United States District Court, C.D. California
Present: Honorable ANDREW J. GUILFORD
CIVIL MINUTES - GENERAL
[IN CHAMBERS] ORDER DENYING MOTION TO REMAND
Ponsford sued Skypatrol LLC and Topp Group, Inc., in state
court, for alleged wrongful termination, retaliation against
a whistleblower, and unfair competition in violation of state
law. (Compl., Dkt. No. 1-1 at 3-5.) The complaint doesn't
state any specific amount of damages. Rather, Ponsford
generally seeks an award of compensatory damages, exemplary
or punitive damages, attorney fees, and costs. (Id.
at 5.) The defendants filed a timely notice of removal,
see 28 U.S.C. § 1441, and now, Ponsford moves
to remand this case to the Riverside County Superior Court.
courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, ” and they
possess “only that power authorized by Constitution and
statute.” Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of
America, 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). The Constitution
provides, in Article III, § 2, that “[t]he
judicial Power [of the United States] shall extend . . . to
all Cases . . . between Citizens of different States.”
And Congress, in 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a), has long
authorized district courts to exercise jurisdiction over
“all civil actions where the matter in controversy
exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000, exclusive of interests
and costs, and is between . . . citizens of different
that essential background in mind, the Court turns to
Ponsford's motion to remand for lack of diversity
jurisdiction. Here, Ponsford's sole arguments is that the
defendants have “failed to meet their burden in showing
that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000.” (Mot.
to Remand, Dkt. No. 14 at 4.)
of citizenship. It's apparent to the Court that
there is “complete” diversity of citizenship
between the plaintiff and all the defendants. See
Caterpillar Inc. v. Lewis, 519 U.S. 61, 68 (1996)
(citing Strawbridge v. Curtiss, 7 U.S. 267 (1806)).
Here, Ponsford is a citizen of California, while Skypatrol is
a citizen of Florida and New York, and Topp Group is a
citizen of Florida and Delaware. (Notice of Removal, Dkt. No.
1 at 3-4.) The parties don't dispute this preliminary
point. (Compare Mot. to Remand, Dkt. No. 14 at 4,
with Opp'n, Dkt. No. 18 at 1.)
in controversy. Ponsford seems to think his own
“silence” mandates remand. (Mot. to Remand, Dkt.
No. 14 at 6.) He points out, for example, that the complaint
is devoid of “monetary figures and general facts from
which the Court can infer an amount for plaintiff's lost
wages.” (Id.) And given this facial dearth (of
his own creation), he suggests that removal is simply
inappropriate without “additional information or
Court disagrees with Ponsford's approach.
defendant seeking to remove a case to a federal court need
only file a notice of removal “containing a short and
plain statement of the grounds for removal.” 28 U.S.C.
§ 1446(a); see also 14C C. Wright & A.
Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 3733, p. 639-41
(4th ed. 2009) (noting that the “short and plain
statement” requirement is “borrowed from the
pleading requirement set forth in Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 8(a)”). Ordinarily, “the
defendant's amount-in-controversy allegation should be
accepted when not contested by the plaintiff or questioned by
the court.” Dart Cherokee Basin Operating Co., LLC
v. Owens, 135 S.Ct. 547, 553 (2014). But if the
plaintiff does contest that allegation, then “removal .
. . is proper on the basis of an amount in controversy
asserted” by the defendant “if the district court
finds, by the preponderance of the evidence, that
the amount in controversy exceeds” the relevant
jurisdictional threshold. See 28 U.S.C. §
1446(c)(2)(B) (emphasis added). “In such a case,
” the Supreme Court has said, “both sides
submit proof and the [district] court decides, by a
preponderance of the evidence, whether the
amount-in-controversy requirement has been satisfied.”
Dart Cherokee, 135 S.Ct. at 554 (emphasis added).
dispute is decidedly one-sided. Here, Skypatrol and Topp
Group have provided adequate evidence of the amount in
controversy, while Ponsford has offered only coy speculation.
To start, the plaintiff seeks compensatory damages for
“lost wages and other employment benefits” caused
by his alleged wrongful termination. (Compl., Dkt. No. 1-1 at
4-5.) Ponsford was terminated in May 2016, but, until that
time, he earned roughly $7, 300 per month including salary,
bonuses, and commission. (Rubin Decl., Dkt. No. 1-3 at 3-5.)
There's no evidence that the plaintiff has mitigated
damages since. So, at the time of removal (about eight months
after termination), Ponsford's lost wages and other
employment benefits totaled $58, 400 and counting.
(Opp'n, Dkt. No. 18 at 5-6.) But there's more. Beyond
that conservative estimate of compensatory damages, Ponsford
also seeks exemplary or punitive damages because the
defendants allegedly caused “severe emotional distress
and physical distress” and acted with “oppression
and malice.” (Compl., Dkt. No. 1-1 at 4-5.) The
defendants have pointed to numerous analogous jury verdicts
and cases, all showing a potential for substantial emotional
distress and punitive damages-anywhere from $200, 000 to
several millions of dollars. (Opp'n, Dkt. No. 18 at 7-8;
Ruygrok Decl., Dkt. No. 19 at 2-3, Exh. B.) See Simmons
v. PCR Tech., 209 F.Supp.2d 1029, 1033-34 (N.D. Cal.
2002) (discussing the “potential for large punitive
damage awards” and “substantial” damages
for “emotional distress” in employment cases,
even if the facts aren't “perfectly
analogous”). Confirmation comes readily. Indeed, before
removal, it appears that Ponsford made a settlement demand in
this case exceeding $75, 000. (Lynch Decl., Dkt. No. 1-2 at
2.) See Cohn v. Petsmart, Inc., 281 F.3d 837, 840
(9th Cir. 2002) (holding that a settlement demand may be
“relevant evidence of the amount in controversy if it
appears to reflect a reasonable estimate of the
all of these facts together, the defendants have shown, by a
preponderance of the evidence, that the amount in controversy
is greater than $75, 000. The Court thus DENIES ...