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Blackburn v. FCA U.S. LLC

United States District Court, S.D. California

August 8, 2016

MICHELLE BLACKBURN, Plaintiff,
v.
FCA U.S. LLC, a Delaware Limited Liability Company; and DOES 1 through 10, inclusive, Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING UNOPPOSED MOTION TO REMAND (DOC. NO. 6)

          Hon. Anthony J. Battaglia United States District Judge

         INTRODUCTION

         Presently before the Court is Plaintiff Michelle Blackburn’s (“Plaintiff”) unopposed motion to remand this mater to San Diego County Superior Court. (Doc. No. 6.) Finding Defendant FCA U.S. LLC (“Defendant”) has failed to carry its burden of establishing removal jurisdiction exists, Plaintiff’s motion to remand is GRANTED. As this matter is appropriate for resolution on the papers and without oral argument pursuant to Local Rule 7.1.d.1, the motion hearing presently set for October 13, 2016 is VACATED.

         BACKGROUND

         On May 17, 2016, Plaintiff filed suit against Defendant in San Diego County Superior Court for damages stemming from Plaintiff’s purchase of a new 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee. (Doc. No. 1-2.) Plaintiffs asserts three causes of action sounding in state law for violations of the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act and fraudulent concealment. (Id.) Defendant was served with the complaint on May 19, 2016, and filed a notice of removal on June 16, 2016. (Doc. No. 1.) Defendant asserts federal jurisdiction exists pursuant to 26 U.S.C. 1332(d), as the parties are diverse and the amount in controversy exceeds the jurisdictional minimum of $75, 000. (Id. at 3.)

         On June 16, 2016, Plaintiff moved to remand arguing that Defendant has failed to establish diversity jurisdiction exists. (Doc. No. 6 at 2.) In addition to remand, Plaintiff seeks an award of costs and expenses, including attorney’s fees, incurred because of removal. (Id.) Defendant has not filed an opposition or otherwise addressed the arguments advanced in support of remand.

         DISCUSSION

         Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, having subject matter jurisdiction only over matters authorized by the Constitution and Congress. See Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). A defendant may remove a civil action from state court to federal court only if the district court would have original jurisdiction over the matter. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). “Removal statutes are strictly construed against removal.” Luther v. Countywide Home Loans Serv., L.P., 533 F.3d 1031, 1034 (9th Cir. 2008). There is also a “strong presumption” against removal jurisdiction, and the party seeking removal always has the burden of establishing that removal is proper. Gaus v. Miles, Inc., 980 F.2d 564, 566 (9th Cir. 1992). If there is any doubt as to the propriety of removal, federal jurisdiction must be rejected. Id. at 567.

         A. Amount in Controversy

         For a federal court to exercise diversity jurisdiction there must be “complete diversity” between the parties and the amount in controversy requirement of $75, 000 must be met. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a); Strawbridge v. Curtiss, 7 U.S. 267, 267 (1806). The amount in controversy is determined by reference to the complaint, and includes the amount of damages in dispute, as well as attorney’s fees, if authorized by statute or contract. Kroske v. U.S. Bank Corp., 432 F.3d 976, 980 (9th Cir. 2005). Where the complaint does not pray for damages in a specific amount, the defendant must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000. Singer v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 116 F.3d 373, 376 (9th Cir. 1997) (citing Sanchez v. Monumental Life Ins. Co., 102 F.3d 398, 404 (9th Cir. 1996)). If the amount is not facially apparent from the complaint, the Court may “require parties to submit summary-judgment-type evidence relevant to the amount in controversy at the time of removal.” Id. (citing Allen v. R & H Oil & Gas Co., 63 F.3d 1326, 1335-56 (5th Cir. 1995)).

         Plaintiff’s complaint does not allege a specific damages amount. Defendant, therefore, “bears the burden of establishing, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the amount in controversy exceeds $[75], 000. Under this burden, [Defendants] must provide evidence establishing that it is ‘more likely than not’ that the amount in controversy exceeds that amount.” Sanchez v. Monumental Life Ins. Co., 102 F.3d 398, 404 (9th Cir. 1996).

         In the notice of removal, Defendant asserts the amount in controversy is at least “three times the vehicle’s purchase price, or approximately $127, 379.40, plus attorney’s fees and punitive damages.” (Doc. No. 1 ¶ 9.) This calculation, according to Defendant, is derived from Plaintiff’s request for “reimbursement of the price paid for the vehicle less that amount directly attributable to use by the Plaintiff, incidental, consequential, and general damages, and a civil penalty up to two times the amount of actual damages.” (Id.) (quoting Doc. No. 1-2 ¶¶ 140-143.) In support of remand, Plaintiff argues Defendant’s damage calculation does not consider Song-Beverly’s rules regarding damages calculations. (Doc. No. 6 at 8.) More specifically, Plaintiff contends she does not seek damages based on the total purchase price of the vehicle, and offers her own calculation of potential damages as the estimated amount in controversy.

         Given that the removal statute is strictly construed against removal, and that any doubts as to the propriety of federal jurisdiction are resolved in favor of remand, the Court finds Defendant has failed to establish the required jurisdictional amount in controversy. Although Defendant proposes a potential recovery amount in excess of $120, 000, the means for calculating that sum are less than clear in the notice of removal.[1]Additionally, because the complaint does not affirmatively state the amount in controversy, Defendant bears the burden of establishing the jurisdictional threshold is met by a preponderance of the evidence. Failure to oppose the instant motion does not carry Defendant’s burden as the proponent of removal.[2] Accordingly, the allegations in the notice of removal regarding the potential amount in controversy are insufficient to establish diversity jurisdiction. See Matheson v. Progressive Specialty Ins. Co., 319 F.3d 1089, 1090-91 (9th Cir. 2003) (“Conclusory allegations as to the amount in controversy are insufficient.”).

         B. Diversity ...


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