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Martin v. Harbor Freight Tools USA, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

March 11, 2019

Timothy Martin, Plaintiff,
v.
Harbor Freight Tools USA, Inc. Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION REMANDING CASE TO STATE COURT

          Hon. Vanessa L. Bryant United States District Judge

         Plaintiff, a resident of Connecticut, claims he purchased a water pump from Defendant, a corporation organized under the laws of the State of Delaware. [Dkt. 1-2, Exhibit B (Complaint) ¶ 3]. Plaintiff alleges that the water pump was defective, and that this defective water pump caused flooding in his basement and damage to his home and property. [Dkt. 1-2, Exhibit B, ¶ 4]. Plaintiff originally filed his complaint in Connecticut Superior Court on March 2, 2018. [Dkt. 1-2, Exhibit B, at 7]. Defendant timely removed on March 30, 2018, invoking diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. §1332(a). [Dkt. 1 (Notice of Removal)].

         The Court held a Rule 16 teleconference on April 25, 2018, for the primary purpose of ascertaining whether the amount in controversy requirement was satisfied. [Dkt. 16]. In response to the Court's inquiry, Plaintiff identified the property he claims was damaged and its value. Shortly thereafter, on May 20, 2018, Plaintiff filed a Motion to Remand to State Court, stating that “if this case is remanded back to State court; the plaintiff will not seek or accept a judgment in excess of $75, 000.” [Dkt. 18 (Plaintiff's Mot. to Remand) ¶ 7(A)]. Defendant responded in support of the Motion to Remand, requesting that the Court issue an Order stating that the Defendant “may not seek or recover judgment in excess of $75, 000” in state court. [Dkt. 21 (Defendant's Response to Plaintiff's Mot. to Remand) ¶ 8]. Plaintiff then withdrew his Motion to Remand, stating that he “no longer is willing to limit his potential Judgement in this matter to $75, 000.” [Dkt. 22 (Notice of Withdrawal of Mot. to Remand) ¶ 1]. For the reasons described below, this case is REMANDED sua sponte to state court.

         Legal Standard

         The Court must remand a case if, at any time during the course of litigation, it determines that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). The party invoking federal jurisdiction bears the burden of establishing the existence of a sufficient amount in controversy. McNutt v. General Motors Acceptance Corp., 298 U.S. 178, 189 (1936); United Food & Commercial Workers Union, Local 919, AFL-CIO v. CenterMark Properties Meriden Square, Inc., 30 F.3d 298, 304-05 (2d Cir. 1994). The party must prove to “a reasonable probability” that the claim meets the jurisdictional amount. United Food, 30 F.3d at 305. The party must prove those allegations by the preponderance of the evidence. Id. If the court finds it lacks jurisdiction for removal, “remand may take place without []motion and at any time.” Wisconsin Dept. of Corrections v. Schacht, 524 U.S. 381, 392 (1998). Courts may remand where the amount in controversy requirement appeared satisfied at the outset of the action but subsequent evidence disproved the amount. Tongkook America, Inc. v. Shipton Sportswear Co., 14 F.3d 781, 786 (2d Cir. 1994).

         Analysis

         Plaintiff originally claimed he would ask the jury for “several hundreds of thousands” of dollars. [Dkt. 1 (Notice of Removal) ¶ 9; Dkt. 1, Exhibit C (Email from Plaintiff)]. Harbor Freight noted that “Plaintiff's Complaint seeks recovery of replacement costs for loss of tools, windows, doors and for damage to the basement's structure.” [Id.]. Martin's Complaint also claimed “mold and insect infestation” and “appears to claim non-economic damages related to the loss of several paintings made by his mother and grandmother.” [Id. ¶ 8].

         At the parties' Rule 16 teleconference, the Plaintiff alleged that the most he would ask for is $60, 000. [Dkt. 17 (Minute Entry - Rule 16 Teleconference)]. Plaintiff also told the Court that he was unsure how much of the damage to his basement was the direct result of the flooding allegedly caused by Defendant's pump. [Id.]. Plaintiff admitted three additional facts which militate against more than a nominal jury award for the damaged paintings. First, he admitted that neither his mother's painting nor his grandmother's painting had any pecuniary value. [Id.]. Second, he admitted he did not display any of the paintings in his home where he could see them. [Id.]. Third, he admitted he kept the paintings in the mold and insect infested basement. These three facts suggest a reasonable jury would not be inclined to award more than nominal damages for any emotional distress, if any, Plaintiff was able to prove he suffered as a result of the damage done to the paintings. Finally, in his withdrawn Motion to Remand, he makes a demand of only $20, 000. [Dkt. 18 (Pl.'s Mot. to Remand) ¶ 4].

         Conclusion

         Based on the facts that have come to the Court's attention since the Notice of Removal, the Court finds that there is less than $75, 000 in controversy and therefore it lacks subject matter jurisdiction. This case is hereby REMANDED to ...


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