United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Knoxville Division
GARY D. BELEW, Plaintiff,
SECO ARCHITECTURAL SYSTEMS, INC., Defendant.
W. Phillips United States District Judge.
matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion to
Remand [doc. 6], Plaintiff's Brief in Support of the
Motion to Remand [doc. 7], and Defendant's Response in
Opposition [doc. 11]. For the reasons herein, the Court will
deny Plaintiff's motion.
Gary D. Belew (“Mr. Belew”) initiated this action
in the Circuit Court for Campbell County, Tennessee, claiming
employer discrimination under the Tennessee Human Rights Act
(“THRA”), Tenn. Code Ann. § 4-21-401 [Compl.
doc. 1-1, at 5]. Specifically, Mr. Belew alleges that, in
March 2016, Defendant Seco Architectural Systems, Inc.
(“Seco”), his former employer, terminated him
“when [his] ability to obtain other employment was
diminished because of his age” and replaced him with
employees “much younger.” [Id.]. Mr.
Belew's alleged “sustained damages” consist
of a “loss of future earnings, employment benefits, and
personal injuries [from] humiliation and
embarrassment.” [Id. at 6]. Mr. Belew seeks
“compensatory damages, inclusive of costs and
attorney's fees under the law and evidence not to exceed
Seventy-Two Thousand, Five Hundred Dollars ($72,
500.00).” [Id.]. He also requests “such
further and general relief to which he may be entitled under
the law.” [Id. at 7].
on diversity of citizenship jurisdiction, Seco removed this
action to this Court under 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). [Notice
of Removal, doc. 1, at 1-5]. In doing so, Seco claims, in its
Notice of Removal, that the amount in controversy exceeds
$75, 000, exclusive of interests and costs. [Id.
¶ 7]. Seco backs this claim with two assertions:
At the time of his separation from SECO on March 14, 2016,
Plaintiff earned an annual salary of $43, 680.00 per year and
was eligible for employee benefits. Assuming a trial date set
to begin in 20 months (roughly 22 months from Plaintiff's
termination), Plaintiff would be entitled to more than $75,
000 in back pay at the time of trial.
In addition to Plaintiff's claim for back pay, Plaintiff
may seek compensatory damages for future pecuniary
losses and nonpecuniary losses (including emotional pain,
suffering, inconvenience, mental anguish, and loss of
enjoyment of life). Pursuant to Tenn. Code. Ann. §
4-21-313(a)(3), these damages may total up to $100, 000,
given that SECO employs more than 100 employees.
[Id. ¶¶ 13-14 (citations omitted)]. Mr.
Belew now moves this Court to remand this action, arguing
that federal subject matter jurisdiction is absent. In
particular, the parties dispute whether the amount in
controversy exceeds 75, 000, exclusive of interests and
costs, under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). [See
Pl.'s Br. at 5-12; Def.'s Resp. at 1-6].
Subject Matter Jurisdiction
federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction.
Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S.
375, 377 (1994). “Just as a criminal defendant is
presumed innocent until the government proves him guilty, a
case is presumed to fall outside a federal court's
jurisdiction until a litigant proves otherwise.”
May v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 751 F.Supp.2d 946, 950
(E.D. Ky. 2010); see Patsy v. Bd. of Regents, 457
U.S. 496, 525 n.10 (1982) (Powell, J., dissenting).
(“[B]ecause it would not simply be wrong but indeed
would be an unconstitutional invasion of the powers reserved
to the states if the federal courts were to entertain cases
not within their jurisdiction, the rule is well settled that
the party seeking to invoke the jurisdiction of a federal
court must demonstrate that the case is within the competence
of that court.” (quotation omitted)). Under §
1332(a), diversity of citizenship jurisdiction requires an
amount in controversy that exceeds $75, 000, exclusive of
interest and costs. A party invoking diversity jurisdiction
must allege that the cause of action satisfies the
jurisdictional amount in controversy, Mitan v. Int'l
Fid. Ins. Co., 23 F. App'x 292, 297 (6th Cir. 2001),
including in cases that arrive in federal court by removal,
Dart Cherokee Basin Operating Co. v. Owens, 135
S.Ct. 547, 551 (2014).
defendant initiates removal by filing a notice of removal,
which must contain “a short and plain statement of the
grounds for removal.” 28 U.S.C. § 1446(a). Under
28 U.S.C. § 1446(c)(2), when a defendant removes a civil
case from state court to federal court based on diversity
jurisdiction, “the sum demanded in good faith in the
initial pleading shall be deemed to be the amount in
controversy.” See Dart Cherokee Basin, 135
S.Ct. at 551 (“If the plaintiff's complaint, filed
in state court, demands monetary relief of a stated sum, that
sum, if asserted in good faith, is ‘deemed to be the
amount in controversy.'” (quoting id.));
St. Paul Mercury Indem. Co. v. Red Cab Co., 303 U.S.
283, 288 (1938) (stating that, in the context of removal,
“the sum claimed by the plaintiff controls if the claim
is apparently made in good faith” (footnotes omitted)).
“Generally, because the plaintiff is ‘master of
the claim, ' a claim specifically less than the federal
requirement should preclude removal.” Rogers v.
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 230 F.3d 868, 871 (6th Cir. 2000)
situations, however, even when a plaintiff demands a specific
sum in an initial pleading and that sum is less than the
federal threshold, remand is improper. The Sixth Circuit, in
a case whose removal was based on diversity jurisdiction, has
counseled courts not to remand an action when a state's
laws permit a plaintiff “to recover damages in excess
of what she prayed for.” Id. at 873.
Specifically, when a state's rules of civil procedure
contain an analog to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(c),
which permits “relief to which each party is entitled,
even if the party has not demanded that relief, ” a
plaintiff's demand for a particular sum less than $75,
000 is not always determinative. Rogers, 230 F.2d at
871. In constructing this exception to the notion that the
plaintiff is the “master of the claim, ”
id. (quotation omitted), the Sixth Circuit explained
[S]tate counterparts to Rule 54(c) . . . might enable a
plaintiff to claim in his or her complaint an amount lower
than the federal amount-in-controversy requirement in an
attempt to defeat federal jurisdiction, while actually
seeking and perhaps obtaining damages far in excess of the
federal requirement. Thus, courts have considered allowing
removal where the defendant establishes a “substantial
likelihood” or “reasonable probability”
that the plaintiff intends to seek damages in excess of the
federal amount-in-controversy ...