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Ballard v. Lewis

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

November 14, 2017

BARRY BALLARD, Plaintiff,
v.
DARYL LEWIS, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Susan Collins United States Magistrate Judge

         This Court has an independent obligation to ensure that subject matter jurisdiction exists in an action before it. See Arbaugh v. Y & H Corp., 546 U.S. 500 (2006); Belleville Catering Co. v. Champaign Mkt. Place, L.L.C., 350 F.3d 691, 693 (7th Cir. 2003). This Opinion and Order summarizes the undersigned Magistrate Judge's inquiry into diversity jurisdiction in this case.

         Defendants Daryl Lewis and D.O.C. Trucking, LLC (together, “Defendants”), removed this case here from the Allen Superior Court on August 15, 2017, based on diversity jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1332. (DE 1). At the preliminary pretrial conference (DE 12), the Court directed the parties to file supplemental briefs concerning the amount in controversy, which are now before the Court (DE 10; DE 11). Both parties assert in their supplemental briefs that the amount in controversy in this matter exceeds $75, 000. (DE 10; DE 11). On November 9, 2017, the Court held a hearing regarding the parties' supplemental briefs. (DE 17).

         Because the parties both represent that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000, and because it is not “legally certain” that the amount in controversy is less than $75, 000, the undersigned Magistrate Judge concludes that diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332 exists in this matter.

         A. Factual and Procedural Background

         On April 14, 2009, Plaintiff Barry Ballard filed a complaint against Defendants in Allen Superior Court, alleging that he sustained a personal injury as a result of Defendants' negligence. (DE 5). More particularly, Ballard alleges that “a steel bar rolled off of the Defendant's truck and struck him on the head” and that as a result of the incident, he “sustained physical injuries which may be permanent” and that he “continues to suffer physical pain.” (DE 5 ¶¶ 1, 4). In his complaint, Ballard seeks to recover medical expenses, lost wages, and “loss of a whole and useful life.” (DE 5 ¶ 5).

         On August 15, 2017, Defendants removed the case to federal court, asserting that the Court has diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. (DE 1). In their Notice of Removal, Defendants state that Ballard refused to admit in response to a request for admission that his total damages in this case are less than $75, 000; instead, Ballard affirmatively responded that his total damages exceed $75, 000. (DE 1-1 at 1; see DE 15-1). A preliminary pretrial conference was held on September 27, 2017, at which the Court called for briefing on whether the amount in controversy actually exceeds $75, 000. (DE 12).

         In his supplemental brief filed on October 11, 2017, Ballard asserts that his “damages arising from this case, which include special damages, pain and suffering, and disfigurement, exceed $75, 000.00.” (DE 10 at 1). More particularly, Ballard recites:

Plaintiff was injured on August 12, 2015, when a steel bar rolled off a semi-trailer and struck him in the head. The Plaintiff was subsequently treated at Lutheran Hospital's emergency room due to head and neck pain and underwent x-rays, CT scans, and an MRI through Lutheran Hospital. The Plaintiff has incurred special damages of roughly $10, 500.00 at this time for treatment of his injuries and has suffered and continues to suffer ongoing pain. Additionally, the Plaintiff has developed a nodular bump on the top of his head where the steel bar struck him, which may be permanent.

(DE 10 at 1). In Defendants' supplemental brief also filed on October 11, 2017, Defendants state that: (1) Ballard alleges that his injury resulted in “lost wages, medical expenses, permanent physical injuries and pain and suffering”; and (2) that Ballard refused to admit that his damages were less than $75, 000, indicating instead that his damages exceed $75, 000. (DE 11 ¶¶ 2, 6, 7).

         A hearing was held on November 9, 2017, regarding the parties' supplemental briefs.

         (DE 17). Ballard and his counsel appeared in person; Defendants' counsel appeared telephonically. (DE 17).

         B. Applicable Legal Standard

         A defendant in state court may remove a case to a federal district court only if the district court has original jurisdiction over the action. See 28 U.S.C. § 1441; Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987). If the district court does not have jurisdiction, the case must be remanded. 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). When ruling on a motion to remand, “[c]ourts should interpret the removal statute narrowly and presume that the plaintiff may choose his or her forum, ” with any doubt regarding jurisdiction resolved in favor of remand. Battle v. Countrywide Home Loans, Inc., No. 05 C 3022, 2005 WL 2284250, at *1 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 15, 2005) (quoting Doe v. Allied-Signal, Inc., 985 F.2d 908, 911 (7th Cir. 1993)). The burden of establishing ...


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