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Violette v. Cbhh, LLC

United States District Court, D. Maine

July 1, 2019

CBHH, LLC, et al., Defendants



         The defendants, following their removal of this action on diversity grounds from state court, move to dismiss it for lack of personal jurisdiction and failure to state a claim. See Defendants CBHH, LLC & Charles Tacker's Motion To Dismiss (“Motion”) (ECF No. 7). Because the amount in controversy does not exceed $75, 000, I recommend that the court remand the action to the state court and deem the defendants' motion moot.

         I. Applicable Legal Standards

         “A court is duty-bound to notice, and act upon, defects in its subject matter jurisdiction sua sponte.” Spooner v. EEN, Inc., 644 F.3d 62, 67 (1st Cir. 2011).

         This court has original jurisdiction over civil actions where complete diversity exists between the parties and the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). The party seeking to invoke federal jurisdiction bears the burden of demonstrating that jurisdiction is proper. See, e.g., Coventry Sewage Assocs. v. Dworkin Realty Co., 71 F.3d 1, 4 (1st Cir. 1995).

         In making a jurisdictional determination such as this, the court is bound to “rigorously enforce the jurisdictional limits that Congress chooses to set . . . .” Coventry Sewage, 71 F.3d at 4. To appropriately respect the boundaries of the federal courts' limited jurisdiction, all doubts in this area are resolved against removal and in favor of a remand to state court. See, e.g., Rosselló-González v. Calderón-Serra, 398 F.3d 1, 11 (1st Cir. 2004); Harris Mgmt., Inc. v. Coulombe, No. 2:14-cv-41-GZS, 2014 WL 4723096, at *2 (D. Me. Sept. 23, 2014); English v. Bank of Am., N.A., Civil No. 1:13-CV-265-DBH, 2013 WL 6448672 at *5 (D. Me. Dec. 9, 2013).

         II. Discussion

         The plaintiff alleges $43, 000 in damages. See Plaintiff's Civil Complaint (“Complaint”), Exh. C (ECF No. 1-3) to Notice of Removal (“Notice”) (ECF No. 1), at 2. In their notice of removal, the defendants argue that this court has subject matter jurisdiction because of the parties' diversity. Notice at 2. The defendants assert that diversity jurisdiction exists because the plaintiff is a resident of Maine, while the defendants are residents of Arkansas, and because “the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000 exclusive of interest and costs[.]” Id. The defendants argue that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000 because the plaintiff “is seeking $250, 000 in punitive and exemplary damages.” Id. In addition to punitive damages, the pro se plaintiff also seeks attorney fees. See Complaint at 2. For the reasons below, neither punitive damages nor “attorney fees” enable this action to meet the amount in controversy prerequisite for diversity jurisdiction.

         A. Punitive Damages

         “Where both actual and punitive damages are recoverable under a complaint each must be considered to the extent claimed in determining jurisdictional amount.” Bell v. Preferred Life Assur. Soc. of Montgomery, Ala., 320 U.S. 238, 240 (1943) (footnote omitted).

         While the plaintiff seeks punitive damages in his complaint, see Complaint at 2, punitive damages are not available under Maine's Unfair Trade Practices Act (“UTPA”), see, e.g., Maine-ly Marine Sales & Serv., Inc. v. Worrey, No. Civ.A. CV-04-369, 2006 WL 1668039, at *4 (Me. Super. Ct. Apr. 10, 2006); Taylor v. Philip Morris Inc., No. Civ.A. CV-00-203, 2001 WL 1710710, at *7 (Me. Super. Ct. May 29, 2001). Therefore, because it is a “legal certainty” that he cannot recover punitive damages, I cannot consider the $250, 000 the plaintiff seeks in punitive damages to determine whether the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000. Bell, 320 U.S. at 240 (“the question remains whether it is apparent to a legal certainty from the complaint that [the plaintiff] could not recover . . . sufficient punitive damages to make up the requisite [jurisdictional minimum]”).

         B. Attorney Fees

         “Even though attorneys' fees are typically excluded from the amount-in-controversy determination, there are two exceptions to this rule: ‘when the fees are provided for by contract, and when a statute mandates or allows payment of the fees.'” Get In Shape Franchise, Inc. v. TFL Fishers, LLC, 167 F.Supp.3d 173, 190 (D. Mass. 2016) (quoting Spielman v. Genzyme Corp., 251 F.3d 1, 7 (1st Cir. 2001)).

         Here, both exceptions apply. Maine's UTPA authorizes an award of reasonable attorney fees. See 5 M.R.S.A. § 213. Likewise, the contract between the parties entitles the prevailing party in any dispute to attorney fees. See Real Estate Contract (Residential) (“Agreement”), ...

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