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Michael Conti v. Tyco Electronics Corp

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA SAN JOSE DIVISION


December 22, 2010

MICHAEL CONTI,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
TYCO ELECTRONICS CORP., DEFENDANT.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lucy H. Koh United States District Judge

United States District Court For the Northern District of California

ORDER REMANDING CASE FOR LACK OF FEDERAL JURISDICTION

I.BACKGROUND

On October 14, 2010, Plaintiff filed a complaint in the Superior Court of Santa Clara County. See Dkt. No. 1, Ex. A (Compl.). In the Complaint, Plaintiff seeks "judgment of the non-19 payment of the bonus of $52,400, for prejudgment interest, for costs of suit, for attorney's fees 20 allowed by law, and for such other relief as the court deems proper." Compl. at 2. Defendant was 21 served on October 15, 2010. See Notice of Removal (Dkt. No. 1) at ¶ 1. On November 16, 2010, 22

Defendant removed this case on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. See Notice of Removal (Dkt. 23 No. 1) at ¶ 3. In the Notice of Removal, Defendant states that "Conti does not plead with 24 specificity the exact amount of damages he seeks. However, it is facially apparent from the 25 complaint that the claims are likely to exceed $75,000." Id. In support of this, Defendant cites 26 Plaintiff's claim for $52,400 and attorney's fees. Id. 27

On November 30, 2010, Plaintiff moved to remand this case to state court based on a lack 28 of federal jurisdiction due to an insufficient amount-in-controversy. See Motion (Dkt. No. 8) at 2.

Plaintiff does not challenge the diversity of the parties or the timeliness of the removal. In the 2 Motion and in an associated declaration, Plaintiff's attorney represents that his contingency fee is 3 one-third of any recovery. Id. Because one-third of $52,400 is $17,467, Plaintiff argues that the 4 total amount in controversy is only $69,867, below the $75,000 minimum requirement for amount-5 in-controversy. In opposition, the Defendant argues that because Plaintiff's attorney has refused to 6 sign a stipulation stating that he will seek no more than $75,000 on behalf of his client in this case, 7 his representations about the attorney's fees provisions are not credible. See Opposition (Dkt. No.8 16) at 2. 700 (9th Cir. 2007). If the amount in controversy is less than $75,000, the Court has no jurisdiction 14 to hear the matter and it must be remanded. See Valdez v. Allstate Ins. Co., 372 F.3d 1115, 1116 (9th Cir. 2004). "[W]here it is unclear or ambiguous from the face of a state-court complaint 16 whether the requisite amount in controversy is pled . . . a preponderance of the evidence standard 17 [is applied]. The removing defendant bears the burden of establishing, by a preponderance of the 18 evidence, that the amount in controversy exceeds the jurisdictional amount. Under this burden, the 19 defendant must provide evidence establishing that it is more likely than not that the amount in 20 controversy exceeds that amount." Guglielmino, 506 F.3d 696, 699 (internal citations and 21 quotations omitted). 22 23 24 only question, then, is whether or not the amount-in-controversy meets the $75,000 minimum set 25 by 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Complaints such as Plaintiff's, stating a specific amount of damages but an 26 unspecified amount of attorney's fees or other damages, are considered "ambiguous" as to the 27 amount-in-controversy. See Valdez v. Allstate Ins. Co., 372 F.3d 1115, 1117 (finding a complaint 28 seeking general damages "in excess of $50,000" plus unspecified punitive damages and attorney's

II.LEGAL STANDARD

Diversity jurisdiction requires both diversity of parties and that an amount of at least $75,000 is in controversy, exclusive of interest and costs. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). This amount United States District Court For the Northern District of California excludes costs, but includes attorney's fees. Guglielmino v. McKee Foods Corp., 506 F.3d 696,

III.ANALYSIS

In this case, it is undisputed that the parties are diverse. See Notice of Removal at ¶ 4. The fees to be ambiguous about the total amount-in-controversy). Therefore, it is the Defendant's 2 burden to show, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the amount-in-controversy exceeds 3 $75,000. Guglielmino, 506 F.3d at 699. Here, the Defendant has attempted to carry this burden by 4 pointing to Plaintiff's request for attorney's fees and "for other such relief as the court deems 5 proper," and arguing that these, in connection with Plaintiff's refusal to stipulate that he will not 6 seek more than $75,000, make it "facially apparent" that the Plaintiff actually seeks more than 7

Under Ninth Circuit authority, Defendant has not carried its burden to show that it is more 9 likely than not that the amount-in-controversy in this case exceeds $75,000. For example, in the Valdez case, the defendant argued that "on information and belief," the amount in controversy 11 exceeded $75,000.

general damages in excess of $50,000, plus attorney's fees and punitive damages. Id. The Ninth 13 Circuit found that the defendant's "conclusory" allegation was not sufficient to show that it was 14 more likely than not that damages would exceed the jurisdicitonal minimum. Valdez, 372 F.3d at 15 1116. In order to carry its burden, the defendant could rely on "facts presented in the removal 16 petition as well as any 'summary-judgment-type evidence relevant to the amount in controversy at 17 the time of removal.'" Matheson v. Progressive Specialty Ins. Co., 319 F.3d 1089, 1090 (9th Cir. 18

Here, the Defendant has provided no additional facts to support removal. Defendant's

20 reliance on Plaintiff's refusal to stipulate that he will not seek more than $75,000 does not suffice. 21

Generally, such stipulations are not enough to defeat jurisdiction when the amount-in-controversy 22 appears to be greater than $75,000 based on the complaint. Guglielmino, 506 F.3d at 698. Thus, 23 the proper focus for determining the amount-in-controversy is the claim for relief stated in the 24 complaint, and any additional facts introduced by the defendant. Angeles v. Monumental Life Ins.

(remanding despite plaintiff's refusal to stipulate to seeking less than $75,000). Here, the Defendant has raised no more than a "legal possibility" that Plaintiff's claims may exceed $75,000, 28 but this is not enough. Sanchez v. Monumental Life Ins. Co., 102 F.3d 398, 403 (9th Cir. 1996).

$75,000. 8 Valdez, 372 F.3d at 1116. As stated above, the complaint itself requested

2003). Co., No. C 09-4119 JF, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 57748 at *8-*9 (N.D. Cal. May 21, 2010)

The complaint seeks damages of $52,400 and attorney's fees, and the attorney for Plaintiff 2 has submitted evidence that his fee agreement provides for one-third of any recovery, or $17,467.

The evidence of record therefore suggests that the total amount-in-controversy is less than $75,000, 4 and Defendants have failed to introduce evidence to the contrary. The Ninth Circuit has warned 5 that "[w]here doubt regarding the right to removal exists, a case should be remanded to state 6 court." Matheson, 319 F.3d at 1090. Accordingly, this case is hereby REMANDED to the 7

Superior Court of Santa Clara County as this Court concludes it is without jurisdiction to hear this 8 case.

IT IS SO ORDERED.

20101222

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