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Parsons v. The Scotts Co. LLC

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Charleston Division

October 20, 2017

LARRY PARSONS, Plaintiff,
v.
THE SCOTTS COMPANY LLC, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          THOMAS E. JOHNSTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Pending before the Court is Plaintiff's Amended Motion to Remand.[1] (ECF No. 7.) For the reasons herein, the Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART the motion and REMANDS this case to the Circuit Court of Kanawha County, West Virginia.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case arises out of an injury Plaintiff allegedly suffered when he picked up a bag of topsoil manufactured by Defendant The Scotts Company LLC (“Scotts”). (ECF No. 8 at 1.) The alleged injury occurred at Defendant Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.'s (“Wal-Mart”) store in Ripley, West Virginia. (Id.) Plaintiff is a resident of West Virginia, (ECF No. 1-1 at 1 ¶ 1), Scotts is a corporation existing under the laws of Ohio, [2] (id. ¶ 2; ECF No. 3 at 2), and Wal-Mart is a corporation existing under the laws of Delaware with its principal place of business in Arkansas, (ECF No. 1 at 3; ECF No. 1-1 at 1 ¶ 3; ECF No. 3 at 2).

         The Complaint filed in state court and attached to Defendants' Notice of Removal alleges that on June 4, 2015, Plaintiff was a customer at Wal-Mart's Ripley store and “was picking up a bag of Scotts Premium Topsoil . . . at which time there was a razor blade embedded in the sealed bag that lacerated the Plaintiff's forearm.” (ECF No. 1-1 at 2 ¶¶ 6-7.) Plaintiff alleges that he “incurred significant expenses for medical and hospital treatment and services for the treatment of his injuries, ” and will require future care and treatment “due to the permanent and lasting effects of his injuries.” (Id. ¶¶ 9-10.) The Complaint asserts three counts, including claims of negligence and strict liability against Scotts and a negligence claim against Wal-Mart. (Id. at 2- 4 ¶¶ 5-26.) Plaintiff requests relief in the forms of compensatory damages, attorney fees and costs, and other relief deemed appropriate. (Id. at 5.)

         Plaintiff filed his Complaint in the Circuit Court of Kanawha County, West Virginia, on June 5, 2017. (ECF No. 1-1 at 1.) Defendants removed the case to this Court on July 11, 2017. (ECF No. 1.) In the Notice of Removal, Defendants assert that the sole basis for this Court's subject-matter jurisdiction over this case is diversity pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. (See Id. at 2.)

         Plaintiff filed the current Amended Motion to Remand on July 19, 2017, in which he asserts that this Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over the matter because the amount in controversy is below the $75, 000 requirement for diversity jurisdiction. (See ECF No. 8 at 2-4.) Plaintiff also moves for an award of attorneys' fees, costs, and expenses. (Id. at 4.) Defendants filed their joint response to Plaintiff's motion on July 31, 2017, (ECF No. 9), and Plaintiff replied on August 7, 2017, (ECF No. 10). The motion is fully briefed and ripe for adjudication.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Article III of the United States Constitution provides, in pertinent part, that “[t]he judicial Power shall extend . . . to Controversies . . . between Citizens of different States.” U.S. Const. art. III, § 2. “The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs, and is between . . . citizens of different States.” 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1).

         Congress provided a right to remove a case from state to federal court under 28 U.S.C. § 1441. This statute states, in relevant part:

Except as otherwise expressly provided by Act of Congress, 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 the defendants, to the district court of the United States for the district and division embracing the place where such action is pending.

28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). Because removal of civil cases from state to federal court infringes state sovereignty, federal courts strictly construe the removal statute and resolve all doubts in favor of remanding cases to state court. See Shamrock Oil & Gas Corp. v. Sheets, 313 U.S. 100, 109 (1941); see also Mulcahey v. Columbia Organic Chems. Co., 29 F.3d 148, 151 (4th Cir. 1994) (“Because removal jurisdiction raises significant federalism concerns, we must strictly construe removal jurisdiction.” (citation omitted)).

         The party asserting federal jurisdiction bears the burden of proof. Landmark Corp. v. Apogee Coal Co., 945 F.Supp. 932, 935 (S.D. W.Va. 1996). “A defendant that removes a case from state court in which the damages sought are unspecified, asserting the existence of federal diversity jurisdiction, must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the value of the matter in controversy exceeds the jurisdictional amount.” Id. (citing Gaus v. Miles, Inc., 980 F.2d 564, 567 (9th Cir. 1992)). “This test is framed alternatively as a requirement that a defendant demonstrate that it is more likely than not that the amount in controversy exceeds the jurisdictional amount.” Id. (citation omitted). “To satisfy this burden, a defendant must offer more than a bare allegation that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000.” Judy v. JK Harris & Co., No. 2:10- cv-01276, 2011 WL 4499316, at *3 (S.D. W.Va. Sept. 27, 2011) (citation omitted). The defendant must supply evidence regarding the amount at issue. See McCoy v. Erie Ins. Co., 147 F.Supp.2d 481, 489 (S.D. W.Va. 2001). “In so doing, he may rely upon the entirety of the facts and circumstances comprising the plaintiff's damages claim.” Judy, 147 F.Supp.2d at 489 (citation omitted).

         In evaluating a party's claim to federal jurisdiction, a court should look to the circumstances as they existed at the time the notice of removal was filed. See Dennison v. Carolina Payday Loans, Inc., 549 F.3d 941, 943 (4th Cir. 2008) (“[F]ederal jurisdiction . . . is fixed at the time the . . . notice of removal is filed.” (citation omitted)). In particular, where the plaintiff's monetary demand is not specified in the complaint, “[t]he value of the matter in controversy . . . is determined by considering the judgment that would be entered if plaintiff prevailed on the merits.” Landmark Corp., 945 F.Supp. at 936-37 (citation omitted). In calculating the amount in controversy, a court may consider the entire record and ...


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