Federal judge remands Walgreens premises liability complaint to Phila. Common Pleas Court

By Jon Campisi | May 4, 2012

A federal judge sitting in Philadelphia last week granted a motion by a plaintiff in a slip-and-fall suit to remand the matter back to state court despite arguments by the defendant that the litigation should play out in a federal jurisdiction.

U.S. District Judge Berle M. Schiller, of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, granted a motion by Bonnie Hodges to remand her premises liability case to the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, which is where the plaintiff first filed the civil action back on March 31, 2011.

The litigation arose out of an alleged incident in early February 2010 in which Hodges, of Sharon Hill, Pa., claims she slipped and fell on ice and snow buildup in the parking lot of a Walgreens store in Darby, Pa.

Hodges claims she suffered various physical injuries as a result of the incident, including a right wrist sprain, contusion and fracture that required surgery.

Following the surgical procedure, Hodges underwent a months-long period of physical therapy during which she had to wear a brace on her arm.

Through November 2010, Hodges continued to seek treatment for pain in her wrist, and in July 2010, after an MRI revealed a partial tear, Hodges was diagnosed with chronic De Quervain tenosynovitis of the right wrist, court papers state.

Hodges subsequently filed her lawsuit in state court, accusing Walgreens of negligence for allowing a defective condition to exist on its premises.

The complaint, filed by Philadelphia attorney Marc F. Greenfield, included an ad damnum clause requesting judgment in an amount not in excess of $50,000, the court papers show.

In late January of this year, both parties entered into compulsory non-binding arbitration, which resulted in an award in favor of Walgreens.

Hodges appealed the decision in late February of this year, and on March 5 attorneys for Walgreens filed a notice of removal to federal court based upon diversity of jurisdiction.

On March 14, Hodges filed a motion to remand the case to state court, arguing that the amount in controversy is not greater than $75,000, which would trigger federal jurisdiction.

In the April 25 ruling, U.S. District Judge Schiller wrote that Hodges properly limited the amount of damages in the ad damnum clauses to an amount below the $75,000 jurisdictional threshold, and that the defendants have not shown “to a legal certainty” that the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000.

“This Court therefore lacks jurisdiction over the action and grants the Plaintiff’s motion to remand,” the ruling states.

Schiller wrote that attorneys for Walgreens offered no support for their position that Hodges’ injuries exceed $75,000.

“Given the earlier arbitration, Defendants had ample opportunity to discover evidence demonstrating that Plaintiff’s injuries exceed the amount in controversy requirement,” Schiller wrote. “However, Walgreens failed to provide the Court with any evidence in its Notice of Removal and instead merely included the arbitrators’ award, which found in favor of Defendants and against Plaintiff.”

Schiller also wrote that Walgreens' legal counsel failed to cite any analogous situations with similar injuries that exceeded the jurisdictional threshold.

“Defendants’ bare assertion and mere speculation falls short of establishing to a legal certainty that the amount in controversy does exceed $75,000,” the ruling states.

Walgreens is being represented by attorney James L. Moore, Jr. of the Philadelphia firm Thomas, Thomas & Hafer LLP.

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