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Meghan C. Shaver v. Vernon L. Odell

March 30, 2012

MEGHAN C. SHAVER, BY AND THROUGH HER NEXT FRIEND AND MOTHER JENNIFER FORD, PAIGE N. CHAMBERLAIN, BY AND THROUGH HER NEXT FRIEND AND MOTHER KIMBERLY CHAMBERLAIN, AND JENNIFER FORD,
PLAINTIFFS,
v.
VERNON L. ODELL, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stiehl, District Judge:

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

Plaintiffs Meghan C. Shaver, Paige N. Chamberlain, and Jennifer Ford were in an auto accident with defendant Vernon L. Odell and sued for damages in state court.*fn1

Defendant removed the action here on diversity grounds, 28 U.S.C. § 1332 (Doc. 3). Now before the Court are plaintiffs' motion to remand (Docs. 9 & 12) and defendant's response (Doc. 14). Plaintiffs principally argue that they have submitted a binding affidavit that limits their claims to less than $75,000. Therefore, they believe the Court does not have subject-matter jurisdiction.

BACKGROUND

In August 2010, plaintiff Meghan C. Shaver was driving through an intersection with passengers Paige N. Chamberlain and her mother, Jennifer Ford. Defendant Vernon L. Odell either ran through the stop sign or didn't yield and crashed into their car. Plaintiffs filed a six-count complaint against defendant in the Circuit Court for the Twentieth Judicial Circuit, St. Clair County, Illinois (Case No. 10-L-533). Shaver and Chamberlain seek damages for personal injuries, and Ford seeks to recover for the damage to her car.

Plaintiffs originally asked for damages "not to exceed $50,000" in their complaint (Doc. 3, Ex. A1, pp. 3--6) and filed an affidavit under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 222 stating that the damages sought by each plaintiff did not exceed $50,000 (Doc. 3, Ex. A1, p. 7).*fn2 They later amended their complaint, and this time plaintiffs Shaver and Chamberlain each asked for damages "in excess of $50,000.00, but less than $75,000.00," costs, and any further relief deemed necessary and just (Doc. 3, Ex. A3, pp. 20--22). Shaver and Chamberlain are vague about the nature of their injuries, only saying they have received treatment from medical professionals and will incur further medical expenses in the future. They amended their Rule 222 affidavit as well, stating that their damages, individually, exceed $50,000 but are "less than $75,000.00" (Doc. 3, Ex. A3, p. 16). Plaintiffs have not made defendant a settlement offer (Doc. 3, p. 9).

Defendant tried to tease out further details about Shaver and Chamberlain's damages. In answer to an interrogatory asking her to itemize all damages, in March 2011 Shaver said her current medical expenses were $9,042.38. She had no lost income from missing work or any other expenses or losses. She also responded that her damages for loss of normal life, increased risk of harm, and pain and suffering were "to be determined by jury" (Doc. 3, p. 7). About a month later she amended her answer saying her damages exceeded $50,000 but were less than $75,000.

Chamberlain also answered interrogatories in March 2011, listing her bills for physicians and health-care professionals as $8,874.78, lost wages as $148.50 for missing six days of work, and no other expenses or losses (Doc. 3, pp. 5--6). Several weeks later, Chamberlain responded to an additional interrogatory asking her to itemize all damages. She only answered "[m]edical expenses, past and future" with no dollar amount because she allegedly had not completed her medical attention. She added that her loss of normal life, increased risk of harm, and pain and suffering were "to be determined by jury" and that her damages exceeded $50,000 but were less than $75,000 (Doc. 3, p. 8).

Defendant also served plaintiffs with requests for admissions. He asked each of them to admit that, as a result of the allegations in the complaint, they have "not suffered injuries or damages in excess of $75,000.00", and will "not seek nor accept damages in excess of $75,000.00 from the trier of fact" (Doc. 3, Exs. B & D, pp. 1--2). After originally objecting, Shaver and Chamberlain later responded "Deny" to each question (Doc. 3, Exs. P & Q).

On receiving plaintiffs' denials, defendant removed this action based on diversity jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a) (Doc. 3). The parties agree that diversity of citizenship exists. As to the amount in controversy, separate claims of multiple plaintiffs against a single defendant cannot be aggregated, McMillian v. Sheraton Chi. Hotel & Towers, 567 F.3d 839, 844 (7th Cir. 2009); Clark v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 473 F.3d 708, 711 (7th Cir. 2007), so the Court must consider the amount in controversy as to each plaintiff Shaver and Chamberlain. The parties agree that Ford's damages are less than $50,000 and that, if diversity is satisfied, the Court will have supplemental jurisdiction over her claims, 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a). At issue is whether defendant has shown it to be likely that the amount in controversy for either plaintiff Shaver or Chamberlain exceeds $75,000.

DISCUSSION

A civil action may be removed to federal court if the district court has original jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1441. Courts have original jurisdiction of civil actions between citizens of different states "where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75,000, exclusive of interest and costs." 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). Jurisdiction depends on the amount in controversy when the federal suit began. Meridian Sec. Ins. v. Sadowski, 441 F.3d 536, 538 (7th Cir. 2006); St. Paul Mercury Indemnity Co. v. Red Cab Co., 303 U.S. 283, 293 (1938); see also Carroll v. Stryker Corp., 658 F.3d 675, 680 (7th Cir. 2011) (amount in controversy is evaluated as of the time of removal). In addition, the amount in controversy stated in the plaintiff's complaint generally controls, unless it is legally impossible. Rising-Moore v. Red Roof Inns, Inc., 435 F.3d 813, 815 (7th Cir. 2006); Meridian, 441 F.3d at 541.

But if the complaint does not establish the amount in controversy, the party invoking federal jurisdiction can use other evidence. See Meridian Sec. Ins. Co. v. Sadowski, 441 F.3d 536, 541--42 (7th Cir. 2006); Chase v. Shop 'N Save Warehouse Foods, Inc., 110 F.3d 424, 427--28 (7th Cir. 1997). The party must set out the basis of federal jurisdiction and prove any contested factual allegation. Meridian, 441 F.3d at 540 (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(1) & 12(b)(1)); Carroll v. Stryker Corp., 658 F.3d 675, 680 (7th Cir. 2011). It must prove the jurisdictional facts by a preponderance of the evidence. Blomberg v. Serv. Corp. Intern., 639 F.3d 761, 763 (7th Cir. 2011); Meridian, 441 F.3d at 543. Moreover, the party's burden, in the case of a defendant who removes, is to show "what the plaintiff hopes to get out of the litigation," not that the plaintiff will collect more than $75,000 if he prevails. Rising-Moore, 435 F.3d at 816; Brill v. Countrywide Home Loans, Inc., 427 F.3d 446, 449 (7th Cir. 2005) ("[P]art of the removing party's burden is to show not only what the stakes of the litigation could be, but also what they are given the plaintiff's actual demands."). When the plaintiff provides little information about the value of his claims, "a good-faith estimate of the stakes is acceptable if it is plausible and supported by a preponderance of the evidence." Oshana v. Coca-Cola Co., 472 F.3d 506, 511 (7th Cir. 2006) (citing Rubel v. Pfizer, Inc., 361 F.3d 1016, 1020 (7th Cir. 2004)).

Courts should interpret the removal statute narrowly and resolve any doubts in favor of the plaintiff's choice of forum in state court. Schur v. L.A. Weight Loss Centers, Inc., 577 F.3d 752, 758 (7th Cir. 2009); Doe v. ...


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