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Casey v. Nestle Prepared Foods Co.

United States District Court, Sixth Circuit

October 1, 2013

WESTERN RICKY CASEY, Plaintiff,
v.
NESTLE PREPARED FOODS COMPANY, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

DANNY C. REEVES, District Judge.

This matter is pending for consideration of Plaintiff Western Ricky Casey's motion to remand. [Record No. 9] Casey argues that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction because the amount in controversy does not exceed $75, 000.00, exclusive of interest and costs, and because there is not complete diversity between the parties. Defendants Nestle Prepared Foods Company (Nestle") and Scott Luvin have also filed a motion for reconsideration. [Record No. 5] For the reasons discussed below, both motions will be denied.

I.

Casey was previously employed by Nestle at its facility in Mt. Sterling, Kentucky, until he was terminated, on March 13, 2012. [Record No. 1-22, p. 3 ¶9] Casey filed his Complaint against Nestle in the Montgomery Circuit Court on September 12, 2012, alleging that the company violated Kentucky Revised Statute § 342.197 by wrongfully terminating him in retaliation for his pursuit of two workers' compensation claims. [Record No. 1-2] On March 19, 2013, the state court granted Casey leave to file an Amended Complaint, which added a second claim for common law wrongful discharge. [Record No. 1-13] Both the Complaint and the Amended Complaint stated that the amount sought not exceed $75, 000.00. [Record No. 8]

On May 10, 2013, Casey was granted leave to file a Second Amended Complaint, which alleged claims of defamation and libel and slander against Nestle and Luvin, individually and as an employee of Nestle. [Record No. 1-22] The Second Amended Complaint also added a claim for punitive damages. However, the Second Amended Complaint did not contain the limiting language stating that the amount sought does not exceed $75, 000.00. Although this language was included in Paragraph 17 of the proposed Second Amended Complaint that Casey filed as an attachment to his Motion to Amend Complaint, it was not included in the final version filed with the Court. [Record No. 1, p. 3 n.3]

Based on the allegations contained in the Second Amended Complaint, the defendants filed a Notice of Removal on May 30, 2013, invoking the Court's diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Casey seeks remand, arguing that this Court lacks jurisdiction because the amount in controversy is less than $75, 000.00, exclusive of interest and costs, and because there is not complete diversity between the parties.

II.

Title 28 of the United States Code, Section 1332, provides that federal district courts have original jurisdiction over civil actions between citizens of different states where the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000.00. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). The statute "has been interpreted to demand complete diversity, that is, that no party share citizenship with any opposing party." Caudill v. N. Am. Media Corp., 200 F.3d 914, 916 (6th Cir. 2000). For purposes of diversity jurisdiction, citizenship is based on a party's domicile, not his or her residence. Farmer v. Fisher, 386 F.Appx. 554, 557 (6th Cir. 2010). The two terms are "not necessarily synonymous'"; a person "can reside in one place but be domiciled in another.'" Id. (quoting Miss. Band of Choctaw Indians v. Holyfield, 490 U.S. 30, 48 (1989)).

Additionally, before a defendant may properly remove a case to federal court based upon diversity jurisdiction, there must be complete diversity of citizenship both at the time that the case is commenced and at the time that the notice of removal is filed. Jerome-Duncan, Inc. v. Auto-By-Tel, L.L.C., 176 F.3d 904, 907 (6th Cir. 1999) (citing Easley v. Pettibone Mich. Corp., 990 F.2d 905, 908 (6th Cir. 1993)); see also Freeport-McMoRan, Inc. v. K N Energy, Inc., 498 U.S. 426, 428 (1991). In interest of comity and federalism, federal jurisdiction should be exercised only when it is clearly established, and any ambiguity regarding scope of removal statute should be resolved in favor of remand to state courts. Brierly v. Alusuisse Flexible Packaging, Inc., 184 F.3d 527 (6th Cir. 1999).

Finally, the party seeking to invoke diversity jurisdiction bears the burden of proving that complete diversity existed at the time of removal. Certain Interested Underwriters v. Layne, 26 F.3d 39, 41 (6th Cir. 1994). "On a challenge to allegations of jurisdictional facts, that party must support those allegations by competent proof." 15 Moore's Federal Practice, § 102.14 (Matthew Bender 3d ed.); see also United Food Local 919 v. Centermark Props., 30 F.3d 298, 301 (2d Cir. 1994).

III.

A. The Amount in Controversy

Casey argues that the Court lacks jurisdiction because the amount in controversy is less than $75, 000.00, exclusive of interest and costs. The defendants respond that they have satisfied their burden on this issue because the allegations in the Second Amended Complaint show that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000.00. When a plaintiff fails to specifically plead an amount he seeks, the removing defendants must show that it is more likely than not that the amount in controversy exceeds the jurisdictional amount, based on the plaintiff's complaint at the time the notice of removal is filed. Klepper v. First Am. Bank, 916 F.2d 337, 340 (6th Cir. 1990); Gafford v. Gen. Elec. Co., 997 F.2d 150, 158 (6th Cir. 1993). To determine the amount in controversy, the Court first looks to the complaint at the time of removal. Hayes v. Equitable Energy Res. Co., 266 F.3d 560, 573 (6th Cir. 2001). The minimum amount in controversy is met if a "fair reading" of the complaint renders it more likely than not that the amount in controversy exceeds the jurisdictional amount. See id.

Although the defendants emphasize that the limiting language on damages was omitted from the Second Amended Complaint, [1] the issue presented is whether the asserted claims provide an amount in controversy exceeding $75, 000.00. See Ratliff v. Merck S.C. Corp., 359 F.Supp.2d 571, 575 (E.D. Ky. 2005). Casey's Second Amended Complaint does not specifically state the amount Casey seeks. However, the allegations and attached filings demonstrate that, more likely than not, the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000.00. For instance, Casey alleges that he is entitled to an award of back pay, front pay, and damages for psychological pain and suffering and his other benefits of ...


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