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Tankersley v. Martinrea Heavy Stampings, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division

July 18, 2014

ANTHONY TANKERSLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
MARTINREA HEAVY STAMPINGS, INC., Defendant

For Anthony Tankersley, Plaintiff: Kurt A. Scharfenberger, LEAD ATTORNEY, The Scharfenberger Law Office, Louisville, KY.

For Martinrea Heavy Stampings, Inc., Defendant: Alex G. Cavanaugh, Brian A. Kreucher, LEAD ATTORNEYS, PRO HAC VICE, Howard & Howard PLLC - Royal Oak, Royal Oak, MI; Kyle Donald Johnson, LEAD ATTORNEY, Frost Brown Todd LLC - Louisville, Louisville, KY.

Page 776

MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

Gregory F. Van Tatenhove, United States District Judge

Anthony Tankersley is a former employee of Martinrea Heavy Stampings, Inc., who alleges that he was injured on the job and is now substantially limited in his ability to work and live a normal life. [R. 1-3 at 5.] Following his injury, Tankersley was terminated from employment. [ Id. at 2-3.] He now alleges that his termination was wrongful and sues Martinrea for compensatory and punitive damages.

I

On February 4, 2014, Tankersley filed suit against Martinrea in Shelby County Circuit Court, seeking an unspecified sum of damages to compensate for past and future lost wages, past and future lost benefits, emotional distress, mental anguish, humiliation, and embarrassment. [R. 1-3 at 7.] Additionally, Tankersley seeks punitive damages, attorney's fees, costs and expenses. [ Id.] On February 21, Martinrea removed that action to this Court on the basis that " Plaintiff's allegations, if proven, could entitle him to compensatory damages more likely than not in excess of $75,000.00." [R. 1 at 3.] Four days later, Tankersley filed a Motion to Remand.[1] [R. 4.] Attached to that Motion was a Stipulation of the same date:

Plaintiff expressly asserts in the above cause of action, and any subsequent action(s), that Plaintiff will not seek or accept an award of damages in excess of $74,999.00 inclusive of punitive damages, attorneys' fees, and the fair value of any injunctive relief.

[R. 4-1 (emphasis in original).] Martinrea argues that the reasonable value of Tankerley's damages exceeds $75,000 and that Tankersley's post-removal stipulation is ineffective in defeating the jurisdiction of this Court as it is not an unequivocal statement limiting damages. [R. 10.] The Court invited the parties to provide additional briefing on whether the Supreme Court's decision in Powerex Corp. v. Reliant

Page 777

Energy Servs., Inc., 551 U.S. 224, 127 S.Ct. 2411, 168 L.Ed.2d 112 (2007) abrogates the rule espoused in Rogers v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 230 F.3d 868, 872 (6th Cir. 2000), that " a post-removal stipulation reducing the amount in controversy to below the jurisdictional limit does not require remand to state court." [R. 11.] Having received that additional briefing, and the Court now being fully informed, this case will be remanded to Shelby Circuit Court.

II

A

A defendant may remove a civil action from state court to federal court only if the action is one over which the federal court could have exercised original jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. § § 1441, 1446. This Court has original " diversity" jurisdiction over all civil actions when " the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75,000, exclusive of interest and costs, and is between" parties who are " citizens of different States." See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1). In this case, the primary dispute is over whether the $75,000 amount in controversy requirement has been satisfied.[2]

A Court considers whether federal jurisdiction existed at the time of removal. Ahearn v. Charter Twp. of Bloomfield, 100 F.3d 451, 453 (6th Cir. 1996); Rogers, 230 F.3d at 872 (additional citations omitted). Because federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, any doubts regarding federal jurisdiction should be construed in favor of remanding the case to state court. Shamrock Oil & Gas Corp. v. Sheets, 313 U.S. 100, 108-109, 61 S.Ct. 868, 85 L.Ed. 1214 (1941); Cole v. Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., 728 F.Supp. 1305, 1307 (E.D. Ky. 1990) (citations omitted). The defendant bears the burden of showing that removal was proper. Fenger v. Idexx Laboratories, 194 F.Supp.2d 601, 602 (E.D. Ky. 2002) (citations omitted).

The Kentucky Rules of Civil Procedure prohibit plaintiffs from articulating the specific amount that they seek to recover in their complaint. See Ky. R. Civ. P. 8.01(2) (" In any action for unliquidated damages the prayer for damages in any pleading shall not recite any sum as alleged damages other than an allegation that damages are in excess of any minimum dollar amount necessary to establish the jurisdiction of the court...." ). As a result of this rule, Federal Courts sitting in Kentucky are often confronted with state court complaints that fail to pray for a specific amount of monetary relief. To further complicate the situation, Kentucky Rule of Civil Procedure 54.03 provides that plaintiffs may actually recover more in damages than they seek in their complaint. Ky. R. Civ. P. 54.03 (" [E]very final judgment shall grant the relief to which the party in whose favor it is rendered is entitled, even if the party has not demanded such relief in his ...


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