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Stephens v. Charter Communications Holdings, LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville Division

September 26, 2017

CHARLES STEPHENS PLAINTIFF
v.
CHARTER COMMUNICATIONS HOLDINGS, LLC DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Joseph H. McKinley, Jr., Chief Judge United States District Court.

         This matter is before the Court on plaintiff Charles Stephens' motion to remand (DN 7), as well as defendant Charter Communications Holdings, LLC's (“Charter”) motion to compel arbitration. (DN 8.) These matters are ripe for decision.

         I. Background

         According to the complaint, Plaintiff Stephens was employed by Charter as a customer service representative. (Pl.'s Compl. [DN 1-2] ¶ 6.) While employed, Stephens disclosed to Charter that he suffered from a neurological disorder, and he sought “medical accommodations from [Charter] in the form of leave to convalesce.” (Id. ¶ 7.) Stephens' request for accommodation was denied, and he was terminated in retaliation for reporting the discrimination to management. (Id. ¶ 9-10.) He brought the present action against Charter in Jefferson Circuit Court, asserting claims of discrimination and retaliatory discharge under the Kentucky Civil Rights Act, KRS Chapter 344 et seq. (Id. ¶ 11-14.) Charter removed to this Court (DN 1), and Stephens has moved to remand the case to state court on the basis that the amount in controversy is less than the $75, 000 threshold required to meet this Court's jurisdictional requirement for diversity cases. (DN 7.) In support of this argument, Stephens submitted a stipulation through his counsel that he “will not seek a judgment or request a verdict for an amount in excess of $74, 999.00[.]” (DN 7-1.) In addition to opposing the motion to remand (DN 9), Charter has moved this Court to compel Stephens to arbitrate his claims in accordance with an arbitration agreement he signed when beginning his employment with Charter. (DN 8.) Stephens has not responded to this motion, and the time for such response has now passed.

         II. Discussion

         A. Motion to Remand

         1. Standard of Review

         Removal from state to federal court is proper for “any civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction.” 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). Charter removed this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441, claiming that this Court has diversity jurisdiction over the action under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Diversity jurisdiction gives “[t]he district courts . . . original jurisdiction [over] all civil actions where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs, and is between . . . citizens of different states.” 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a), (a)(1).

         2. Analysis

         It is undisputed that the parties are diverse and that Stephens has stipulated that the amount in controversy does not exceed $75, 000. Therefore, the principal issue is whether this stipulation is sufficient for the Court to remand Stephens' action to Jefferson Circuit Court.

         Courts within the Sixth Circuit have “noted on several recent occasions that postremoval stipulations reducing the amount in controversy below the jurisdictional threshold are generally disfavored because” if plaintiffs “were able to defeat jurisdiction by way of a post-removal stipulation, they could unfairly manipulate proceedings merely because their federal case begins to look unfavorable.” Gatlin v. Shoe Show, Inc., 2014 WL 3586498, at *3 (W.D. Ky. July 21, 2014) (citations and quotations omitted); see Rogers v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 230 F.3d 868, 872 (6th Cir. 2000); Agri-Power, Inc. v. Majestic JC, LLC, 2013 WL 3280244, at *3 (W.D. Ky. June 27, 2013); Proctor v. Swifty Oil Co., 2012 WL 4593409, at *3 (W.D. Ky. Oct. 1, 2012). The Sixth Circuit has advised that “a post-removal stipulation reducing the amount in controversy to below the jurisdictional limit does not require remand to state court.” Rogers, 230 F.3d at 872. “However, where a state prevents a plaintiff from pleading a specific amount of damages, ” as Kentucky does, “and the plaintiff provides specific information about the amount in controversy for the first time in a stipulation, this district views such stipulations as a clarification of the amount in controversy rather than a reduction of such.” Agri-Power, 2013 WL 3280244, at *3 (citing Proctor, 2012 WL 4593409, at *3) (emphasis in original). Therefore, a plaintiff may submit a stipulation that will destroy the amount in controversy requirement for the purposes of diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Id.

         When a plaintiff chooses to submit a stipulation as to the amount in controversy, the stipulation must be unequivocal in order to “limit the amount of recoverable damages and warrant remand.” Egan v. Premier Scales & Sys., 237 F.Supp.2d 774, 778 (W.D. Ky. 2002); see Agri-Power, 2013 WL 3280244, at *3; Proctor, 2012 WL 4593409, at *3. This district “has recognized that a plaintiff may stipulate that it neither seeks, nor will accept, damages in an amount greater than $75, 000, and that such a stipulation will” be sufficiently unequivocal to destroy diversity jurisdiction. Agri-Power, 2013 WL 3280244, at *3 (emphasis added).

         Stephens' stipulation in this case does not meet this standard. It states that he “will not seek a judgment or request a verdict for an amount in excess of $74, 999.00 and will not seek attorney's fees for any amount that, together with any judgment or verdict, would exceed $74, 999.” (DN 7-1.) While Stephens stipulates that he will not seek a verdict of $75, 000 or more, he does not stipulate that he will not accept or seek to enforce a judgment of that amount. The stipulation is “less than unequivocal” and thus deficient to defeat removal. Accord Egan, 237 F.Supp.2d at 778 (denying motion to remand as stipulation did not effectively limit the judgment). Compare with Leavell v. Cabela's Wholesale, Inc., 2015 WL 9009009, at *2-3 (W.D. Ky. Dec. 15, 2015) (Court lacked jurisdiction when plaintiff stipulated that she “will neither seek nor accept damages in excess of $75, 000”). Because the stipulation does not effectively limit the amount in controversy to a sum below $75, 000, and there being no other challenge to the amount in controversy, this Court possesses subject matter jurisdiction over the case. Therefore, the motion to remand is DENIED.

         B. Motion to ...


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