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Louise Fong, As Guardian For Lila Lanziesar and As Guardian For v. Elder Life Management

January 23, 2012

LOUISE FONG, AS GUARDIAN FOR LILA LANZIESAR AND AS GUARDIAN FOR ALFRED LANZIESAR, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ELDER LIFE MANAGEMENT, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John Gleeson, United States District Judge:

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiff Louise Fong, as guardian for Lila Lanziesar and Alfred Lanziesar, commenced this action against Elder Life Management, Inc. ("Elder Life") in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, Queens County. On December 5, 2011, Elder Life removed the action to this Court, asserting federal subject-matter jurisdiction on the basis of diversity of citizenship. Fong moves to remand the action to state court on the grounds that the amount in controversy is below the statutory minimum for diversity jurisdiction. For the reasons set forth below, the motion to remand is granted.

BACKGROUND

Fong is the daughter of Lila and Alfred Lanziesar. In 2008, acting as her parents' guardian, Fong entered into an agreement with Elder Life. Compl. ¶ 6. Pursuant to the agreement, Elder Life would provide services to the Lanziesars including "elder care management and account management" in exchange for payments that would be determined by the type and frequency of the particular services provided. Id.; see also id. Ex. A. Fong alleges that Elder Life breached the agreement by billing the Lanziesars for services that were either unnecessary or not actually rendered. See, e.g., id. ¶ 8.

With respect to Lila Lanziesar, Fong alleges that Elder Life overbilled by approximately $64,000, but not more than $74,000. See id. ¶ 14. With respect to Alfred Lanziesar, Fong claims Elder Life overbilled by approximately $35,000, but not more than $74,000. See id. ¶ 19. Fong seeks total damages of approximately $99,000.

Fong, in her capacity as the Lanziesars' guardian, originally commenced a state-court action against Elder Life in October 2011. In that first action, she alleged a total amount of overbilling in the approximate amount of $100,000. The complaint did not break down this total into the separate amounts by which Lila and Alfred were individually overbilled.

Elder Life removed that action to this Court, asserting that there was federal subject-matter jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1) due to the purportedly diverse citizenship of the parties and an amount in controversy that exceeded $75,000. See Notice of Removal, Fong v. Elder Life Mgmt., Inc., No. 11-CV-5429 (KAM) (ALC) (E.D.N.Y. filed Nov. 7, 2011). The removed action was voluntarily dismissed on November 16, 2011.

That same day, Fong commenced the present action in state court. Her complaint here is virtually identical to that in the voluntarily dismissed action, except that she has now broken out the damages claimed into the separate amounts by which Lila and Alfred were each allegedly overbilled. See Compl. ¶¶ 14, 19.

Elder Life removed the action to this Court on December 5, 2011, again asserting federal subject-matter jurisdiction pursuant to § 1332(a)(1). On December 22, 2011, Fong moved to remand the action to state court asserting that this Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction. The Court heard oral argument on January 20, 2012.

DISCUSSION A. Whether the Action Should Be Remanded

A party generally may remove an action from state court to federal court if the action could have been brought in federal court, i.e., there is federal subject-matter jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a); Sygenta Crop Prot., Inc. v. Henson, 537 U.S. 28, 33 (2002); Brown v. Eli Lilly & Co., 654 F.3d 347, 356 (2d Cir. 2011). If federal subject-matter jurisdiction is lacking at the time of removal, the case must be remanded to state court. 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c); Brown, 654 F.3d at 356.

Federal district courts "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). The party invoking federal jurisdiction -- here, Elder Life -- "has the burden of establishing the existence of the jurisdictional amount in controversy." Lupo v. Human Affairs Int'l, Inc., 28 F.3d 269, 273 (2d Cir. 1994); see also Cal. Pub. Emps.' Ret. Sys. v. WorldCom, Inc., 368 F.3d 86, 100 (2d Cir. 2004).

There is no dispute that there is complete diversity of the parties. The sole issue in the present motion is whether the amount-in-controversy requirement is satisfied. As apparent from the face of the complaint, Fong seeks to recover total damages in excess of $75,000.

However, these damages are sought on behalf of two different people -- Lila and Alfred -- for whom Fong is acting as guardian. Neither Alfred's nor Lila's claimed damages exceed $75,000 on their own. Thus, the existence of subject-matter jurisdiction turns on whether the claims may be ...


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