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Daly v. United Airlines, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

August 16, 2017

ELIZABETH DALY, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED AIRLINES, INC. d/b/a COMMUTAIR and CHAMPLAIN ENTERPRISES INC. d/b/a COMMUTAIR, Defendants.

          RULING ON PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO REMAND

          CHARLES S. HAIGHT, JR. SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         On June 13, 2017, Defendants United Airlines Inc., d/b/a Commutair ("United") and Champlain Enterprises Inc. d/b/a Commutair ("Champlain"), filed a Notice of Removal removing this action from the Connecticut Superior Court, Judicial District of Hartford to this District. Doc. 1. Defendants removed the action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332, 1441 and 1446. Id. at 1. Plaintiff then filed on July 11, 2017, a Motion to Remand the action and a Memorandum of Law in Support of its Motion. Doc. 13. Defendants objected and opposed the Motion. Doc. 15. This Ruling resolves Plaintiff's Motion to Remand.

         I. Factual Background

         Plaintiff initiated this action in Connecticut Superior Court on or about June 7, 2017. Doc. 1 ¶ 1. A copy of the Summons and Complaint were served upon the Defendants on or about May 26, 2017. Id. ¶ 6. It is a negligence action in which Plaintiff seeks damages for losses arising after emergency landing by an airplane on June 5, 2015. Id. ¶ 2; Doc. 1 Ex. B (the "Compl.") ¶¶ 4-8. Plaintiff's Complaint consists of two negligence causes of action, the first against United and the second against Champlain. See Compl. at 1, 4. Plaintiff alleges that the passengers, including Plaintiff, were required to jump out of the rear door of the airplane and onto the tarmac. Doc. 1 ¶ 2; Complaint ¶ 8. The Complaint alleges that Plaintiff sustained "serious physical injuries, some or all of which may be permanent, " including a "sustained right knee strain/sprain, lumbar strain/sprain, loss of range of motion in the affected areas, physical and mental pain and suffering, and shock and fright to her nervous system." Compl. ¶ 12; see also Doc. 1 ¶ 3. Plaintiff also alleges that she has "sustained economic damages of lost wages" as well as past and future medical bills in addition to past and future non-economic damages of "physical and mental pain and suffering, physical impairment and/or disability, and loss of enjoyment of life's activities." Compl. ¶¶ 13-14; see also Doc. 1 ¶ 3. Plaintiff's "Statement of Amount in Demand" was for an amount greater than $15, 000, exclusive of costs and interest. Compl. at 9.

         Defendants filed a Notice of Removal on June 13, 2017. Doc. 1. Defendants attached the Summons, Complaint, and Return of Service as Exhibits to this Notice. Doc. 1 ¶ 1. Defendants allege that this Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332 because the amount in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs, and the action involves citizens of different states. Id. ¶ 9. Defendants state that the Complaint alleges Plaintiff suffered severe and permanent injuries as a result of being required to jump from the plane to the tarmac, and that Plaintiff made a "formal demand" in excess of $75, 000. Id. ¶ 10. Defendants "specifically den[y] that the Plaintiffs are entitled" to that sum, but based on the demand, assert the amount in controversy can reasonably be said to exceed $75, 000. Id. ¶ 11. According to Defendants, complete diversity exists because Plaintiff is a resident of Connecticut, United is a Delaware corporation with a principal place of business in Chicago, Illinois, and Champlain is a New York corporation with a principal place of business in South Burlington, Vermont. Id. ¶ 12.

         On July 11, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Motion to Remand the action with an accompanying Memorandum of Law in Support of its Motion. Doc. 13. Plaintiff while conceding that diversity of citizenship exists, maintains that the amount in controversy fails to exceed the sum or value of $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs, and that Defendants have failed to establish this jurisdictional threshold. Doc. 13-1 at 2. Defendants in opposing this Motion to Remand argues that it has proven the amount in controversy based on the serious allegations in Plaintiff's Complaint and Plaintiff's settlement demand of $171, 527.26, well exceeding $75, 000. Doc. 15 at 3. Defendants also explained to the Court that Plaintiff's counsel would not agree to stipulate to capping the damages at $75, 000. Id. at 3 n.1.

         II. Standard of Review

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a), "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 defendant or defendants, to the district court of the United States for the district and division embracing the place where such action is pending." District courts have original jurisdiction over civil actions where the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs, and diversity of citizenship exists. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). Notice of removal must be filed either within thirty days of receiving a copy of the initial pleading setting forth the claim for relief, or within thirty days of receiving "a copy of an amended pleading, motion, order or other paper from which it may first be ascertained that the case is one which is or has become removable." 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b)(1) & (3).

         "[W]hen a defendant seeks federal-court adjudication, the defendant's amount-in-controversy allegation should be accepted when not contested by the plaintiff or questioned by the court." Hayes v. Pfizer, Inc. No. 3:15-cv-1854, 2016 WL 1363623, at *1 (D. Conn. April 6, 2016) (quoting Dart Cherokee Basin Operating Co., LLC v. Owens, 135 S.Ct. 547, 553 (2014)) (internal quotation marks omitted). If, as is the case here, the plaintiff asserts that the amount-in-controversy requirement has not been met, then "both sides submit proof and the court decides, by a preponderance of the evidence, whether the amount-in-controversy requirement has been satisfied." Id. (quoting Owens, 135 S.Ct. at 553) (internal quotation marks omitted). "The party invoking jurisdiction . . . has the burden of proving that it appears to a 'reasonable probability' that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000." Id. (citations omitted).[1] The party opposing jurisdiction "must then show 'to a legal certainty that the amount recoverable does not meet the jurisdictional threshold." Id. (citation omitted); see also Parola v. Citibank (South Dakota), N.A., No. 3:11-cv-1017, 2011 WL 5374146, at *2 (D. Conn. Nov. 8, 2011) (citing Scherer v. The Equitable Life Assurance Society, 347 F.3d 394, 397 (2d Cir. 2003)). Importantly, the party seeking removal "must support its asserted jurisdictional facts with 'competent proof.'" Parola, 2011 WL 5374146, at *2 (quoting United Food & Commercial Workers Union, Local 919 v. Centermark Props., 30 F.3d 298, 305 (2d Cir. 1994)).

         Moreover, "federal courts construe the removal statute narrowly, resolving any doubts against removability." Acorne Prods., LLC v. Tjekanovrian, No. 14-CV-2179, 2014 WL 3360344, at *3 (E.D.N.Y. July 9, 2014) (quoting Sherman v. A.J. Pegno Constr. Corp., 528 F.Supp.2d 320, 325 (S.D.N.Y. 2007)) (internal quotation marks omitted). All of the facts in the record at the time of removal may be considered. Connecticut v. YP Advertising & Publ'g LLC, No. 3:16-cv-1424, 2017 WL 810279, at *4 (D. Conn. March 1, 2017) (citing inter alia Luo v. Mikel, 625 F.3d 772, 776 (2d Cir. 2010)), denying reconsideration 2017 WL 124633 (D. Conn. April 3, 2017). All relevant allegations contained in the complaint are also accepted as true. See Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz v. CVR Energy, Inc., 18 F.Supp.3d 414, 416 n.2 (S.D.N.Y. 2014). In order to determine whether the amount in controversy, courts must first look to the plaintiff's complaint and then to the defendants' petition for removal. Arter v. Pathmark Stores, Inc., No. 14-cv-6933, 2014 WL 7426792, at *1 (E.D.N.Y. Dec. 31, 2014) (citing Mehlenbacher v. Akzo Nobel Salt, Inc., 216 F.3d 291, 296 (2d Cir. 2000)); see also Price v. PetSmart, Inc., 148 F.Supp.3d 198, 200-01 (D. Conn. 2015). "If those documents are inconclusive, courts 'may look outside those pleadings to other evidence in the record.'" Arter, 2014 WL 7426792, at *1 (quoting CenterMark Props., 30 F.3d at 304-05). Courts may consider a settlement offer made prior to removal, but this is "only one factor to consider in assessing the amount in controversy" and "courts must consider the context in which such a settlement demand was made." Vermande v. Hyundai Motor America, Inc., 352 F.Supp.2d 195, 202-03 (D. Conn. 2004) (collecting cases).

         III. Discussion

         Here, both the Notice of Removal and Plaintiff's Motion to Remand were timely. See 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b).[2] Plaintiff also concedes and does not challenge that diversity of citizenship exists. Doc. 13-1 at 2. Plaintiff challenges removal solely on the basis that Defendant has not established by a preponderance of the evidence that the amount in controversy is in excess of $75, 000. See id.

         Plaintiff's Complaint asserts that she has "sustained serious physical injuries, some or all of which may be permanent in nature." Compl. ¶ 12. Plaintiff claims to have suffered "sustained economic damages of lost wages" to have spent, or in the future will continue to spend, "sums of money for hospitals, doctors, physical therapy and surgery, all to her further loss and damage"and certain "non-economic damages." Id. ¶ 13-14.[3] Plaintiff's Complaint, however, does not explicitly state a demand an amount in controversy in excess of $75, 000. Instead, in compliance with Connecticut law, Plaintiff's Complaint in its prayer for relief seeks "money damages" and Plaintiff's "Statement of the Amount in Demand" reflects only that the amount in controversy exceeds $15, 000. See Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-91 (requiring that where money damages are sought the demand for relief must set forth, as one option, only "[t]hat the amount, legal interest or property in demand is fifteen thousand dollars or more, exclusive of interest and costs"); see also Luce., 23 F.Supp.3d at 84-85 ("Indeed, state court plaintiffs in Connecticut need not allege damages with particularity . . . Connecticut law requires a plaintiff to allege no more than the amount in demand exceeds $15, 000." (citations omitted)). Thus, it is not clear from the face of the Complaint that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000.

         Defendants' Notice of Removal reflects only that Plaintiff "made a formal demand, seeking damages in excess of the jurisdictional requirement, " and that this prompted Defendants to remove the action. Doc. 1 ¶¶ 4, 10. The Notice of Removal does not reflect what the amount demanded was or even when it was made. The "formal demand" is not separately attached as evidence. Defendants' response to Plaintiff's Motion to Remand the action clarifies a little bit of this confusion stating that this "formal demand" was a settlement offer of $171, 527.26 and it was made prior to the Complaint even being filed. Doc. 15 at 3-4. However the demand, or even any affidavit or evidence describing the demand, is not attached to either Defendants' response or Notice of Removal. Although Plaintiff does not appear to contest that such a demand was made, there is absolutely no evidence in the record before the Court as to how ...


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