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Farren v. FCA US, LLC

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

January 11, 2018

BENEVILLE FARREN and JOHN J. MYERS, JR., Plaintiffs,
v.
FCA US, LLC, et al., Defendants.

          JOSEPH S. LUKOMSKI ROVNER, ALLEN, ROVNER, ZIMMERMAN, LUKOMSKI & WOLF, ESQS. ON BEHALF OF PLAINTIFFS

          TIFFANY M. ALEXANDER TANENBAUM KEALE LLP ON BEHALF OF DEFENDANTS

          OPINION

          NOEL L. HILLMAN, U.S.D.J.

         Pending before the Court is the motion of Plaintiffs to remand their case to New Jersey Superior Court Law Division, Atlantic County. Plaintiffs claim in their complaint that on June 18, 2015, Plaintiff John J. Myers, Jr., stepson of Plaintiff Beneville Fenton, was driving a 2005 Dodge Ram 1500 pick-up truck owned by Fenton in Deptford, New Jersey when the truck began shaking and the rear wheels began to skid out, resulting in Myers' inability to control the truck. The Complaint further alleges the truck left the roadway, crashed into a utility pole, rolled over, and struck a tree. Plaintiffs claim that the airbags failed to deploy, the truck was totaled, and Myers suffered serious injuries. Plaintiffs claim that Defendants are liable for his injuries, and the damage to the truck and utility pole, because of manufacturing defects, which were the subject of safety recalls.

         Defendants removed Plaintiffs' case to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a), averring subject matter jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1), which provides that a district court has original jurisdiction over all civil actions where the amount in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000, exclusive of interests and costs, and is between citizens of different states. Defendants' notice of removal properly avers the diversity of citizenship between the parties: Plaintiffs are citizens of New Jersey, and Defendants are citizens of the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.

         For the amount in controversy requirement, Defendants' notice of removal avers that the allegations in Plaintiffs' complaint readily establish that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000:

In the Complaint, Plaintiff, John J. Myers, Jr. claims that he suffered injuries which are or may be "serious and permanent, including, but not limited to, concussion, closed head injury, dizziness, injuries to his left ear, left shoulder, legs, ribs, rib cage, chest wall pain, contusions, abrasions." Moreover, Plaintiff claims he has, or in the future will be, disabled and "caused great pain and suffering."
Given the alleged severity and permanency of plaintiff, John J. Myers, Jr.'s injuries and his claims for damages, it is facially apparent that Plaintiffs are demanding an amount, exclusive of interest and costs, in excess of the jurisdictional minimum set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 1332.

(Docket No. 1 at 3.)

         Defendants removed Plaintiffs' case on July 24, 2017. On August 17, 2017, Plaintiffs' counsel advised defense counsel that Plaintiffs' damages do not exceed $75, 000, and on August 22, 2017, the parties executed a stipulation of damages, where Plaintiffs agreed that the damages for all of their claims, individually and collectively, do not exceed $74, 999.99. (Docket No. 6 at 22.) On that same day, Plaintiffs filed their motion to remand, presenting the stipulation as the basis to defeat this Court's subject matter jurisdiction under § 1332. Defendants do not refute Plaintiffs' stipulation as to their maximum damages, and they do not oppose Plaintiffs' motion. (Docket No. 8.)

         When a plaintiff has challenged a removal of his complaint based on the amount in controversy requirement, as a starting point a federal court determines the amount in controversy from the complaint itself. See Angus v. Shiley, Inc., 989 F.2d 142, 145 (3d Cir. 1993) (“The general federal rule is to decide the amount in controversy from the complaint itself.”); Frederico v. Home Depot, 507 F.3d 188, 194 (3d Cir. 2007) (“In removal cases, determining the amount in controversy begins with a reading of the complaint filed in state court.”). If a plaintiff has not specifically averred that the amount in controversy is less than the jurisdictional minimum, the test espoused by Samuel-Bassett v. KIA Motors America, Inc., 357 F.3d 392 (3d Cir. 2004) applies to the review of the complaint. Frederico, 507 F.3d at 196. Under Samuel-Bassett, the challenger to subject matter jurisdiction has to prove, to a legal certainty, that the amount in controversy cannot exceed the statutory threshold. Id. In contrast, where the complaint specifically avers that the amount sought is less than the jurisdictional minimum, the standard set forth by Morgan v. Gay, 471 F.3d 469, 473 (3d Cir. 2006) applies. Under Morgan, a defendant seeking removal must prove to a legal certainty that the plaintiff can recover the jurisdictional amount. Id. at 196-97.

         Here, Plaintiffs' complaint does not specify a particular amount of damages, so to prevail on their motion to remand, Plaintiffs must show to a legal certainty that they cannot recover damages in excess of $75, 000, or that they were never entitled to recover that amount. Id. Plaintiff's stipulation of damages, filed after removal, standing alone, does not satisfy this burden.

         The Supreme Court announced long ago that “the plaintiff after removal, by stipulation, by affidavit, or by amendment of his pleadings, reduces the claim below the requisite amount, [] does not deprive the district court of jurisdiction.” St. Paul Mercury Indem. Co. v. Red Cab Co., 303 U.S. 283, 292-93 (1938) (further reiterating that “events occurring subsequent to removal which reduce the amount recoverable, whether beyond the plaintiff's control or the result of his volition, do not oust the district court's jurisdiction once it has attached”). Thus, Plaintiffs' post-removal agreement with Defendants that their damages will not exceed $74, 999.99, and Defendants' lack of opposition to Plaintiffs' motion to remand cannot - without more - extinguish this Court's subject matter jurisdiction.

         Plaintiffs' claims in their complaint assert that Myers suffered severe and permanent injuries, as well as significant pain and suffering, as a result of his truck hitting a utility pole, rolling over, and then hitting a tree, all because of Defendants' alleged manufacturing defects relating to the airbag and rear axle. These damages are in addition to property damage to the truck and utility pole.[1] Plaintiffs have asserted claims for violations of the New Jersey Products Liability Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:15-5.9, ...


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