Tuesday, May 29, 2007

D. Ore. Rules on "Amount in Controversy" Controversy: No CAFA Jurisdiction When Plainitffs' Claims do not Facially Exceed Five Million Dollars

Per Tate v. U.S. Bank Nat'l Ass'n, Slip Copy, 2007 WL 1170608 (D. Ore. April 17, 2007):

Defendant argues that the Findings and Recommendation [of the magistrate judge] incorrectly treated the amount in controversy as “facially apparent” because the Complaint did not specify a dollar amount for damages, but instead sought “damages, in total less than five million dollars,” as well as attorney fees. Compl. at 9. Relying on a ruling from this court, Lowdermilk v. U.S. Bank Nat'l Assoc., No. 06-592, 2006 WL 4100011 (D.Or. Aug.6, 2006), affd 479 F.3d 994 (9th Cir.2007), the Findings and Recommendation concluded correctly that “the plaintiff's allegation that the ‘aggregate total of the claims [pled] herein do not exceed five million dollars,’ was a specific expression of the amount of damages sought, apparent on the face of the complaint....” Findings and Recommendation at 7. The Ninth Circuit has since recognized that courts need not look beyond the four corners of a Complaint to determine whether the CAFA jurisdictional amount is met when the Complaint “avers damages (less than five million dollars) that do not reach the threshold for federal jurisdiction.” Lowdermilk, 479 F.3d 994, slip op. at 9 (quotations omitted) (“Plaintiff did plead a specific amount in damages, and therefore, the preponderance of the evidence standard does not apply”). Accordingly, this objection is overruled.

Defendant further objects that the Findings and Recommendation erred by failing to consider evidence concerning the estimated worth of plaintiff's claims, which defendant asserts met the burden to establish that the amount in controversy exceeded the jurisdictional threshold. U.S. Bank's Objections at 12-14. Again relying on this court's ruling in Lowdermilk, the Findings and Recommendation recognized correctly that “a plaintiff may evade federal court simply by asking for less than the jurisdictional amount, so long as the plaintiff, should she prevail, isn't legally certain to recover more.” Findings and Recommendation at 8 (citations omitted). This proposition was also affirmed by the Ninth Circuit. Lowdermilk, 479 F.3d 994, slip op. at 11-12 (“[W]here the plaintiff has pled an amount in controversy less than $5,000,000, the party seeking removal must prove with legal certainty that CAFA's jurisdictional amount is met”). Where, as here, there is no evidence of bad faith on the part of plaintiff, defendant “must not only contradict the plaintiff's own assessment of damages, but must overcome the presumption against federal jurisdiction,” by showing that plaintiff is legally certain to recover at least five million dollars. Id., slip op. at 10.

This court has examined defendant's proffered evidence concerning the estimated worth of plaintiff's claims and concludes that defendant failed to establish with legal certainty that the amount in controversy meets the jurisdictional minimum. Although defendant asserted that plaintiff's claim for unpaid overtime was worth more than $11,000,000, this estimate is insufficiently supported to overcome the presumption against federal jurisdiction.


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