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Miller v. Kanawha River Railroad, L.L.C.

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

December 13, 2018

VERNON MILLER, JR., et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
KANAWHA RIVER RAILROAD, L.L.C., et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          JO&EPR R. GOODWIN /UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. Introduction

         Pending before the court is the plaintiffs' Motion to Remand [ECF No. 6]. For the reasons stated below, the court FINDS that removal was proper and DENIES the Motion to Remand.

         II. Background

         The plaintiffs brought this action in the Circuit Court of Fayette County, West Virginia, seeking to enforce the defendants' alleged obligation to repair and maintain a railroad crossing. The plaintiffs' Complaint alleges that, pursuant to a deed, the defendants “are required to maintain crossings over their railroad tracks to permit Plaintiffs' access to their property.” Compl. ¶ 7 [ECF No. 1-2]. The plaintiffs seek specific relief: “that Defendants be ordered to repair, replace and maintain the crossings across their tracks to Plaintiffs' property; that Plaintiffs be awarded damages for denial of access; and the Court grant such other relief as may be appropriate.” Id. ¶ 9.

         The plaintiffs attached a notarized Stipulation to their Complaint, which states as follows:

Plaintiffs Vernon Miller, Jr. and Cora Miller, and Attorney for Plaintiffs agree to be bound by the following stipulation: so long as this case remains in West Virginia Circuit Court or an Article III Court, the Plaintiffs shall neither seek nor accept an amount greater than $75, 000.00 in this case, including any award of attorney's fees, but excluding interest and costs. This stipulation has no application, force, or enforceability in an arbitration forum or other alternative dispute resolution environment except non-binding mediation as part of a court proceeding.

Not. Removal, Ex. B, Stipulation [ECF No. 1-2] at 7. Notwithstanding the plaintiffs' Stipulation, the defendants removed the action to this court, citing diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. The plaintiffs have moved to remand this action to the Circuit Court of Fayette County, West Virginia, arguing that this court lacks subject matter jurisdiction.

         III. Legal Standard

         An action may be removed from state court to federal court if it is one over which the district court would have original jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). The burden of establishing federal jurisdiction is placed on the party seeking removal. Mulcahey v. Columbia Organic Chems. Co., 29 F.3d 148, 151 (4th Cir. 1994). “A defendant must prove proper jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence.” Parsley v. Norfolk & Western Ry. Co., No. 3:17-4322, 2018 WL 813158, at *1 (S.D. W.Va. Feb. 9, 2018). If federal jurisdiction is doubtful, remand is necessary. Mulcahey, 29 F.3d at 151.

         Removal here is premised on 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a), which states: “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.” The parties agree that complete diversity exists between the plaintiffs and the defendants. Thus, the parties' sole dispute is whether the amount in controversy requirement has been met in light of the plaintiffs' Stipulation.

         IV. Discussion

         a. Calculation of Amount in Controversy

          “Where a plaintiff does not specify a dollar amount in his prayer for relief, the Court must determine the amount in controversy.” Parsley, 2018 WL 813158, at *1. In such cases, “[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. v. Apogee Coal Co., 945 F.Supp. 932, 936-37. (S.D. W.Va. 1996). In calculating the amount in controversy, the court may ...


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