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Cunningham v. Manpower Professional Services Inc.

March 18, 2008

PAMELA CUNNINGHAM, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MANPOWER PROFESSIONAL SERVICES INC. AND USCADEN CORPORATION, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. Phil Gilbert District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

This matter comes before the Court on plaintiff Pamela Cunningham's ("Cunnningham") motion to remand (Doc. 11) to which defendants Manpower Professional Services, Inc. and USCADEN Corporation have responded (Doc. 16).

I. Background

Cunningham filed this case on July 5, 2007, in the Circuit Court of the Third Judicial Circuit, Madison County, Illinois. She claims that the defendants, her former employers, discharged her in retaliation for her filing a worker's compensation claim and seeks damages in "an amount in excess of $50,000" and "such other relief as this Court may deem just and proper." Attached to the complaint is an affidavit from Cunningham's counsel stating that "the total of any damages sought in this claim does exceed $50,000.00, but does not exceed $75,000.00" (emphasis in original). Cunningham served the defendants on August 20, 2007.

Noting that the parties are completely diverse and believing that Cunningham's damages, if any, may be valued at more than $75,000, the jurisdictional minimum amount in controversy set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a), the defendants asked Cunningham on August 29, 2007, to sign an affidavit stating that the amount in controversy was less than $75,000 and stipulating that she would limit her request for damages to less that the jurisdictional minimum. They also announced their intention to remove the case if they did not receive such assurances from Cunningham by September 7, 2007. Cunningham did not respond to the defendants' request, so on September 19, 2007, the defendants removed the case to federal court under 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a).

On November 30, 2007, Cunningham filed the pending motion to remand along with an affidavit from Cunningham dated September 24, 2007, stating that "the total of any damages sought in this claim does not exceed $75,000.00." She maintains that this, along with her attorney's affidavit attached to her complaint, is sufficient to establish that the amount in controversy does not exceed $75,000, exclusive of interest and costs.

The defendants argue that the affidavit is insufficient because it only states what Cunningham is currently seeking and does not address the actual amount in controversy in this case. They fear that later Cunningham may amend her complaint to increase her demand or may be awarded more than $75,000 at the end of the case regardless of her demand.

II. Discussion

The defendants properly removed this case to federal court. A defendant may remove to federal court a case filed in state court if there is original federal jurisdiction over the case. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a); Chase v. Shop 'N Save Warehouse Foods, 110 F.3d 424, 427 (7th Cir. 1997). In this case, the defendants rely on federal diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a), which requires that the parties be completely diverse and that the amount in controversy exceed $75,000 exclusive of interest and costs. Because the parties do not dispute that they are diverse, the only real issue is whether the amount in controversy was sufficient. "The amount in controversy is the amount required to satisfy the plaintiff's demands in full. . . ." Oshana v. Coca-Cola Co., 472 F.3d 506, 510-11 (7th Cir. 2006), cert. denied, 127 S.Ct. 2952 (2007).

The defendants, as the parties seeking to invoke federal jurisdiction, bear the burden of demonstrating by a preponderance of the evidence that the plaintiff stands to recover more than $75,000 in the suit. McNutt v. General Motors Acceptance Corp., 298 U.S. 178, 189 (1936); Meridian Sec. Ins. Co. v. Sadowski, 441 F.3d 536, 541 (7th Cir. 2006); Rising-Moore v. Red Roof Inns, Inc., 435 F.3d 813, 815 (7th Cir. 2006); Chase, 110 F.3d at 427. After the Court decides any contested facts relevant to the amount in controversy, "the case stays in federal court unless it is legally certain that the controversy is worth less than the jurisdictional minimum." Meridian, 441 F.3d at 542; see St. Paul Mercury Indem. Co. v. Red Cab Co., 303 U.S. 283, 288-89 (1938) ("[T]he sum claimed by [the proponent of federal jurisdiction] controls if the claim is apparently made in good faith. It must appear to a legal certainty that the claim is really for less than the jurisdictional amount to justify dismissal.") In removal cases, the amount in controversy is determined based on the plaintiff's complaint at the time the notice of removal is filed. Meridian, 441 F.3d at 538; Gould v. Artisoft, Inc., 1 F.3d 544, 547 (7th Cir. 1993). Thus, in this case, the defendants must establish that more than $75,000 was in issue at the time it filed its notice of removal on September 19, 2007.

To determine the amount in controversy where the complaint does not establish the amount, the Court may consider evidence in the record. Chase, 110 F.3d at 427-28. It may not, however, take into consideration whether a valid defense to the complaint exists. Schunk v. Moline, Milburn & Stoddard Co., 147 U.S. 500, 504-05 (1893); accord Pratt Cent. Park Ltd. v. Dames & Moore, Inc., 60 F.3d 350, 356 (7th Cir. 1995).

The defendants point to two pieces of evidence to show that the amount in controversy in this case exceeds $75,000. It first notes that Cunningham's complaint contains an open-ended prayer for relief seeking: "(a) Loss of wages, benefits, raises and promotions, past and future; (b) Costs associated with securing subsequent employment; and (c) Humiliation and mental distress," plus "such other relief as this Court may deem just and proper." They argue that these enumerated elements of damage, plus possible punitive damages, see Kelsay v. Motorola, Inc., 384 N.E.2d 353, 360 (Ill. 1978), are likely to exceed $75,000.*fn1 The defendants do not provide any evidence of the nature of Cunningham's job, her pay and benefits, or other facts that could help the Court determine how far beyond $50,000 Cunningham's damages may reach.

They also argue that Cunningham refused to execute a binding affidavit and stipulation prior to removal that the amount in controversy was $75,000 or less. "Litigants who want to prevent removal must file a binding stipulation or affidavit with their complaints." In re Shell Oil Co., 970 F.2d 355, 356 (7th Cir. 1992) (per curiam); accord Chase, 110 F.3d at 430. The refusal to make such a stipulation is evidence that amount in controversy exceeds the jurisdictional minimum. See Chase, 110 F.3d at 428. The defendants argue that the affidavits executed by Cunningham and her counsel are not sufficient because they were not binding as to the amount recoverable in the suit. Furthermore, they argue that Cunningham's affidavit, executed after the date of removal, does not implicate the amount in controversy on the date of removal ...


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