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Morillo v. Burlington Coat Factory, of Connecticut, LLC

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

August 29, 2017



          Hon. Vanessa L. Bryant, United States District Judge

         This is a personal injury suit filed by the Plaintiff Magaly Morillo to recover damages against Burlington Coat Factory of Connecticut, LLC (“Burlington Coat of Connecticut”); Burlington Coat Factory Warehouse Corporation (“Burlington Coat Warehouse”), and Burlington's Regional Operations Manager Scott DiSalvo (“DiSalvo”) (collectively, “Defendants”). Plaintiff initially filed this action in Connecticut state court, but Defendants removed the case to federal court on the basis of diversity of citizenship, 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1). Before the Court is Plaintiff's motion to remand the case back to state court. For the foregoing reasons, the Court GRANTS this motion.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff resides in Waterbury, Connecticut. [Dkt. 1-1 (Summons & Compl.) at 1 of PDF]. The Complaint alleges that Burlington Coat of Connecticut is a “Connecticut company” and Burlington Coat Warehouse “is a Delaware company, ” both with addresses on Route 130 North in Burlington, New Jersey. Id. at 2, 6 of PDF. They are both alleged to operate and manage the Burlington Coat Factory store in Waterbury, Connecticut, where Plaintiff sustained her injuries. See id. Scott DiSalvo is a “resident of Connecticut” who is “a Regional Operations Manager for Burlington Coat Factory stores, ” including the Waterbury store where Plaintiff slipped and fell. Id. at 10 of PDF.

         The Complaint alleges three separate negligence counts against the three Defendants. The content of each count is nearly identical. In essence, the Complaint alleges that all three Defendants, their “agents, servants and/or employees, had a duty to inspect and maintain the floor near the cash register station. . . .” Id. at 3, 7, 10-11 of PDF. Defendants allegedly failed to do the following: properly inspect the floor; maintain the floor; follow adequate procedure to ensure the floor was properly inspected and maintained; properly train agents, servants, and/or employees to inspect and maintain the floor; warn the plaintiff the floor was unsafe; erect signs to isolate the unsafe area; enact procedures to ensure paper was not left on the floor. Id. at 3-4, 7-8, 11-12 of PDF. Defendants knew or should have known people would walk near the cash register station, they knew or should have known there was paper on the floor, and they allowed the paper to remain on the floor for an unreasonable period of time. Id.

         Defendants contend that Burlington Coat of Connecticut is not a citizen of Connecticut as alleged in the Complaint; and further that DiSalvo was fraudulently joined in order to defeat diversity. [Dkt. 1 (Notice of Removal) ¶ 5]. Defendants also averred that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000. Id. ¶ 3.

         II. Legal Discussion

         Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction only empowered to hear cases specifically authorized by the Constitution or statute. Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of America, 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). Federal jurisdiction is available only when a federal question is presented, 28 U.S.C. § 1331, or when the plaintiff and the defendant are of diverse citizenship and the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000; 28 U.S.C. § 1332. A case may be removed from state court to federal court only if it could have originally been commenced in federal court on either the basis of federal question or diversity jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a); see Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Allapattah Services, Inc., 545 U.S. 546, (2005) (Ginsburg, J., dissenting) (“The Supreme Court has interpreted § 1441 to prohibit removal unless the entire action, as it stands at the time of removal, could have been filed in federal court in the first instance.”); Citibank, N.A. v. Swiatkoski, 395 F.Supp.2d 5, 8 (E.D.N.Y. 2005). In other words, a party generally may not remove an action from state to federal court unless the federal court possesses original jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a).

         Courts “generally evaluate jurisdictional facts . . . on the basis of the pleadings, viewed at the time when [the] defendant files the notice of removal.” Blockbuster, Inc. v. Galeno, 472 F.3d 53, 56-57 (2d Cir. 2006); see Pullman Co. v. Jenkins, 305 U.S. 534, 536-38 (1939). The removing party bears the burden of proof. See United Food & Commercial Workers Union, Local 919, AFL-CIO v. CenterMark Properties Meriden Square, Inc., 30 F.3d 298, 301 (2d Cir. 1994). Where the “allegations of jurisdictional facts are challenged by [its] adversary in any appropriate manner, ” the averring party must provide “competent proof.” Id. at 301 (quoting McNutt v. General Motors Acceptance Corp., 298 U.S. 178, 189 (1936)).

         Diversity jurisdiction exists over “civil actions where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000, exclusive of interests and costs, and is between . . . citizens of different states.” 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1). “Citizens of different states” requires complete diversity, i.e., the citizenships of all defendants must be different from the citizenships of all plaintiffs. Cresswell v. Sullivan & Cromwell, 922 F.2d 60, 68 (2d Cir. 1990). In resolving questions of removal jurisdiction, federal courts are to "construe the removal statute narrowly" and “resolv[e] any doubts against removability.” Purdue Pharma L.P. v. Kentucky, 704 F.3d 208, 213 (2d Cir. 2013).

         A. Amount in Controversy

         The Complaint merely alleges that Plaintiff seeks “greater than Fifteen Thousand Dollars. . . .” [Dkt. 1-1 at 15 of PDF]. This language is the boilerplate demand statement as required by Connecticut state court procedure. See United Food, 30 F.3d at 305 (addressing the boilerplate state court procedure language in the context of a case involving injunctive relief); Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-91 (requiring a civil complaint to specify whether the monetary damages sought are less than $2, 500; between $2, 500 and $15, 000; or greater than $15, 000). Plaintiff does not challenge this aspect of diversity of citizenship and the Court can imagine that medical bills for a torn meniscus (which often requires surgery), amongst her other injuries, might exceed $75, 000. Accordingly, the Court will not remand the case on the basis of the amount in controversy.

         B. Citizenship

         The parties dispute whether Burlington Coat of Connecticut is a citizen of Connecticut as alleged in the Complaint and contends that DiSalvo is fraudulently joined. Defendants have failed to meet their burden of presenting the required evidence for the Court ...

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