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Shalda v. SSC Waynesville Operating Com. LLC

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina

July 20, 2018

KRISTA SHALDA, Plaintiff,
v.
SSC WAYNESVILLE OPERATING COMPANY, LLC, d/b/a BRIAN CENTER HEALTH AND REHAB, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER

          Martin Reidinger United States District Judge.

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on the Plaintiff's Motion to Remand to State Court. [Doc. 5]. The Defendant opposes the Plaintiff's Motion. [Doc. 7].

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On January 25, 2018, the Plaintiff filed this action in the Buncombe County General Court of Justice, Superior Court Division, against her former employer, asserting claims for unlawful termination, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent infliction of emotional distress under North Carolina law. [Doc. 1-1]. In her Complaint, the Plaintiff requests damages “in excess of $25, 000 sufficient to compensate the Plaintiff for her monetary damages” as well as “an amount in excess of $25, 000 to compensate the Plaintiff for all emotional and mental distress suffered by her.” [Id. at 12]. The Complaint does not specifically demand an amount in excess of $75, 000. [See id.].

         The Defendant was served with process on January 29, 2018. [Doc. 1-4 at 17]. The Defendant, however, failed to answer or otherwise appear within 30 days of the service of the Summons and Complaint. Accordingly, the Clerk of Court for the Buncombe County Superior Court entered default as to the Defendant on March 1, 2018. [Doc. 1-4 at 27]. On March 7, 2018 the Defendant filed a Motion for Leave to File its Answer to the Complaint and a Motion to Set Aside the Entry of Default. [Doc. 1-4 at 32-52]. The Defendant's Answer was filed on March 8, 2018. [Doc. 1-4 at 53-62]. On March 22, 2018, the plaintiff filed a Motion for Default Judgment. [Doc. 1-4 at 65-67].

         Following a hearing on April 3, 2018, the Superior Court orally granted the Defendant's Motion to Set Aside the Entry of Default and denied the Plaintiff's Motion for a Default Judgment.[1] The next day, April 4, 2018, the Defendant submitted a single request for admission to the Plaintiff, asking her to admit that she would not seek more than $74, 999.00 in damages in the state court action. [Doc. 1-3]. On May 7, 2018, the Plaintiff denied the request, indicating that she would seek more than the jurisdictional amount necessary for diversity jurisdiction. [Id.]. The Defendant received the Plaintiff's Response on May 10, and on May 11, 2018, the Defendant filed a Notice of Removal in this Court, based on the existence of diversity jurisdiction.[2] [Doc. 1].

         II. DISCUSSION

         A defendant may remove a civil action from state court where the action is one “of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction.” 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). Federal courts have original jurisdiction of civil actions between citizens of different states, where the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000 and there exists complete diversity between all plaintiffs and all defendants. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). Since removal jurisdiction is not favored, the Court must “construe it strictly in light of the federalism concerns inherent in that form of federal jurisdiction.” In re Blackwater Sec. Consulting, LLC, 460 F.3d 576, 583 (4th Cir. 2006). The burden is on the party seeking removal to demonstrate that federal jurisdiction is proper. Mulcahey v. Columbia Organic Chems. Co., 29 F.3d 148, 151 (4th Cir. 1994).

         Generally, a notice of removal of a civil action must be filed within thirty days of receipt by the defendant of the initial pleading. See 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b)(2). If, however, the grounds for removal are not ascertainable from the initial pleading, the defendant has thirty days from “receipt . . . 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, ” as long as no more than one year has passed from the date of the initial pleading in a diversity case. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1446(b)(3), (c).

         The Court is not required to investigate the defendant's subjective knowledge regarding the discovery of grounds for removal, as such a determination “could degenerate into a mini-trial regarding who knew what and when.” Lovern v. General Motors Corp., 121 F.3d 160, 162 (4th Cir. 1997). Instead, the Court “can rely on the face of the initial pleading and on the documents exchanged in the case by the parties to determine when defendant had notice of grounds for removal, requiring that those grounds be apparent within the four corners of the initial pleading or other subsequent paper.” Id. (emphasis added).

         “Generally, the amount specified in the complaint will determine whether the jurisdictional amount is satisfied for purposes of removal.” Bartnikowski v. NVR, Inc., 307 Fed.Appx. 730, 734 (4th Cir. 2009). In North Carolina, however, “a plaintiff can plead for judgment in excess of a certain dollar amount, . . . making it difficult to determine the exact amount in controversy” from the initial pleading. Lee Elec. Constr., Inc. v. Eagle Elec., LLC, No. 1:03-cv-00065, 2003 WL 21369256, at *2 (June 10, 2003). Such is the case here where the Plaintiff, in accord with the ordinary practice in North Carolina state courts, merely alleges that her damages are in excess of $50, 000.00.

         The Plaintiff asserts that the Defendant had knowledge of the fact that the amount in controversy exceeded $75, 000.00 prior to the litigation even being filed. In so arguing, the Plaintiff relies on the Plaintiff's written demand letter which the Defendant received on or about August 31, 2017. This letter states, in pertinent part, as follows:

This event has ended not just Ms. Shalda's long prepared for career as a Registered Nurse, but her ability to ever again effectively support herself and her child through gainful employment.
Ms. Shalda is 36 years old. A conservative estimate of her actual loss of income over her expected remaining working life, based on her likely income as a Registered Nurse over that period and what she will now receive in Disability ...

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