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Benn v. Metro-North Commuter Railroad Co.

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

July 12, 2018

RHONDA BENN, Plaintiff,
v.
METRO-NORTH COMMUTER RAILROAD COMPANY, Defendant.

          RULING ON PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO REMAND CASE TO STATE COURT

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

         Plaintiff Rhonda Benn ("Plaintiff") filed this personal injury action in the Superior Court of Connecticut against Defendant Metro-North Railroad Company ("Defendant"). Defendant removed the case to federal court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. Plaintiff has now moved to remand the matter to state court. This Ruling resolves the motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This is an action for damages for injuries Plaintiff claims to have sustained on May 18, 2017, while a passenger on a train operated by Defendant. Plaintiff alleges that the train derailed, causing her to suffer serious injuries.

         Plaintiff served the original state court complaint on August 30, 2017. Doc. 1-1. Pursuant to section 52-91 of the Connecticut General Statutes, the complaint contained a demand of monetary damages in excess of $15, 000.[1] Doc. 1-1 at 8. In her complaint, Plaintiff alleged that she suffered "injuries of a serious, painful and permanent nature," including injuries to her cervical and lumbar spines, head trauma, radiculopathy to the upper extremity area, and emotional distress. Doc. 1-1 ¶4. On November 9, 2017, Plaintiff withdrew the third count of her complaint alleging recklessness; Defendant filed an answer to the complaint the same day. Doc. 1-4.

         Defendant states that it "reasonably believed" that Plaintiff's injuries were "soft tissue in nature," and based on Defendant's "resolution of numerous similarly pleaded claims arising out of a prior derailment," Defendant thought that the amount in controversy did not exceed the jurisdictional threshold for diversity purposes. Doc. 1 ¶9(e). Defendant contends that it first became apparent that the amount in controversy exceeded $75, 000 for the purposes of diversity jurisdiction when Plaintiff served her amended responses to Defendant's discovery requests on April 5, 2018. Id. Specifically, Plaintiff included an updated medical summary with bills amounting to $108, 240.09. Id. ¶9(g).

         On May 1, 2018, twenty-six days later receiving Plaintiff's amended discovery responses, Defendant removed the case to federal court. Plaintiff asserts that the removal was untimely pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1446, and seeks to have this case remanded to state court.

         II. DISCUSSION

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a), a defendant in a civil action that has been brought in state court may instead choose to litigate in federal court, if the complaint is one over which the federal court has original jurisdiction. Under 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b),

[t]he notice of removal of a civil action or proceeding shall be filed within 30 days after the receipt by the defendant, through service or otherwise, of a copy of the initial pleading setting forth the claim for relief upon which such action or proceeding is based . . . .

28 U.S.C. § 1446(b)(1).

         If, however, the case stated in the initial pleading is not removable, the thirty-day deadline for the defendant's removal does not begin until receipt 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)(3).

         Here, it is undisputed that the court would have original jurisdiction over the matter in controversy. The parties are diverse: Plaintiff is a citizen and resident of Connecticut; Defendant is "a public benefit corporation created under the Public Authorities Laws of the State of New York" and is a citizen of New York for the purposes of diversity jurisdiction. Doc. 1 ¶ 9(a)-(b). Further, it is now apparent that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000, as Plaintiff seeks damages in excess of $100, 000. Id. ¶ 9(g)-(h). What remains to be resolved, however, is whether under 28 U.S.C. § 1446, Defendant timely filed the notice of removal.

         The Second Circuit's decision in Moltner v. Starbucks Coffee Co., 624 F.3d 34, 38 (2d Cir. 2010) is instructive. The plaintiff in Moltner severely injured herself when hot tea purchased from the defendant, Starbucks Coffee Company, spilled on her leg and foot. Id. at 35-6. She then suffered a number of secondary injuries during her stay in the hospital. Id. at 36. Her complaint, filed in New York State Supreme Court, did not state the exact amount of monetary damages sought. Id. ...


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