Although state courts most often serve as the venue for negligence cases, there are certain occasions when a negligence claim may be heard in a federal court. Among these subclasses of state law negligence cases that may be heard in federal courts are those involving “diverse” parties. When all parties are diverse, and the amount in controversy in the case exceeds $75,000, the case may be heard in federal court. However, although these cases may be heard in federal court, they may still be heard in state courts, and plaintiffs will often elect to file suit in a state court for a variety of reasons. In certain instances, however, a defendant may find the plaintiff’s motive for filing in state court to be tactical or see a possible benefit to be derived from defending the claim in a federal forum and, accordingly, seek removal to a federal court. Following removal, dissatisfied plaintiffs will often try to devise a way to have a case remanded to the state court where they originally filed the action. These varied procedural games associated with removal and remand were raised in a recent decision by an Atlanta federal court, Threatt v. Jasenauskas.
Threatt started with a motor vehicle accident involving a MARTA bus and a tractor trailer. The plaintiff, who was operating the bus, was driving along Continental Way in DeKalb County when a tractor trailer collided with the bus. The tractor trailer was owned by Atlantic Transport, Inc. and insured by National Casualty Company. Following the accident, the plaintiff brought suit against the driver of the tractor trailer as well as Atlantic Transport and National Casualty Company. Atlantic Transport and National Casualty Company, however, filed a notice of removal, arguing that the case should be heard in federal court. Specifically, these defendants asserted that since the plaintiff alleged damages in excess of $75,000, and complete diversity existed between the plaintiff and the defendants, the case should be heard in federal court.
Given that diversity did exist among the parties, the plaintiff attempted a clever maneuver to have the case remanded to state court. In his original complaint, the plaintiff sought both past and future medical expenses, which collectively totaled more than $500,000. However, following removal to federal court, the plaintiff maintained that he did not intend to undergo any further medical treatment, so damages would be limited to less than $75,000. Since the amount in controversy must exceed $75,000 in order for diversity subject matter jurisdiction to exist, the plaintiff argued that the case should be sent back to state court.
Notwithstanding the plaintiff’s shrewd attempt to abrogate the court’s jurisdiction, the court denied the motion for remand. Indeed, under well-established law, the amount in controversy is determined based on the allegations that exist at the time removal is sought. See, e.g., Burt Co. v. Clarendon Nat’l Ins. Co., 385 F. App’x 892, 894 (11th Cir. 2010). Accordingly, “post-removal amendment of a complaint . . . which may reduce the damages recoverable below the amount in controversy requirement, do not divest the district court of jurisdiction.” Id. (citation omitted). Accordingly, the plaintiff’s attempt to stipulate to an amount in controversy below the $75,000 threshold was of no consequence. At the time the action was removed, the plaintiff was seeking far more than the amount necessary to satisfy the amount in controversy requirement, and therefore the federal court determined that it had jurisdiction over the action.
Although remand to state court was inappropriate in this circumstance, the court’s decision reveals the importance of preparation. Indeed, had the plaintiff originally alleged damages totaling less than $75,000, the case would not have been subject to removal in the first instance, and the plaintiff would have been able to have his case heard in the venue of his choosing. Indeed, prior to undertaking legal action, one should always consider enlisting the advice of experienced counsel who can help identify these sorts of issues. The Atlanta truck accident attorneys at the Simon Law Firm have ample familiarity representing injured Georgian drivers in both state and federal courts, and they are prepared to provide you with the benefit of their experience. If you’ve recently been injured as a result of the negligence of another driver and would like to discuss the merits of your possible claim, feel free to contact us for a free case consultation.