United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
J. ROSENSTENGEL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Joseph Mitchell's Motion to Remand (Doc. 13) is pending
before the Court. Mitchell originally filed suit in the
Circuit Court of Madison County, Illinois, alleging
retaliation by his employer Defendant Schenker, Inc., for his
filing of a workers' compensation claim. (Doc. 13, p. 1;
Doc. 13-1). Schenker removed the case to federal court on
June 23, 2017, alleging jurisdiction under the diversity of
citizenship provision of 28 U.S.C. § 1332. (Doc. 15, p.
1). Mitchell timely filed a Motion to Remand. (Doc. 13). For
the reasons set forth below, Mitchell's Motion to Remand
to Illinois state court is denied.
is governed by 28 U.S.C. § 1441, which provides, in
pertinent part, that “any civil action brought in a
State court of which the district courts of the United States
have original jurisdiction, may be removed by the defendant
or the defendants, to the district court of the United States
for the district and division embracing the place where such
action is pending.” 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a); see
also Potter v. Janus Inv. Fund, 483 F.Supp.2d 692,
694-95 (S.D. Ill. 2007). The party invoking federal
jurisdiction has the burden of proving subject matter
jurisdiction exists. Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife,
504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992); Brill v. Countrywide Home
Loans, 427 F.3d 446, 447 (7th Cir. 2005). There is a
strong presumption in favor of remand, and courts construe
the removal statute narrowly. Doe v. Allied-Signal,
Inc., 985 F.2d 908, 911 (7th Cir. 1993) (citing
Illinois v. Kerr-McGee Chemical Corp., 677 F.2d 571,
576 (7th Cir. 1982)). Any doubts concerning removal must be
resolved in favor of remand to the state court. Alsup v.
3-Day Blinds, Inc., 435 F.Supp.2d 838, 841 (S.D. Ill.
2006) (citing McCoy v. General Motors Corp., 226
F.Supp.2d 939, 943 (N.D. Ill. 2002)).
28 U.S.C. § 1332, a federal district court has original
subject matter jurisdiction over actions involving complete
diversity between the parties when the amount in controversy
exceeds $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs. 28 U.S.C.
§ 1332(a)(1); LM Ins. Corp. v. Spaulding Enters.,
Inc., 533 F.3d 542, 547 (7th Cir. 2008). Complete
diversity exists where none of the parties on either side of
the litigation are citizens of the same state as the parties
on the other side. Caterpillar Inc. v. Lewis, 519
U.S. 61, 68 (1996); Howell v. Tribune Entertainment
Co., 106 F.3d 215, 217 (7th Cir. 1997).
the physical diversity of the parties does not appear to be
contested.Mitchell is domiciled in the state of
Missouri, and Schenker is a company both incorporated, and
with its principal place of business, in the State of New
York. (Doc. 15, p. 3, n. 1). Thus, the only issue before the
Court is whether the amount in controversy exceeds the
jurisdictional requirement of $75, 000, exclusive of interest
amount in controversy is determined as of the date the suit
was removed to federal court. Oshana v. Coca-Cola
Co., 472 F.3d 506, 510-11 (7th Cir. 2006). If contested,
the proponent of federal jurisdiction has the burden of
proving the amount in controversy by a preponderance of the
evidence. Meridian Sec. Ins. Co. v. Sadowski, 441
F.3d 536, 542-43 (7th Cir. 2006); Oshana, 472 F.3d
at 511. The removing party is entitled to present its own
estimate of the amount at issue and is not bound by the
plaintiffs estimates. Back Doctors Ltd. v. Metropolitan
Property and Cas. Ins. Co., 637 F.3d 827, 830 (7th Cir.
2011); Oshana, 472 F.3d at 510-11. The ultimate
amount of damages the plaintiff will recover need not be
determined, only how much is at stake in the controversy.
Brill, 427 F.3d at 449. Further, an estimate of the
stakes presented by the proponent of federal jurisdiction
controls “unless recovery of an amount exceeding the
jurisdictional minimum is legally
impossible.” Back Doctors, 637 F.3d at 830.
of damages can be difficult to show where a plaintiff does
not want to be in federal court (and thus produces little
evidence regarding the value of his claims). Oshana,
472 F.3d at 511. For that reason, courts have found a
good-faith estimate of the stakes is acceptable, as long as
it is plausible and supported by a preponderance of the
evidence. Id. The Seventh Circuit has recognized
multiple ways in which a good faith assessment of the amount
in controversy can be determined, including: through
calculations of the potential damages based on facts and
theories of recovery alleged in the complaint,
Meridian, 441 F.3d at 541; and estimates based on
case law in which the plaintiff had suffered similar injuries
and was awarded pain and suffering damages in amounts that
satisfy the jurisdictional requirements, McMillian v.
Sheraton Chi. Hotel & Towers, 567 F.3d 839, 845 (7th
Schenker argues the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000,
exclusive of interest and costs, based on Mitchell's
requests for back pay, front pay, compensation for loss of
benefits, emotional distress, and punitive
damages. (Doc. 15, p. 6). Conversely, Mitchell
argues the amount in controversy does not exceed the
threshold requirement, as evidenced by his request for
“damages less than $75, 000” in the original
complaint (Doc. 13, p. 1, citing Doc. 14-2, p. 5), and the
post-removal affidavit filed by counsel stating that
“[b]ased on the nature and extent of Plaintiffs
injuries and his special damages, Plaintiffs claims for
damages do not exceed $75, 000” (Doc. 14-1, p. 1).
claim for back and front pay alone appears to exceed the
threshold amount in controversy requirement. According to
Schenker, Mitchell earned approximately $1, 169 bi-weekly, or
the equivalent of $30, 394 per year. (Doc. 15, p. 6).
Assuming Mitchell's last day of employment was June 23,
2015 (Doc. 15, p. 6), by the time he filed his claim on May
16, 2017, almost three years had passed. (See
Doc. 1, “Notice of Removal”). Thus, it is
reasonable to assume that Mitchell is alleging at least $90,
000 in back and front pay damages alone,  which exceeds the
request for punitive damages and allegations of emotional
distress further increase the amount in controversy. (Doc.
13-1, p. 4). Punitive damages for retaliatory discharge under
the Workers' Compensation Act is well recognized by
Illinois courts. Holland v. Schwan's Home Service,
Inc., 992 N.E.2d 43, 89 (Ill.App.Ct. 2013); Paz v.
Commonwealth Edison, 732 N.E.2d 696, 706 (Ill.App.Ct.
2000). In addition, a plaintiff can claim emotional damages
in Illinois workers' compensation retaliation cases.
Reinneck v. Taco Bell corp., 297 Ill.App.3d 211, 218
(Ill.App.Ct. 1998) (upholding $25, 000 award for emotional
distress in workers' compensation retaliatory discharge
case); Peeler v. Village of Kingston Mines, 862 F.2d
135, 139 (7th Cir. 1988) (upholding $50, 000 award for mental
anguish in workers' compensation retaliatory discharge
case). While punitive and emotional damage awards will vary
based on the facts of a case, awards of punitive damages up
to three times the amount of compensatory damages has been
held to be reasonable. Heldenbrand v. Roadmaster
Corp., 660 N.E.2d 1354, 1361-62 (Ill.App.Ct. 1996).
Given the combination of three years of actual damages and
the potential for significant punitive and emotional distress
awards, Schenker's claim the amount in controversy
exceeds $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs, is
supported by a preponderance of the evidence.
evidence is insufficient to show with legal certainty that
recovery will be less than the jurisdictional amount. The
prayer for damages of “less than $75, 000” does
not, in fact, limit damages under Illinois law. 735 Ill.
Comp. Stat. 5/2-604; BEM I, LLC. v. Anthorpologie,
Inc.,301 F.3d 548, 552 (7th Cir. 2002) (Illinois rules
do not limit damages to the amount asked for in the
complaint). Had Mitchell been serious in his intent to limit
the damage amount in state court, Illinois law allows for
filing of a binding stipulation. Oshana, 472 F.3d at
511-12 (citing BEM I, 301 F.3d at 552). The fact
that no such binding stipulation of damages was filed means
no legal certainty exists that damages cannot exceed the
jurisdictional amount. Further, because jurisdiction is
determined at the time of removal, a post-removal disclaimer
limiting damages cannot be used to defeat jurisdiction.
St. Paul Mercury Indemnity Co. v. Red Cab Co., 303
U.S. 283, 292 (1938); Back Doctors Ltd. v. Metro. Prop.
& Cas. Ins. Co.,637 F.3d 827, 830 (7th Cir. 2011).
The affidavit by ...