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Bennett v. 3M Co.

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

April 15, 2014

WALTER J. BENNETT, Plaintiff,
v.
3M COMPANY, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

JAMES R. SPENCER, District Judge.

THIS MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion to Remand. (ECF No. 6). For the reasons stated below, the Court will REMAND this case to the Circuit Court of Hanover, Virginia.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

Plaintiff filed a three-count Complaint on February 14, 2014 in the Hanover County Circuit Court. Plaintiff alleges equitable estoppel (Count I), fraud (Count II), and breach of contract (Count III). Plaintiff requests $8, 400 in lost benefits, $2, 640 for lost car payments, and $100, 000 in punitive damages/emotional distress. Defendant was served with the Complaint and Summons on February 27, 2014. Defendant filed its Notice of Removal based on diversity jurisdiction with this Court on March 20, 2014.

Defendant removed this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Defendant contends that the parties are diverse because Plaintiff is a resident of Mechanicsville, Virginia and Defendant is incorporated in the state of Delaware and has its principal place of business in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Defendant also represents that Plaintiff seeks actual and punitive damages in excess of $75, 000, thus meeting the amount in controversy requirement.

II. Discussion

A. Legal Standard

A case originating in state court may be removed to federal court if the district court has subject-matter jurisdiction on the basis of the existence of a federal question or diversity. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1332, 1441(a). Federal question jurisdiction requires that a civil action arise under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States. 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Diversity jurisdiction requires complete diversity of citizenship and an amount in controversy in excess of $75, 000. 28 U.S.C. § 1332. If at any time before final judgment it appears the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the court must remand the case. 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c).

"[R]emoval jurisdiction raises significant federalism concerns." Mulcahey v. Columbia Organic Chems. Co., Inc. , 29 F.3d 148, 151 (4th Cir. 1994). "Subject-matter jurisdiction cannot be conferred by the parties, nor can a defect in subject-matter jurisdiction be waived by the parties. Accordingly, questions of subject-matter jurisdiction may be raised at any point during the proceedings and may (or, more precisely, must) be raised sua sponte by the court." Brickwood Contractors, Inc. v. Datanet Eng'g, Inc., 369 F.3d 385, 390 (4th Cir. 2004) (en banc) (citation omitted). Accordingly, district courts should strictly construe removal jurisdiction. Id. ; Lontz v. Tharp , 413 F.3d 435, 441 (4th Cir. 2005). If there is any doubt as to the district court's jurisdiction, the case should be remanded to state court. Mulcahey , 29 F.3d at 151. The burden of establishing federal jurisdiction falls upon the party seeking removal. Id. 151.

B. Diversity Jurisdiction Under § 1332

Diversity jurisdiction requires both complete diversity of citizenship and an amount in controversy in excess of $75, 000. 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Under § 1332, the citizenship of each plaintiff must be different from the citizenship of each defendant. Athena Auto., Inc. v. DiGregorio, 166 F.3d 288, 290 (4th Cir. 1999). There is no indication that the parties are not diverse. Plaintiff is a citizen of Virginia and Defendant is incorporated in the state of Delaware and has its principal place of business in Saint Paul, Minnesota. As such, the only issue is whether the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000.

The amount in controversy is "measured by the value of the object of the litigation." Hunt v. Wash. Apple Adver. Comm'n, 432 U.S. 333, 347 (1977). That value may be determined from either party's viewpoint. Dixon v. Edwards, 290 F.3d 699, 710 (4th Cir. 2002). The Fourth Circuit has not established the standard of proof that applies to this issue, although some courts in the circuit have applied a "preponderance of the evidence" standard. See, e.g., Landmark Corp. v. Apogee Coal Co., 945 F.Supp. 932, 935 (S.D. W.Va. 1996). "Ordinarily the jurisdictional amount is determined by the amount of the plaintiff's original claim, provided that the claim is made in good faith." Wiggins v. N. Am. Equitable Life Assur. Co. , 644 F.2d 1014, 1016 (4th Cir. 1981). However, "if it appears to a legal certainty that the plaintiff cannot recover the jurisdictional amount, the case will be dismissed for want of jurisdiction." Id. (quoting McDonald v. Patton , 240 F.2d 424, 426 (4th Cir. 1957)).

i. Breach of Contract

Under Virginia law, a plaintiff may not generally recover punitive damages for a breach of contract. Kamlar Corp. v. Haley, 299 S.E.2d 514, 518 (Va. 1983). Such damages may only be allowed based on a "willful, independent tort in a count separate from that which alleges a breach of ...


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