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McKinney v. Icg, LLC

United States District Court, Sixth Circuit

May 7, 2013

SHANNA McKINNEY, Plaintiff,
v.
ICG, LLC, et al., Defendants. CLOVA PRATER, Plaintiff,
v.
ICG, LCC, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

AMUL R. THAPAR, District Judge.

The defendants removed these two cases from state court under 28 U.S.C. § 1332, but failed to include proof that the amount in controversy here satisfies the jurisdictional minimum. When prompted to do so, all they offered were unsupported inferences drawn from a few bare details. Such a showing falls short of the proof required to establish federal diversity jurisdiction. The Court must therefore remand the case back to state court.

BACKGROUND

These two cases arise out of the same highway accident in Kentucky. The plaintiffs, Shanna McKinney and Clova Prater, were passengers in a Jeep driven by Benny Moore, Jr. McKinney, R. 1-1 at 3 § 7; Prater, R. 1-1 at 3 § 7.[1] Timothy Martin rear-ended them with enough force to dent the rear-hatch door and cause the airbags to deploy. McKinney, R. 1-1 at 3 § 7; Prater, R. 1-1 at 3 § 7; see also id., R. 4-3 (showing damage to the Jeep). McKinney and Prater filed separate suits in Johnson County Circuit Court against Martin and his employer, International Coal Group ("ICG"). McKinney, R. 1-1; Prater, R. 1-1. Though their suits are separate, the plaintiffs' claims are identical. They allege that Martin's negligent driving caused the accident and assert that ICG shares liability because Martin was acting within the scope of his employment when the accident occurred. McKinney, at 4 §§ 9-13; Prater, R. 1-1 at 4 §§ 9-13. The plaintiffs seek damages for: (1) past and future medical expenses; (2) past and future mental and physical pain, suffering, and inconvenience; (3) past and future lost wages; and (4) miscellaneous expenses incurred due to the accident, such as travel costs. McKinney, R. 1-1 at 4-5 §§ f-j; Prater, R. 1-1 at 4-5 §§ f-j.

The defendants removed both suits to federal court by asserting diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332, but failed to include any evidence that the amount in controversy exceeded the jurisdictional threshold. McKinney, R. 1 at 2 §§ 4-5; Prater, R. 1 at 2 §§ 4-5. Concerned that it might lack subject-matter jurisdiction, the Court ordered the defendants to produce evidence of the amount in controversy. McKinney, R. 4; Prater, R. 3. Before the Court ruled on the defendants' response to its show cause orders, the plaintiffs filed motions to remand on the amount-in-controversy issue. McKinney, R. 7; Prater, R. 6. Now that the defendants have fully responded to the show cause orders and the motions, the Court considers the jurisdictional issue.

DISCUSSION

The defendants have the burden of proving that jurisdiction is proper here. Yet the evidence they present to satisfy the amount-in-controversy requirement leaves an inordinate amount of guesswork for the Court. Consequently, the Court must remand the case.

I. The Amount-in-Controversy Requirement

The defendants must affirmatively come forward with evidence showing it is more likely than not that the plaintiffs' claims exceed $75, 000. Since the defendants removed these cases from state court, they bear the burden of proving that the requirements for diversity jurisdiction-including the amount in controversy-are satisfied. Cleveland Hous. Renewal Project v. Deutsche Bank Trust Co., 621 F.3d 554, 559 (6th Cir. 2010) (citing Hertz Corp. v. Friend, 559 U.S. 77, 130 S.Ct. 1181, 1194-95 (2010)). That burden is not an insubstantial one.

Where, as here, the complaint seeks an unspecified amount of damages "that is not self-evidently greater or less than the federal amount-in-controversy requirement, " the removing defendants must carry its burden by a preponderance of the evidence. Gafford v. Gen. Elec. Co., 997 F.2d 150, 158 (6th Cir. 1993), abrogated on other grounds by Friend, 530 U.S. 77; see McKinney, R. 1-1 (seeking unspecified damages); Prater, R. 1-1 (same). The preponderance-of-the-evidence test requires the defendants to support their claims to jurisdiction by producing "competent proof" of the necessary "jurisdictional facts." Gafford, 997 F.2d at 160 (quoting McNutt v. Gen. Motors Acceptance Corp., 298 U.S. 178, 189 (1936)). Thus, if the defendants do not produce evidence showing it is more likely than not that the plaintiffs' claims exceed $75, 000, the cases must be remanded to state court. See id. at 158-60.

The defendants' reliance on the Fifth Circuit's "legal certainty" test is misplaced. See McKinney, R. 8 at 4 (citing De Aguilar v. Boeing, Co., 47 F.3d 1404, 1412 (5th Cir. 1995)); Prater, R. 7 at 4 (same). First, the Fifth Circuit's test does not apply in this Court; the Sixth Circuit's preponderance-of-the-evidence test does. See Gafford, 997 F.2d at 158. Second, even under the Fifth Circuit's test, the Court would not put any burden on the plaintiffs unless the defendants present evidence "that the amount in controversy actually exceeds the jurisdictional amount." De Aguilar, 47 F.3d at 1411. As explained below, the defendants fail to do so. So there is no reason to apply the "legal certainty" test.

II. The Proof of the Amount in Controversy in Both Cases

The defendants offer the same basic proof in both cases. They point to: (1) three post-accident photographs of the Jeep; (2) the fact that the plaintiffs provided various unspecified "medical records and bills" to the defendants before the suit; (3) the allegations in the plaintiffs' respective complaints; and (4) each plaintiff's refusal to stipulate that she will not seek more than $75, 000 worth of damages in this case. McKinney, R. 4 at 3-5; id., R. 8 at 3-6; Prater, R. 4 at 3-5; id. R. 7 at 3-6. Though the Court does not aggregate the damages claims, see Everett v. Verizon Wireless, Inc., 460 F.3d 818, 822 (6th Cir. 2006), it analyzes the evidence collectively for brevity's sake.

The "proof" the defendants offer reads more like a Fermi problem.[2] It lays out the barest details, and asks the Court to make all the inferences necessary to reach the conclusion. While such an exercise is wonderful in ...


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