PHILADELPHIA – A judge remanded a plaintiff’s personal injury litigation against a Philadelphia discount grocery store after the defendants did not show the amount in controversy in the suit was more than the minimum amount it needed to remain in federal court.

Judge Gerald J. Pappert said Oct. 25 Save-A-Lot and its parents companies did not illustrate how the instant litigation exceeded the jurisdictional minimum of $75,000, and thus it allowed the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania to remand Marfata Dorley’s lawsuit to the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas.

On Sept. 6, 2014, Dorley was injured in a slip-and-fall accident at a Save-A-Lot grocery store in Philadelphia. She sued Save-A-Lot, Save-A-Lot #274, Supervalu Inc. and Moran Foods, LLC in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas in July claiming generalized permanent injuries and seeking damages in excess of $50,000.

The defendants removed the case to federal court in August when Dorley failed to stipulate to a damages cap of $75,000. Dorley now moves to remand the case. Per the relevant law, the defendants were now required to illustrate “by a preponderance of the evidence” that the case should remain in federal court.

“Defendants’ rely on two points to prove the amount-in-controversy exceeds $75,000. For one, they note that Dorley refused to stipulate to a damages cap of $75,000. They also note Dorley’s boilerplate list of alleged injuries, including physical and psychological harm as well as lost income and future earnings,” Pappert said.

“In essence, defendants contend that the complaint itself, coupled with Dorley’s refusal to stipulate to a damage cap, is sufficient to confer federal jurisdiction over this case. This may satisfy the defendants’ proposed ‘legal certainty’ standard, but it does not satisfy the standard prescribed by 28 U.S.C. Section 1446(c)(2). A plaintiff’s refusal to stipulate to a specific amount of damages does not show by a preponderance of the evidence that the amount-in-controversy exceeds the jurisdictional minimum,” Pappert added.

Pappert said the Court “cannot be certain why Dorley refused to stipulate to a damages cap.”

“Defendants ultimately can point only to the generalized allegations in the complaint itself. This is insufficient to satisfy their burden. A reasonable reading of the rights being litigated in the complaint could lead the Court to conclude that the amount-in-controversy is either above or below $75,000,” Pappert stated.

“The boilerplate allegations contained in the Complaint do not allow the Court to calculate the likely value of Dorley’s claims, nor do they allow the Court to estimate the value of Dorley’s lost wages or future earnings,” Pappert said. “Although defendants contend that Dorley’s assertion that the amount-in-controversy is below the jurisdictional minimum ‘is not a valid basis for remand’, Dorley does not bear the burden here.”

Pappert said in this case, all doubts were to be resolved in favor of remand.

“The Court cannot substitute Defendants’ expectations – nor its own assumptions – for the evidence necessary to support federal jurisdiction. Because the Court is effectively ‘left to guess at whether the jurisdictional threshold has been met’ in this case, the defendants have not met their burden,” Pappert said.

The plaintiff is represented by Louis B. Himmelstein and Evan Dyer of Louis B. Himmelstein & Associates, in Philadelphia.

The defendants are represented by Daniel David Krebbs of Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, also in Philadelphia.

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:16-cv-04510

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nickpennrecord@gmail.com

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