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Rugerio-Serrano v. Makitausa, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. New York

May 25, 2017

MANUEL RUGERIO-SERRANO and HILDA JUAREZ, Plaintiffs,
v.
MAKITAUSA, INC., Defendant.

          Darren J. Epstein, Esq. Darren Jay Epstein, Esq., P.C. New York, NY Counsel for Plaintiffs.

          Matthew Finkelstein, Esq. London Fischer, LLP New York, NY Counsel for Defendant.

          OPINION & ORDER

          KENNETH M. KARAS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiffs Manuel Rugerio-Serrano ("Rugerio-Serrano") and his wife, Hilda Juarez ("Juarez, " and collectively, "Plaintiffs"), bring this Action against Defendant Makita USA, Inc. ("Defendant") for damages sustained while using a saw designed, manufactured, and distributed by Defendant. Defendant removed the case to federal court, and Plaintiffs now bring a Motion To Remand (the "Motion"). (See Dkt. No. 12.) For the reasons to follow, Plaintiffs' Motion is denied.

         I. Factual Background & Procedural History

         On or about October 22, 2012, while using the 5007F Makita Circular Saw "in accordance with its intended use and pursuant to the written instructions set forth on the [product's] label, " Rugerio-Serrano "was caused to suffer and sustain severe bodily injuries." (See Not. of Removal Ex. A ("Compl.") ¶ 20 (Dkt. No. 1).) Plaintiffs aver that the safety guard for the saw's blade suddenly failed, causing the blade to impale Rugerio-Serrano's left arm from his wrist nearly to his elbow. (See Pis.' Mot. for Remand & Incorporated Mem. of Law ("Pis.' Mem.") ¶ 1 (Dkt. No. 12).) Rugerio-Serrano seeks damages in connection with these injuries. (See Compl. ¶¶ 24, 30, 33, 39.) Juarez alleges that as a result of her husband's injuries, she will "forever be deprived of [the] society, services and consortium" of her husband, and seeks damages in compensation. (Id. ¶¶ 41-42.)

         Following Rugerio-Serrano's injury, Plaintiffs retained counsel and on July 21, 2014, sent a settlement package to Defendant, comprised of a police report, accident report, medical records, and photographs of the injury. (See Pis.' Mem. ¶ 3; see also Pis.' Mot. for Remand & Incorporated Mem. of Law ("First Mot. To Remand") Ex. 3, at 1 (Dkt. No. 5).) Plaintiffs also allege that their counsel "had conversations with . . . [D]efendant's legal counsel . . . indicat[ing] that this matter was worth well in excess of $75, 000.00, " (Pis.' Mem. ¶ 4), and that counsel for Plaintiffs "made a demand of at least $1, 000, 000, " (id).

         Over a year later, on or about October 6, 2015, Plaintiffs filed a Complaint in New York State Supreme Court, alleging that Rugerio-Serrano's numerous permanent physical and psychological injuries resulted from Defendant's misconduct. (See Compl. ¶¶ 21-22.) However, the Complaint did not contain an ad damnum clause identifying a specific amount in damages. (See generally id)[1] On November 4, 2015, Defendant simultaneously filed its Answer and a demand for an ad damnum pursuant to New York Civil Practice Law and Rules ("CPLR") § 3017(c). (See Not. of Removal Ex. C.) Plaintiffs filed their response to the ad damnum clause on June 27, 2016, seeking $4.5 million in damages. (See Not. of Removal Ex. D)

         On July 6, 2016, Defendant removed the Action to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). (See Not. of Removal.) On July 18, 2016, Plaintiffs filed a Motion To Remand, (see Pis.' First Mot. To Remand), which this Court denied the following day for failure to comply with the Court's Individual Practices. (See Memo Endorsement (July 19, 2016) (Dkt. No. 6).) The Court subsequently issued a Motion Scheduling Order, (see Order (Dkt. No. 11)), and Plaintiffs filed the instant Motion on October 9, 2016, (see Pis.' Mem.). On November 7, 2016, Defendant filed its opposition and accompanying papers, (see Dkt. Nos. 13-17), and on December 13, 2016, Plaintiffs filed their reply, (see Dkt. No. 19).

         II. Discussion

         A. General Principles

         '"Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction' that 'possess only that power authorized by Constitution and statute.'" Hendrickson v. United States, 791 F.3d 354, 358 (2d Cir. 2015) (quoting Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994)). Among the limited categories of disputes over which a federal court may exercise jurisdiction are those "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). Where, as here, a case meets these requirements, but was nevertheless initiated in state court, it "may be removed by the defendant... to the district court of the United States for the district and division embracing the place where such action is pending, " at least if Congress has not provided otherwise, 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a), and provided that the defendant in the diversity action is not a citizen of the state where the action was brought, id. § 1441(b)(2). "[I]n light of the congressional intent to restrict federal court jurisdiction, as well as the importance of preserving the independence of state governments, federal courts construe the removal statute narrowly, resolving any doubts against removability." Purdue Pharma L.P. v. Kentucky, 704 F.3d 208, 213 (2d Cir. 2013) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Commonwealth Advisors Inc. v. Wells Fargo Bank, Nat 7 Ass 'n, No. 15-CV-7834, 2016 WL 3542462, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. June 23, 2016) (same).

         This right to removal, however, has a shelf life, and, where the action has been pending for a year or less, see 28 U.S.C. § 1446(c)(1), the notice of removal is to be "filed within 30 days after receipt by the defendant, through service or otherwise, of a copy of an amended pleading, motion, order or other paper from which it may first be ascertained that the case is one which is or has become removable, " id. § 1446(b)(3). Where, as here, "the case stated by the initial pleading [was] not removable solely because the amount in controversy [did] not exceed" $75, 000, "information relating to the amount in controversy in the record of the State proceeding, or in responses to discovery, shall be treated as an 'other paper' under subsection (b)(3)." Id. § 1446(c)(3)(A).

         If the defendant fails to file such a notice within this 30-day period, a plaintiff may subsequently move to remand the action to state court, provided that the motion is made within 30 days of the defendant's filing of the notice. Id. § 1447(c). Here, the question for the Court is whether some "other paper from which it may ... be ascertained that the case is one which is . . . removable, " id. ยง 1446(b)(3), started ...


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