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Varkalis v. Werner Co. & Lowe's Home Center Inc.

August 18, 2010

MARY VARKALIS, AS INDEPENDENT ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF MICHAEL VARKALIS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
WERNER CO. & LOWE'S HOME CENTER INC., D/B/A LOWE'S DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Manning

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

The defendants removed the instant lawsuit from the Circuit Court of Cook County and the plaintiff has filed a motion to remand. For the reasons stated below, the motion is granted.

I. FACTS

Defendant Werner Co. ("Werner") allegedly manufactured and designed a nine-foot fiberglass stepladder sold by Defendant Lowe's Home Centers Inc. ("Lowe's"). On or around December 21, 2008, Michael Varkalis was using the stepladder in his garage when it buckled and Michael fell and struck his head on the garage floor. He suffered irreversible brain damage and died on August 18, 2009.

II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On March 15, 2010, Mary Varkalis, as independent administrator of Michael Varkalis's estate, filed a seven-count complaint in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, alleging product liability, negligence, breach of warranty, and a Survival Act claim. Specifically, the plaintiff alleged that "[w]hile Mr. Varkalis was on the ladder, it buckled, causing him to fall with great force and violence to the ground below." Comp. at ¶6. The complaint further alleged that "as a direct and proximate result of the ladder bucking, Michael Varkalis was severely injured, sustaining irreversible brain damage which led to his death on August 18, 2009." Id. at ¶7. The defendants, Werner and Lowe's, were properly served on March 22, 2010, and March 24, 2010, respectively.

On April 19, 2010, the defendants filed answers and affirmative defenses to the plaintiff's complaint. In addition, they filed a motion to dismiss counts III and VI on the ground that the plaintiff should have filed separate causes of action for breach of express and implied warranties given that separate recovery was available under each. In response to the motion to dismiss, on May 19, 2010, the plaintiff filed an amended complaint removing the word "express" from Counts III and VI, and proceeding only with the breach of implied warranty cause of action against each of the defendants.

On June 1, 2010, the defendants filed a request to admit facts whereby they requested that the plaintiff admit that she sought to recover from the defendants an amount in excess of $75,000, exclusive of interests and costs. One day later, on June 2, 2010, the defendants removed the case to this court pursuant to the court's diversity jurisdiction. The plaintiff then filed the instant motion to remand on the ground that the removal was untimely.

III. ANALYSIS

A. Standard for Removal

28 U.S.C. § 1446(b) states that a notice of removal must "be filed within thirty days after the receipt by the defendant, through service or otherwise, of a copy of the initial pleadings setting forth the claim for relief upon which such action or proceedings is based." 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b). Any procedural defect in a case being removed to federal court must be remanded to the state court. Disher v. Citigroup Global Mkts., Inc., 487 F. Supp. 2d 1009, 1015 (S.D. Ill. 2007)("where there is doubt as to whether the requirements have been satisfied, the case should be remanded.")(internal citations omitted). Under 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b), a defendant may file a notice of removal within thirty days from receipt of an amended pleading. See, e.g., Benson v. SI Handling Systems, Inc., 188 F.3d 780, 782 (7th Cir. 1999)(citing 28 U.S.C. §1446(b)). However, this general rule applies only when the original complaint is not removable. Mortgage Elec. Registration Sys. v. Rothman, No. 04 C 5340, 2005 WL 497794, at *5 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 28, 2005).

B. Amount in Controversy

The plaintiff contends that removal was improper as a matter of law because the defendants did not file the notice of removal within thirty days of service of the original complaint, which was April 21, 2010. Instead, the defendants filed their notice of removal on June 2, 2010, and maintain that it was timely regardless of the fact that the filing date was over sixty days from notice of the original complaint. According to what the court understands the defendants to be arguing, it was only when they received the amended complaint that they became aware of the possibility for removal because the amount in controversy alleged in the original complaint was not sufficient to trigger diversity jurisdiction.*fn1

Diversity jurisdiction exists where the parties are diverse and where the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000, not including interest and costs. See 28 U.S.C. ยง 1332(a). There is no dispute that the parties are diverse; rather, the defendants argue that the plaintiff did not adequately state an amount in controversy that would have put the defendants on notice of the possibility for removal to federal court. According to the defendants, the original and amended complaint were ambiguous because they sought only "a ...


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