United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Beaufort Division
CHARLES E. HOUSTON, Plaintiff,
MICHAEL CLAYTON BEASLEY and ARIZONA SHOWER DOOR CO., INC., Defendants.
C. NORTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter comes before the court on plaintiff Charles E.
Houston's (“Houston”) motion to remand, ECF
No. 6. For the reasons set forth below, the court denies the
motion to remand.
case arises out of a motor vehicle collision that occurred on
March 28, 2014, in Jasper County. Houston was driving south
on I-95 when defendant Michael Clayton Beasley
(“Beasley, ” with defendant Arizona Shower Door
Co., collectively “defendants”), collided with
the rear of his vehicle leading to substantial damage to
Houston's vehicle. On March 13, 2017, Houston filed an
amended complaint against defendants in the Jasper County
Court of Common Pleas. Defendants removed this case on
November 22, 2017, and in their notice of removal state that
they learned only upon receipt of Houston's answers to
interrogatories that the amount-in-controversy exceeded $75,
000. Houston filed this motion to remand on December 18,
2017, to which defendants responded on January 2, 2018. This
case has been fully briefed and is now ripe for the
parties seeking to invoke the court's jurisdiction,
defendants have the burden of proving jurisdiction upon a
motion to remand. Dixon v. Coburg Dairy, Inc., 369
F.3d 811, 816 (4th Cir. 2004) (citing Mulcahy v. Columbia
Organic Chems. Co., 29 F.3d 148, 151 (4th Cir. 1994)).
In deciding the motion, the federal court should construe
removal jurisdiction strictly in favor of state court
jurisdiction. Id. “If federal jurisdiction is
doubtful, a remand is necessary.” Mulcahy, 29
F.3d at 151 (citations omitted).
moves to remand this case to the Jasper County Court of
Common Pleas on the ground that defendants were untimely in
filing a notice of removal. Defendants contend that while
they did remove the case six months after the complaint was
filed, they did not know from the face of the amended
complaint that the amount-in-controversy was over the $75,
000 threshold to satisfy federal jurisdiction, and it was not
until Houston filed answers to the interrogatories that they
became aware that there were grounds for removal. The
disposition of this motion turns upon a discrete
issue-whether defendants could ascertain from the face of the
amended complaint that the amount-in-controversy would exceed
$75, 000, or if defendants did not know until they received
Houston's answers to the interrogatories that the
amount-in-controversy was met. The court finds that it is the
latter, and denies the motion to remand.
U.S.C. § 1446 governs the procedure for removal. Section
1446(b) provides that “[t]he notice of removal . . .
shall be filed within thirty days after the receipt by the
defendant . . . of a copy of the initial pleading.” 28
U.S.C. § 1446(b). The first paragraph of § 1446(b)
applies to cases that are removable as initially filed; the
second paragraph applies to cases that although not initially
removable, later become removable:
if the case stated by the initial pleading is not removable,
a notice of removal may be filed within thirty days after
receipt by the defendant . . . of a copy of an amended
pleading, motion, order or other paper from which it may
first be ascertained that the case is one which is or has
become removable, except that a case may not be removed on
the basis of jurisdiction conferred by section 1332 of this
title more than 1 year after commencement of the action.
28 U.S.C. § 1446(b). Under § 1446(b), the
thirty-day removal clock begins to run when a defendant
receives a pleading, motion, or other paper that reveals
“on its face” a basis for federal jurisdiction.
In Lovern v. Gen. Motors Corp., 121 F.3d 160, 162
(4th Cir. 1997), the Fourth Circuit ruled that courts need
not inquire into the subjective knowledge of the defendant
but instead should “rely on the face of the initial
pleading and on the documents exchanged” by the parties
to determine when the defendant had notice of the grounds for
argues that defendants were on notice of the “severity
of the collision and the substantial damages” that he
sustained by May 2017, when defendants filed their answer in
state court. ECF No. 6 at 3. On August 24, 2014,
Houston's counsel sent medical bills that Houston had
incurred to Beasley's insurance carrier, and also advised
that Houston incurred lost wages as a result of the
collision. Houston points out that by this date, defendants
were aware that he had incurred $16, 000 in medical expenses
and that Houston would be making a claim for lost wages. ECF
No. 6 at 5. However, $16, 000 is a far cry from $75, 000.
Furthermore, a review of the letter that Houston's
counsel sent to defendants in August 2014 shows that
Houston's counsel indicated only that he was “still
in the process of obtaining Mr. Houston's lost wage
information, ” not that his lost wages were for an
amount that would near the amount-in-controversy.
Houston contends that because the amended complaint included
a request for punitive damages, this was sufficient to alert
defendants that the amount-in-controversy was over $75, 000.
However, in Hagood v. Electrolux Home Prod., Inc.,
2006 WL 1663804, at *2 (D.S.C. June 15, 2006) the court
[While] some courts have found that, when an unspecified
amount of damages is claimed, the [amount-in-controversy] is
satisfied for purposes of remand unless it appears to a legal
certainty that the plaintiff cannot recover damages in excess
of $75, 000 . . . invocation of the possibility of actual,
consequential, and punitive damages being awarded, without