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Matos v. Wojnarowicz

January 2, 2008

BLADIMIR MATOS, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
D.T. WOJNAROWICZ, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: James Orenstein, Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

This case concerns a car accident involving citizens of New York who assert state law causes of action against a citizen of Utah. The parties are now in agreement that the defendant cannot be liable to the plaintiffs for more than $50,000 in damages. As a result, despite the complete diversity of citizenship among the parties, there is no basis for this court to exercise jurisdiction over the case, and the plaintiffs have therefore moved for its remand to the state court in which it was originally filed. The defendant opposes such relief, and argues that it is barred by a procedural anomaly. The defendant originally removed the case to federal court on the basis of an assertion by the plaintiffs' counsel -- an assertion that was apparently the result of a mistake, and quickly retracted -- that the amount in controversy exceeded $75,000, the threshold amountin-controversy for purposes of federal diversity jurisdiction. The defendant's counsel asserts that because he filed his removal petition before his adversary's mistake was corrected, this court is forbidden from acting on its current lack of jurisdiction. In essence, the defendant contends that in the context of a removal case, the only relevant time for purposes of determining the amountin-controversy element of federal diversity jurisdiction (but not the citizenship element) is the date the notice of removal is filed. Although the position finds support in the case law, I disagree with it for the reasons explained below, and therefore grant the motion to remand.

I. Background

Plaintiffs Bladimir Matos and Alfonso Prensa filed this personal injury action against defendant D.T. Wojnarowicz ("Wojnarowicz") in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of Kings, on June 19, 2007. See Docket Entry ("DE") 1 (Notice of Removal) ("Notice"), Ex. A (Verified Complaint) ("Complaint"). Wojnarowicz filed a Verified Answer With Counterclaim on August 1, 2007. Notice, Ex. B ("Answer").*fn1 On October 8, 2007, the plaintiffs' counsel asserted, in a Supplemental Verified Bill of Particulars, that each plaintiff "demands judgment against the defendant in the amount of $250,000." Notice, Ex. C ("Bill of Particulars"). On the basis of the latter information, Wojnarowicz then removed the case to this court on October 18, 2007.

No later than November 16, 2006 -- less than six weeks after filing the Bill of Particulars, and before the initial conference in this court -- the plaintiffs' counsel told Wojnarowicz's counsel that the amount in controversy is in fact far lower than $250,000, and is well below the minimum amount-in-controversy necessary to establish federal diversity jurisdiction. See DE 6 (letter to the court dated November 16, 2007). The plaintiffs' counsel therefore asked that Wojnarowicz agree to a remand. The request was declined, and the plaintiffs asked me to schedule a conference to discuss the matter. Id. At that conference on November 26, 2007, I set a briefing schedule for the instant motion.

II. Discussion

A. The Case Was Properly Removed

A defendant may remove from state court to federal court any civil action of which the federal court has original jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). Upon such removal, the federal court in which the notice is filed must examine it "promptly." 28 U.S.C. § 1446(c)(4). "If it clearly appears on the face of the notice and any exhibits annexed thereto that removal should not be permitted, the court shall make an order for summary remand." Id.

Where, as here, a defendant relies on 28 U.S.C. § 1332 as the source of the receiving court's purported original jurisdiction, it must establish that the requirements of the statute have been met. Specifically, the defendant must demonstrate that the parties are citizens of diverse states and must demonstrate a reasonable probability that the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a); Blockbuster, Inc. v. Galeno, 472 F.3d 53, 57 (2d Cir. 2006) ("It is well-settled that the party asserting federal jurisdiction bears the burden of establishing jurisdiction.") (citing R.G. Barry Corp. v. Mushroom Makers, Inc., 612 F.2d 651, 655 (2d Cir. 1979)); United Food & Commercial Workers Union v. CenterMark Properties Meriden Square, Inc., 30 F.3d 298, 303-04 (2d Cir. 1994). A federal court considering the propriety of the removal should generally evaluate the existence of the amount in controversy, like any jurisdictional fact, "on the basis of the pleadings, viewed at the time when the defendant files the notice of removal." Blockbuster, Inc., 472 F.3d at 57 (citing Vera v. Saks & Co., 335 F.3d 109, 116 n.2 (2d Cir. 2003) (per curiam)). Viewed against that standard, there can be no doubt that the removal notice itself was entirely proper: the pleadings -- including the Bill of Particulars -- adequately established both elements of diversity jurisdiction.

B. This Court Currently Lacks Subject Matter Jurisdiction And Must Therefore Remand The Case To State Court

Just as there can be no question that the removal itself was proper, there can also be no question that as things currently stand -- and more importantly, as they will unquestionably remain -- there is no lawful basis on which this court can exercise subject matter jurisdiction. To start with first principles:

The district courts of the United States, as we have said many times, are "courts of limited jurisdiction. They possess only that power authorized by Constitution and statute," Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of America, 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994).... In order to provide a neutral forum for what have come to be known as diversity cases, Congress also has granted district courts original jurisdiction in civil actions between citizens of different States .... [28 U.S.C.] § 1332. To ensure that diversity jurisdiction does not flood the federal courts with minor disputes, § 1332(a) requires that the matter in controversy in a diversity case exceed a specified amount, currently $75,000.

Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Allapattah Services, Inc., 545 U.S. 546, 552 (2005).

Congress has also explicitly provided a mechanism for allowing cases that originate in state court to be removed to federal court -- thus overriding the normal deference that courts accord the plaintiff's choice of forum -- if the federal court may properly exercise subject matter jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1441. However, in providing that mechanism, Congress has not waived or relaxed the fundamental requirements for such jurisdiction. To the contrary, in amending the removal statute in 1988, Congress did two things of particular relevance. First, it amended a statutory provision that formerly required a motion for remand on any ground to be made within 30 days of removal -- apparently including a motion predicated on the lack of subject matter jurisdiction -- to read as follows: "A motion to remand the case on the basis of any defect other than lack of subject matter jurisdiction must be made within 30 days after the filing of the notice of removal ...." Pub. L. 100-702 § 1016(c) (1988), codified at 28 U.S.C. ...


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