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United States District Court, S.D. New York

April 5, 2005.

ROBERT A. SHAW, on behalf of himself And all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,

The opinion of the court was delivered by: CHARLES HAIGHT, District Judge


In this action, which has been remanded to state court, a residual issue remaining in this court is plaintiff's motion for attorneys' fees, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c).

Plaintiff Robert A. Shaw commenced this action in the New York Supreme Court on December 19, 2002. Defendant American Honda Finance Corporation ("AHFC") attests that its agent was served with the Complaint on December 24, 2002, and that defendant's counsel only received a copy on January 15, 2003. On January 22, 2003, AHFC timely removed the action to this Court under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1441(a) and 1332(a)(1), ostensibly due to the diverse citizenship of the parties and an amount in controversy in excess of $75,000, exclusive of interest and costs. On February 5, 2003, plaintiff moved to remand the case back to state court. Although, on February 20th, AHFC filed a motion to dismiss the case, it ultimately determined not to oppose plaintiff's motion to remand. In an order dated March 10, 2003, I directed that this case be remanded to state court. Plaintiff then made a motion for attorneys' fees and expenses incurred as a result of defendant's removal, a matter over which I exercise ancillary jurisdiction. At issue is whether this Court should award attorneys' fees or costs to plaintiff. For reasons stated below, I decline to do so. A decision to award attorneys' fees or costs upon a motion to remand is left to the discretion of the district court. In exercising that discretion, "the district courts look to whether the grounds for removal were substantial or presented a close question . . . or colorable, even if ultimately unpersuasive." Natoli v. First Reliance Standard Life Ins. Co., No. 00 Civ. 5914 (DC), 2001 WL 15673, at *5 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 5, 2001) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). In this case, diverse citizenship of the parties was undisputed. At issue was whether the amount in controversy exceeded $75,000. On the face of the complaint, Shaw sought damages of not less than $100 million, in addition to injunctive and declaratory relief. Ultimately, both parties concluded that plaintiff was vastly over-reaching in his claims; specifically, that the complaint was based upon the false premise that plaintiff had incurred actual damages, thus eliminating punitive damages from the equation. This made it unlikely that the amount in controversy would exceed $75,000. When defendant reached this conclusion, it chose not to oppose plaintiff's motion for remand.

  The well-pleaded-complaint rule makes the plaintiff "the master of the complaint." Holmes Group, Inc. v. Vornado Air Circulation Systems, Inc., 535 U.S. 826, 831 (2002); In re Rezulin Products Liability Litig., 168 F.Supp.2d 136, 150-51 (S.D.N.Y. 2001). Plaintiff asserted, on the face of his complaint, claims for fraud, negligent misrepresentation, and unjust enrichment, along with demands for punitive damages and attorneys' fees based upon allegedly criminal conduct of AHFC. Even assuming that plaintiff's demand of not less than $100 million for damages was patently unreasonable, defendant still had a colorable basis for believing that the amount in controversy of plaintiff's claims would exceed $75,000. I do not find such belief to be unreasonable. Furthermore, AHFC showed good faith in not contesting Shaw's remand motion, once it had come to its own conclusion that a basis for federal jurisdiction was unlikely. Under these circumstances, I do not find that an award of attorneys' fees and costs would be proper. Plaintiff's motion is therefore denied.



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