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Vest v. J.B. Hunt Transport, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

August 3, 2018

EDWARD VEST, ANNE VEST, Plaintiff,
v.
J.B. HUNT TRANSPORT, INC., ERIE INSURANCE EXCHANGE, JOHN DOE, Defendants.

          ORDER

          Hon. Jane Magnus-Stinson, Chief Judge

         Presently pending before the Court are Edward and Anne Vest's (“the Vests”) Motion to Remand, [Filing No. 12], and Defendant J.B. Hunt's Motion for Sanctions, [Filing No. 17]. For the reasons that follow, the Court DENIES both Motions.

         I.

         Background

         On December 14, 2017, the Vests filed an Amended Complaint for damages against Defendants J.B. Hunt Transport Inc. (“J.B. Hunt”), Erie Insurance Exchange (“Erie”), and John Doe in Marion County Superior Court. [Filing No. 1-1.] In the Complaint, the Vests allege that John Doe was operating a semi-trailer on behalf of J.B. Hunt when a collision occurred with Mr. Vest's vehicle. [Filing No. 1-1 at 1-2.] The Complaint states that Mr. Vest sustained medical expenses, lost wages, and property damage as a result of the accident. [Filing No. 1-1 at 1.]

         At a June 4, 2018 mediation, the Vests made a settlement demand of $700, 000, [Filing No. 1 at 2], and J.B. Hunt offered a settlement of $7, 500, [Filing No. 13 at 4]. The parties were unable to reach an agreement, and on June 13, 2018 defendant J.B. Hunt removed the action to this Court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. [Filing No. 1.] J.B. Hunt filed an Amended Notice of Removal on July 3, 2018, stating that this Court has diversity jurisdiction over this matter. On July 13, 2018, the Vests filed the pending Motion to Remand. [Filing No. 12.] J.B. Hunt opposes that Motion, and in its response brief, it moves for sanctions against the Vests. [Filing No. 17.] The Court addresses each Motion in turn.

         II.

         Motion to Remand

         A. Legal Standard

         The federal removal statue permits a defendant to remove a civil action from state court when a district court has original jurisdiction over the action. Micrometl Corp. v. Tranzact Techs., Inc., 656 F.3d 467, 470 (7th Cir. 2011); see also, 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). Federal courts have original jurisdiction over “all civil actions where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs, ” between citizens of different states. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1). “§ 1332 requires complete diversity, meaning that no plaintiff may be from the same state as any defendant.Hart v. FedEx Ground Package System Inc., 457 F.3d 675, 676 (7th Cir. 2006). Additionally, the amount in controversy must exceed “$75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs.” 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). Whether removal is proper is analyzed at the time of removal, “as that is when the case first appears in federal court.” Hukic v. Aurora Loan Servs., 588 F.3d 420, 427 (7th Cir. 2009).

         “[T]he removing party must establish any disputed aspect of diversity jurisdiction by offering ‘evidence which proves to a reasonable probability that jurisdiction exists.'” Smith v. Am. Gen. Life & Acc. Ins. Co., Inc., 337 F.3d 888, 892 (7th Cir. 2003) (quoting Chase v. Shop ‘N Save Warehouse Foods, Inc., 110 F.3d 424, 427 (7th Cir. 1997)); see also Walker v. Trailer Transit, Inc., 727 F.3d 819, 824-25 (7th Cir. 2013) (“The removing defendant has the burden of proving the jurisdictional predicates for removal.”). “If at any time...it appears that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the case shall be remanded.” 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c).

         B. Discussion

         The Vests argue that remand is appropriate because the John Doe defendant's citizenship may not be diverse, and because J.B. Hunt has not established that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs. [Filing No. 13 at 3.] As to the question of citizenship, J.B. Hunt argues that under the removal statute, the citizenship of defendants sued under fictitious names is disregarded. [Filing No. 17 at 6.] And as to the amount in controversy, J.B. Hunt contends that it used the Vests' own settlement demand to establish the amount in controversy, and that Mr. Vest's medical bills alone amount to more than $75, 000. [Filing No. 17 at 5.] They also argue that the Vests have themselves refused to stipulate that the amount in controversy falls below the $75, 000 threshold. [Filing No. 5.] The Vests do not offer a reply to J.B. Hunt's citizenship argument. As to the amount in controversy, the Vests argue that the settlement demand was merely a “starting demand, ” and that both the settlement demand and the medical bills represent, in part, damages incurred in another unrelated personal injury case. [Filing No. 18.]

         28 U.S.C. § 1441 provides that “[i]n determining whether a civil action is removable on the basis of the jurisdiction under section 1332(a) of this title, the citizenship of defendants sued under fictitious names shall be disregarded.” 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b)(1); see also Howell byGoerdt v. Tribune Entm't Co., 106 F.3d 215, 218 (7th Cir. 1997) (“…naming a John Doe defendant will not defeat the named defendants' right to remove a diversity case if their citizenship is diverse from that of the plaintiffs.”); Thornburg v. Stryker Corp., 2006 WL 211952, at *2 (S.D. Ind. Jan. 27, 2006) (same). All parties agree that the named ...


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