Friday, March 09, 2007

Seventh Circuit Discusses Amount in Controversy -- Where Plaintiff Will not Stipulate to Less Than 75,000, Reasonable Inference That Amount is Above

Per Oshana v. Coca-Cola Co., 472 F.3d 506 (7th Cir. Dec. 29, 2006):

Oshana filed this lawsuit in Illinois state court alleging Coke tricked consumers into believing that fountain Diet Coke and bottled Diet Coke have the same ingredients. . . . Coke removed the case to federal court invoking diversity jurisdiction and claiming a good-faith belief that the amount in controversy in fact exceeded the $75,000 threshold. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Oshana moved to remand; she argued the complaint unambiguously disclaimed individual damages in excess of $75,000 so that federal jurisdiction could not exist. The district court denied Oshana's motion to remand, concluding that Coke had established Oshana's damages could plausibly exceed $75,000. . . . Defeated, Oshana filed an amended complaint in federal court praying for about $1000 in actual damages and, either as a class or individually, disgorgement of millions in Coke profits from the sale of fountain Diet Coke in Illinois. . . . The district court denied class certification, holding that Oshana could not satisfy the requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(a) or Rule 23(b).

In this case, subject-matter jurisdiction could be based only on diversity of citizenship. 28 U.S.C. § 1332. There is no question that the parties are diverse--Oshana is an Illinois citizen (as was her predecessor) and Coke is a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Georgia. The only question for us is whether the amount in controversy exceeded $75,000. . . . Because Coke is the proponent of jurisdiction, it has the burden of showing by a preponderance of the evidence facts that suggest the amount-in-controversy requirement is met. Meridian Sec. Ins. Co. v. Sadowski, 441 F.3d 536, 543 (7th Cir.2006). That is easier said than done when the plaintiff, the master of the complaint, does not want to be in federal court and provides little information about the value of her claims. In such a case, a good-faith estimate of the stakes is acceptable if it is plausible and supported by a preponderance of the evidence. See, e.g., Rubel v. Pfizer, Inc., 361 F.3d 1016, 1020 (7th Cir.2004). Once the defendant in a removal case has established the requisite amount in controversy, the plaintiff can defeat jurisdiction only if "it appears to a legal certainty that the claim is really for less than the jurisdictional amount." St. Paul Mercury Indem. Co. v. Red Cab Co., 303 U.S. 283, 289 (1938); Meridian Sec., 441 F.3d at 541. . . . [Plaintiff] expressly disclaimed individual damages over $75,000. . . . Such disclaimers have been long approved as a way of staying out of federal court, see St. Paul Mercury, 303 U.S. at 294, 58 S.Ct. 586, but only when the disclaimer is binding. BEM I, L.L.C. v. Anthropologie, Inc., 301 F.3d 548, 552 (7th Cir.2002); The Barbers, Hairstyling for Men & Women, Inc. v. Bishop, 132 F.3d 1203, 1205 (7th Cir.1997). . . . Oshana's refusal to admit that she would not seek individual damages in excess of $75,000 worked against her. As we said in Workman, if the plaintiff does not stipulate to damages of $75,000 or less, "the inference arises that he thinks his claim may be worth more." Workman v. United Parcel Service, Inc., 234 F.3d 998, 1000 (7th Cir. 2000) . . . This result is only fair. Oshana cannot benefit by playing a cat-and-mouse game, purporting to disclaim damages in excess of $75,000 but refusing to admit or stipulate that her damages will not exceed that amount. See Rubel, 361 F.3d at 1020 ("[P]laintiffs can't prevent removal by refusing to concede that the controversy exceeds the jurisdictional minimum") A contrary result would be unjust. . . . Whether she actually recovers more than $75,000 is immaterial; what matters is the amount put in controversy on the day of removal. BEM I, L.L.C., 301 F.3d at 552. . . . There is no reason to believe on the day the case was removed that it was legally impossible for Oshana to recover more than $75,000. See Workman, 234 F.3d at 999.

The district court determined that the proposed class was not sufficiently definite to warrant class certification. . . . Membership in Oshana's proposed class required only the purchase of a fountain Diet Coke from March 12, 1999, forward. Such a class could include millions who were not deceived and thus have no grievance under the ICFA. . . . For the same reasons, Oshana's claims were not typical of the putative class. A claim is typical if it "arises from the same event or practice or course of conduct that gives rise to the claims of other class members and ... her claims are based on the same legal theory." Rosario v. Livaditis, 963 F.2d 1013, 1018 (7th Cir.1992). Even though some factual variations may not defeat typicality, the requirement is meant to ensure that the named representative's claims " 'have the same essential characteristics as the claims of the class at large.' " Retired Chi. Police Ass'n v. City of Chi., 7 F.3d 584, 597 (7th Cir.1993) (quoting De La Fuente v. Stokely-Van Camp, Inc., 713 F.2d 225, 232 (7th Cir.1983)). . . . We cannot say the district court's conclusion that Oshana's claims are atypical was an abuse of discretion.


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