United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville
Charles R. Simpson III, Senior Judge
case is before the Court on three related motions. Plaintiff,
offering a stipulation that her claim seeks damages in an
amount less than $75, 000, has moved to remand this case to
the state court. DN 4. Defendant, content with remaining in
this Court (if only briefly), opposes that motion (DN 8) and
offers a motion to dismiss (DN 6). Rather than respond to
that motion, Plaintiff has filed a motion to stay a ruling on
the motion to dismiss pending remand. DN 7. Delta responded
in opposition. DN 9. Finding that the amount in controversy
exceeds $75, 000, but that the stipulation is an unequivocal
and binding limitation, the Court will grant the motion to
remand and deny all other pending motions as moot.
Factual Background and Procedural History
Henrietta Jenkins was employed by Delta Air Lines, Inc. as a
gate agent at Louisville International Airport. DN 1-2 at
In that position, Jenkins alleges she was repeatedly
subjected to inappropriate sexual comments and demeaning
gender-based comments. Id. at 4. She complained to
Delta about the harassment utilizing the company's
approved policies. Id. She alleges she was then
fired on March 22, 2013, in retaliation for those complaints.
Id. Jenkins filed suit in Jefferson County Circuit
Court, bringing claims of workplace discrimination pursuant
to the Kentucky Civil Rights Act, Ky. Rev. Stat. §
344.010, et seq, on March 14, 2018. Id. at
4-5. Delta removed the case to this Court based on diversity
of citizenship jurisdiction. DN 1. The pending motions
case brought in state court may be removed to the federal
district court embracing the place where the state action is
pending so long as the federal court would have subject
matter jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). A federal
court has subject matter jurisdiction based on diversity of
citizenship when the parties are citizens of different states
and the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000, exclusive of
interest and costs. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). In this case,
no party contends that the complete diversity requirement is
not met. Jenkins is a citizen of the Commonwealth of
Kentucky. Delta is a citizen of Delaware (its state of
incorporation) and Georgia (the location of its principal
place of business). See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(c)(1).
The parties disagree, however, as to the amount in
case presents two issues: “(1) whether the amount in
controversy exceeds $75, 000, and (2) whether Plaintiff's
postremoval stipulation destroys the $75, 000
amount-in-controversy requirement for § 1332
jurisdiction.” Agri-Power, Inc. v. Majestic JC,
LLC, 5:13-CV-46-TBR, 2013 WL 3280244, at *4 (W.D. Ky.
June 27, 2013). Ultimately, the Court concludes that Delta
has carried its burden and demonstrated by a preponderance
that the amount in controversy well exceeds $75, 000.
However, the Court also determines that the post-removal
stipulation is an unequivocal clarification of the relief
sought. Therefore, the Court will remand this case to the
Jefferson County Circuit Court.
Amount in Controversy
the plaintiff's asserted amount in controversy controls
so long as it is demanded in good faith. 28 U.S.C. §
1446(c)(2). However, where state pleading rules do not permit
a demand for a specific sum or permit the recovery of damages
exceeding the amount prayed for, the defendant may assert the
amount in controversy in the notice of removal. 28 U.S.C.
§ 1446(c)(2)(A)(ii); Rogers v. Wal-Mart Stores,
Inc., 230 F.3d 868, 871 (6th Cir. 2000) (citing
Gafford v. General Elec. Co., 997 F.2d 150, 158 (6th
Cir. 1993)). Under such a scenario, the burden is on the
defendant to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that
the amount in controversy is met at the time of removal.
Rogers, 230 F.3d at 872.
Kentucky, state law prohibits a plaintiff from reciting a
specific sum as alleged damages, Ky. R. Civ. P. 8.01(2), and
permits recovery in excess of the amount prayed for, Ky. R.
Civ. P. 54.03(2). Therefore, Delta is entitled to prove by a
preponderance that the amount in controversy exceeds $75,
000. Delta does so by adducing evidence that Jenkins made $9
per hour and worked approximately 40 hours per week. DN 1 at
3. Therefore, lost wages would amount to roughly $18, 720 per
year. With claims from March 22, 2013 (the date of
Jenkins's termination) to March 14, 2018 (the date of
filing the state complaint at issue here) alone, the amount
in controversy neared $94, 000. When that amount is coupled
with potential attorney's fees and punitive damages, the
preponderance of the evidence demonstrates that the amount in
controversy exceeds $75, 000. This method of valuation has
been repeatedly endorsed by this Court. See Proctor v.
Swifty Oil Co., 3:12-CV-490-TBR, 2012 WL 4593409, at
*2-3 (W.D. Ky. Oct. 1, 2012) (properly considering potential
punitive damages and attorney's fees in determining the
amount in controversy); Sanders v. Print Fulfillment
Servs., LLC, 3:17-CV-245- CRS, 2017 WL 2624550, at *2
(W.D. Ky. June 16, 2017) (the evidence of the amount in
controversy must come from evidence in the case at bar).
attempts to escape the conclusion that the amount in
controversy exceeds $75, 000 by claiming in her complaint
that “[t]he amount in controversy exceed [sic] the
jurisdictional limit of [the state] court, however, is less
than $75, 000 inclusive of fees, punitive damages and the
fair value of any injunctive relief.” DN 1-2 at 4.
However, “a statement in a complaint declaring that the
plaintiff is seeking less than $75, 000 is insufficient to
affirmatively establish that the amount in controversy for
diversity jurisdiction cannot be met.” Cook v.
Estate of Moore, 3:12-CV-485-H, 2012 WL 5398064, at *1
(W.D. Ky. Nov. 2, 2012). Therefore, that statement is
disregarded. Without any other dispute from Jenkins at the
time of removal, it appears that Delta has met its burden of
demonstrating, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the
amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000. However, that is not
the end of the inquiry.
Effect of Post-Removal Stipulation
Court has repeatedly held that “plaintiffs are entitled
to stipulate that they do not seek, nor will they accept,
damages in an amount exceeding $75, 000, which would destroy
the amount in controversy requirement for § 1332
jurisdiction.” Spence v. Centerplate, 931
F.Supp.2d 779, 781 (W.D. Ky. 2013) (citation omitted). For
such a stipulation to have an effect, it must be both
unequivocal and a ...