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Connolly v. Dorris

United States District Court, D. Maine

January 14, 2020

MICHAEL A. CONNOLLY, Plaintiff
v.
DON DORRIS D/B/A POSTAL FLEET SERVICES, INC., Defendant

          RECOMMENDED DECISION ON OBJECTION TO NOTICE OF REMOVAL

          John C. Nivison U.S. Magistrate Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's Objection to Defendant's Notice of Removal. (Objection, ECF No. 9.) Following a review of the pleadings and after consideration of the parties' arguments, I recommend that the Court overrule Plaintiff's objection.

         Background

         Plaintiff originally filed this action in the Maine Superior Court (Cumberland County). Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Postal Fleet Services, Inc.[1] terminated his employment with Defendant in violation of the Maine Human Rights Act, 5 M.R.S. § 4572(1)(A), and the Maine Whistleblowers' Protection Act, 26 M.R.S. §§ 833(1)(A) & (D). Plaintiff also alleges that Defendant violated his right under Maine law (26 M.R.S. § 631) to review his personnel file.

         On November 4, 2019, Defendant timely filed a Notice of Removal of the action to this Court based on diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. (Notice of Removal ECF No. 1.) According to the complaint, Plaintiff is a citizen of Maine and Defendant Postal Fleet Services, Inc. is a Delaware corporation with a principal place of business in St. Augustine, Florida.[2] (Complaint, ¶¶ 4, 6.) In its Notice of Removal, Defendant asserts that the matter in controversy in this case exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000, “based on the elements of damages requested, as well as damages cap set forth in 5 M.R.S. § 4613[(2)(B)(8)(e)].” (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 9.) In his Objection, Plaintiff asserts that he had not “specified any particular dollar amount[]” and that he “does not expect to exceed $75, 000 in damages.” (Objection at 2.) Plaintiff also argues that “it is doubtful any and all Court awards will … be in excess of” the jurisdictional requirement, given that Plaintiff “is acting pro se with limited anticipated attorney fees and has a negligible amount of lost income related to this Complaint.” (Reply at 4, ECF No. 13.)

         Discussion

         “‘Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction,' possessing ‘only that power authorized by Constitution and statute.'” Gunn v. Minton, 568 U.S. 251, 256 (2013) (quoting Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of America, 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994)). Under federal question jurisdiction, federal district courts “have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Here, Plaintiff alleges a claim under state law. The Court's federal question jurisdiction, therefore, is not applicable.

         Federal district courts also have original jurisdiction “where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000 . . . and is between citizens of different States.” 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1). For purposes of diversity jurisdiction, a corporation is deemed a citizen of its state of incorporation as well as the state of its principal place of business. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(c)(1). A corporation's principal place of business is typically where its corporate headquarters are located. Hertz Corp. v. Friend, 559 U.S. 77, 80 (2010). Plaintiff's allegations establish the requisite diversity of citizenship. The Court's diversity jurisdiction is thus dependent on the amount in controversy. Infinity Real Estate, LLC v. Deutsche Bank Nat'l Trust Co. for RBSGC 2007-B, 2:18-cv-00038-JAW, 2018 WL 4204642, at *3 (D. Me. Sept. 4, 2018).

         When a party questions the amount in controversy, “ʻthe party seeking to invoke jurisdiction has the burden of alleging with sufficient particularity facts indicating that it is not a legal certainty that the claim involves less than the jurisdictional amount, '” Abdel-Aleem v. OPK Biotech LLC, 665 F.3d 38, 42 (1st Cir. 2012) (quoting Stewart v. Tupperware Corp., 356 F.3d 335, 338 (1st Cir. 2004)), and the “ʻburden of supplying specific factual allegations to support the amount in controversy requirement.'” Abdel-Aleem, 665 F.3d at 42 (quoting Dep't of Recreation & Sports of P.R. v. World Boxing Ass'n, 942 F.2d 84, 90 (1st Cir. 1991)). When a case has been removed to federal court and that removal is challenged by the plaintiff, district courts in this circuit “have required the defendant to show by a preponderance of the evidence” that the amount in controversy exceeds the jurisdictional requirement. Doughty v. Hyster New England, Inc., 344 F.Supp.2d 217, 219 (D. Me. 2004). In assessing the amount in controversy, the appropriate measure “is the litigation value of the case, an amount arrived at by drawing all reasonable inference in favor of the Plaintiff's Complaint.” Id. “The amount in controversy is determined ‘on the basis of the facts and circumstances as of the time that an action … arrives [in federal court] from a state court by way of removal.” Thomas v. Adecco USA, Inc., No. 1:13-cv-00070-JAW, 2013 WL 6119073, at *4 (D. Me. Nov. 21, 2013) (quoting 14AA CHARLES ALAN WRIGHT, ARTHUR R. MILLER & EDWARD H. COOPER, FEDERAL PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE § 3702.4, at 457-61 (4th ed. 2011)).

         First, the fact that plaintiff did not request a specific amount in his complaint is not controlling. In fact, in Maine, a state court plaintiff's filing is not permitted to demand a specific amount in the complaint. 14 M.R.S. § 52. In addition, Plaintiff's speculation regarding the amount he might ultimately recover is neither a statement nor a stipulation as to the amount of damages he claims as back pay or front pay.[3] Even if Plaintiff had stipulated that his total claim against Defendant was for less than $75, 000, such a stipulation would not be determinative of this Court's jurisdiction. Vrandenburgh v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 397 F.Supp.2d 76, 77 (D. Me. 2005).[4]

         As alleged in his complaint, Plaintiff was demoted from a managerial position (ECF No. 1-1, ¶ 25), given lower paying assignments after the demotion (id., ¶26), and ultimately his employment was terminated in 2017. (Id. ¶¶ 27-31.) Under the Maine Human Rights Act, Plaintiff can recover back pay and front pay, along with compensatory and punitive damages.[5] Defendant asserts that Plaintiff was paid an annual salary of $48, 000 as a manager, with a car allowance of $400 per month and reimbursement for other expenses.[6]Plaintiff states that he “secured employment immediately after termination with another contract mail carrier.” (Reply at 3.) Plaintiff, however, asserts no facts as to how the compensation in his current job compares with the compensation he earned from Defendant.

         While the potential recovery for back pay and front pay is uncertain, Plaintiff's recovery for compensatory and punitive damages could be as much as $100, 000 depending on the number of people employed by Defendant. If Defendant has 100 or fewer employees, Plaintiff's compensatory and punitive damages recovery could not exceed $50, 000; if Defendant has between 101 and 201 employees, Plaintiff's recovery would be limited to no more than $100, 000. 5 M.R.S. § 4613(2)(B)(8)(e).[7] Defendant claims that it has “at least 100 employees in the United States” and that therefore Plaintiff could recover up to $100, 000 in compensatory damages. (Response at 3.) Plaintiff did not dispute Defendant's assertion regarding its number of employees or that the $100, 000 cap applies in this case. Although Plaintiff did not dispute Defendant's assertion that the $100, 000 cap applies, the assertion of “at least 100 employees” does not preclude the possibility that Defendant has 100 employees, in which event the $50, 000 cap would apply. Even if Defendant has 100 or fewer employees, however, Plaintiff's recovery of $50, 000 in compensatory and punitive damages, together with a relatively modest back pay/front pay award, would result in an award of $75, 000.

         When the parties' pleadings are considered, given the potential for Plaintiff to recover front pay, back pay, compensatory and punitive damages, and “drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of” Plaintiff's complaint, ” Doughty, 344 F.Supp.2d at 219, Defendant has met its burden of supplying sufficient factual allegations “'indicating that it is not a legal certainty that the claim involves less than the jurisdictional amount.'” Abdel-Aleem v. OPK Biotech LLC, 665 F.3d 38, ...


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