PHILADELPHIA – A Merion’s man motion to remand his personal injury lawsuit against an Illinois-based trucking company and related defendants back to state court was officially denied by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on Wednesday.
On March 12, 2014, Jay Strauss initiated litigation in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas against Ghuman Truck Service, Inc. of Carpentersville, Ill.; Kamaljit Singh; Manjinder Kaur; DS Transport; and Kapoor Satyen for injuries Strauss allegedly sustained in a motor vehicle accident on March 23, 2012, in Lower Merion Township.
Another listed defendant, Alberto Vasquez, a Pennsylvania resident, was dismissed from the complaint on Feb. 11 per stipulation of both parties.
Due to Vasquez’s dismissal, the defendants’ maintained a complete diversity of citizenship now existed between the parties, since Strauss is a resident of Pennsylvania and the defendants are all based in Illinois.
Citing this rationale and their belief that the damages sought by Strauss exceeded $75,000, the defendants filed to remove the case to the Eastern District on Feb. 23.
The plaintiff and defendants then countered back-and-forth with motions over the following two months on where the final location to hear the matter would be, either state court or federal court.
Finally, the matter landed before Senior Judge Robert F. Kelly.
In his original complaint, Strauss maintained he was seeking in excess of $50,000 in damages for the accident, which the plaintiff claimed caused “severe personal and bodily injuries to his head, neck, back, left shoulder, left knee and surrounding body parts, including, but not limited to headaches, complex tear of the root and posterior horn of the medial meniscus requiring surgical repair, internal derangement of the left knee, internal derangement of the left shoulder, cervical strain and sprain, lumbosacral strain and sprain, left L5 radiculopathy, emotional distress and other injuries, both known and unknown, all of which have caused him great pain and suffering and agony and will continue to cause such pain, suffering and agony into the future, as well as a loss of earnings and earning capacity.”
Kelly offered his opinion, however, that additional factors needed to be taken into consideration with respect to the amount of damages sought by Strauss.
“Even if a plaintiff states that his claims fall below the ($75,000) threshold, this Court must look to see if the plaintiff’s actual monetary demands in the aggregate exceed the threshold, irrespective of whether the plaintiff states that the demands do not,” said Kelly.
“On the face of the instant Complaint, Plaintiff seeks a judgment against Defendants in ‘an amount in excess of fifty thousand dollars ($50,000). However, we are of the opinion that Plaintiff has claimed serious injuries, medical expenses, and present and future wage loss that clearly indicate that the amount in controversy is in excess of $75,000. Plaintiff also averred in the Complaint that he has suffered permanent injury and disability, and has incurred various medical expenses which may continue into the future.”
Kelly noted these factors, combined with the plaintiff listing his current medical expenses as approximately $40,000 and making a demand for “in excess of $2 million” during a settlement conference, negated Strauss’s argument that the damages he was seeking fell below the $75,000 threshold necessary to remove the case to federal court.
The plaintiff also challenged the validity of all the defendants being based in Illinois, leading Kelly to also rule on the factor of diversity of citizenship.
Kelly explained that “mere residence” is not enough to determine whether an individual is domiciled in a certain state and expounded on that point.
“Regarding Singh and Kaur as individual Defendants, both submitted affidavits attesting that they are citizens of the United States and the State of Illinois. They further state that they resided in Illinois at the time of the accident and have continued to live there since. Defendants have also submitted documentation confirming that Singh and Kaur are registered to vote in the State of Illinois,” Kelly said.
Kelly confirmed this was also true for both Satyen as a defendant, as documentation was submitted to that effect.
The court also noted the defendants successfully proved Ghuman Trucking itself was based in the State of Illinois, based on documentation submitted to the Court.
“As noted earlier, Defendants assert that this case became removable on February 11, 2015, when Defendant Vasquez, a resident of Pennsylvania, was dismissed from this action by Stipulation of the Parties,” Kelly wrote.
“We agree. Clearly, when Plaintiff agreed to dismiss Vasquez, Defendants were able to timely exercise their right to remove this action to federal court because complete diversity between the parties now existed.”
Thus, Kelly opined the criteria for hearing the matter in the Eastern District were satisfied and denied the plaintiff’s motion to remand the case back to the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas.
The plaintiff is represented by David B. Sherman, of Solomon, Sherman & Gabay, of Philadelphia.
The defendants are represented by Andrew J. Keenan, of The Law Offices of William J. Ferren and Associates, of Blue Bell.
United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:15-cv- 00900