession, I must decide the federal-question jurisdictional issue. For the reasons set forth below, I find that the Court does not have subject matter jurisdiction, and remand the case to state court.
Pursuant to the federal removal statute, " 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 defendants to the appropriate district court where the action is pending. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). Removal is not appropriate if the case does not fall within the district court's original federal question jurisdiction and the parties are not diverse. See U.S. Express Lines Ltd. v. Higgins, 281 F.3d 383, 389 (3d Cir. 2002) (citing Franchise Tax Bd. of Cal. v. Constr. Laborers Vacation Trust for S. Cal., 463 U.S. 1, 8, 103 S.Ct. 2841, 77 L.Ed.2d 420 (1983)). The party that asserts jurisdiction bears the burden of showing at all stages of the litigation that subject matter jurisdiction is proper in the federal court. Samuel-Bassett v. KIA Motors America, Inc., 357 F.3d 392, 396 (3d Cir. 2004) (citing Packard v. Provident Nat'l Bank, 994 F.2d 1039, 1045 (3d Cir. 1993).
The Third Circuit has cautioned that 28 U.S.C. § 1441 must be strictly construed against removal. Samuel-Bassett, 357 F.3d at 396, 403 (citing Boyer v. Snap-on Tools Corp., 913 F.2d 108, 111 (3d Cir. 1990)). To that end, all doubts should be resolved in favor of remand. Id.; Abels v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 770 F.2d 26, 29 (3d Cir. 1985) (internal citations omitted);
Steel Valley Authority v. Union Switch & Signal Div., 809 F.2d 1006, 1010 (3d Cir. 1987). Accordingly, " [w]e presume that federal courts lack jurisdiction unless the contrary appears affirmatively from the record." Philadelphia Fed'n of Teachers, Am. Fed'n of Teachers, Local 3, ALF-CIO v. Ridge, 150 F.3d 319, 323 (quoting Renne v. Geary, 501 U.S. 312, 316, 111 S.Ct. 2331, 115 L.Ed.2d 288 (1991)).
Plaintiff DeJoseph asserts that this Court does not have subject matter jurisdiction over this lawsuit, and moves to remand the case to state court. (Docket No. 5). I referred DeJoseph's motion for remand to Magistrate Judge Hammer for a Report and Recommendation. In their motion papers, the Defendants asserted two bases for subject matter jurisdiction: (1) federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, via complete preemption of state-law-based claims; and (2) diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Def. Remand Opp. (Docket No. 7) at 3, 16. Based on the record before him, Judge Hammer concluded that there was diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332, and recommended denying the motion for remand on that basis. R& R (Docket No. 9) at 7. Having found diversity jurisdiction, Judge Hammer did not address Defendants' additional assertion of federal question jurisdiction. Id. at 7-8.
A party may object to a Magistrate Judge's report and recommendation within 14 days of being served with a copy of the recommended disposition. L. Civ. R. 72.1(c)(2); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b); 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). The district court " shall make a de novo determination of those portions to which objection is made and may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the Magistrate Judge." L. Civ. R. 72.1(c)(2); 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). See, e.g., Brown v. Astrue, 649 F.3d 193, 195 (3d Cir. 2011) (Section 636(b)(1) requires district courts to review de novo those portions of the report or specific findings to which objection is made, unless the objection is not timely or specific); United States v. Lightman, 988 F.Supp. ...