United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Paducah Division
WILLIAM RALPH CLIFT, JUDITH BENNETT CLIFT, CLINTON CLIFT, JR., and BARBARA CLIFT, Plaintiffs,
RDP COMPANY and LAFARGE WEST, INC., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
THOMAS B. RUSSELL, Senior District Judge.
This matter is before the Court upon Plaintiffs William Ralph Clift, Judith Bennett Clift, Clifton Clift, Jr., and Barbara Clift's Motion to Remand. (Docket No. 9.) Defendant RDP Company has responded. (Docket No. 11.) Defendant LaFarge West, Inc. has responded. (Docket No. 12.) Plaintiffs have replied. (Docket No. 13.) This matter is now fully briefed and ripe for adjudication. For the following reasons, the Court will DENY Plaintiffs' Motion to Remand. (Docket No. 9.)
On March 11, 2014, Plaintiffs filed a Complaint in the Caldwell Circuit Court against Defendants. (Docket No. 1-1.) The Complaint involves a Lease where "all merchantable limestone rock and kindred substances" on approximately 72.3 acres in Caldwell County, Kentucky, was leased to an entity. (Docket No. 9-2, at 3.) This Lease was entered into on August 1, 1977, for an initial term of five years, but could be renewed for successive five year intervals for up to 99 years, through 2076, "if all stipulations, covenants, and agreements herein contained have been well and truly kept and performed [by the lessee]." (Docket No. 1-1, at 12, 14.) The Lease grants the lessee the right to enter upon the premises and erect structures as is reasonably necessary to engage in the business of quarrying and removing limestone and other kindred substances. ( Id. at 13.) Plaintiffs are successors to the original lessors and Defendant RDP is the successor in title to the lessee. ( Id. ) Defendant Lafarge is the sublessee of RDP. ( Id. )
The Complaint (1) alleges trespass, and (2) requests a declaration of rights regarding uses of the Premises in conjunction with limestone operations on adjoining lands and enjoinment of the alleged trespass. (Docket No. 9-2, at 1.) Plaintiffs allege that Lafarge, in conjunction with operations on adjoining lands, has encroached upon the premises in violation of the Lease. Specifically, Plaintiffs allege Lafarge, in violation of the Lease, uses the premises for:
(i) storage of top-soil and refuse removed from lands which adjoined the Premises ("Other Lands"), (ii) the hauling of limestone and kindred substances removed from Other Lands, and (iii) access to the quarrying operation on Other Lands.
(Docket No. 1-1, at 9.)
On March 31, 2014, the Defendants filed their Notice of Removal to this Court. (Docket No. 1.) Subsequently, on April 14, 2014, Plaintiffs moved to remand to the Caldwell Circuit Court because they allege Defendants "have not proven by a preponderance of evidence it is more likely than not the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs, as required by 28 U.S.C. 1332(a)." (Docket No. 9.)
Defendants seeking removal bear the burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the amount-in-controversy requirement is satisfied. Hayes v. Equitable Energy Res. Co., 266 F.3d 560, 572 (6th Cir. 2001) (citing Gafford v. Gen. Elec. Co., 997 F.2d 150, 158 (6th Cir. 1993)). This standard, however, "does not place upon the defendant the daunting burden of proving, to a legal certainty, that the plaintiff's damages are not less than the amountin-controversy requirement." Id. (quoting Gafford, 997 F.2d at 158).
Plaintiffs note that there is no mention of any monetary values associated with their trespass claim and request for a declaration regarding use of the Premises in connection with operations on other lands. Plaintiffs argue Defendants have misstated the allegations of the Complaint in the Removal Notice in an effort to reach the $75, 000 amount-in-controversy threshold by alleging Plaintiffs are seeking a declaration that the Lease will terminate early, when they are not actually requesting termination of the Lease. As will be discussed in more detail below, the Court finds that the Complaint is not requesting termination of the Lease, but that, in any event, Plaintiff's trespass claim and request for a declaration of trespass regarding the use of the Premises in conjunction with operations on adjoining lands meets the amount-in-controversy requirement.
I. The Complaint Does Not Request Termination of the Lease
Defendants' argument that the Complaint requests termination of the Lease focuses on the prayer for relief which requests, in relevant part, that: "[t]he Court proceed to declare the rights of the parties to the Lease in accordance with KRS 418.040, et seq." (Docket No. 1-1, at 10.) Plaintiffs admit that the prayer "was less precise than it could have been", but maintains they are not seeking termination of the Lease. After reviewing the entire Complaint and the parties' briefing, the Court agrees with Plaintiffs that their Complaint did not request termination of the Lease.
Throughout the Complaint, Plaintiffs focus on the alleged trespass of Defendant Lafarge in conjunction with the operations on adjoining lands. Plaintiffs never ask for or even mentioned a termination of the Lease. Accordingly, the Court reads the request in ¶ 17 for a declaration of rights of the parties to the Lease as only in reference to whether ...