Reynolds v. World Courier Ground, Inc., No. 10-11060-JLT, 2011 WL 503687 (D. Mass. Feb. 14, 2011).

In this case, a District Court in Massachusetts remanded the action to state court holding that the information necessary to determine the amount in controversy should be readily available to the removing defendant.

The plaintiff filed a putative wage and hour class action in Massachusetts Superior Court alleging seven claims under state law.

Of the seven claims asserted, the plaintiff and the putative class sought four categories of economic damages: (1) back pay–unpaid wages for all work that was not compensated at or above minimum wage; (2) overtime wages; (3) reimbursement for all work-related expenses; and (4) a trebling of such damages under Massachusetts General Laws chapter 140, section 150.

Not surprisingly, the defendant removed the case to the federal court.  Also not surprisingly, then the plaintiff filed a motion to remand.

The District Court granted the motion to remand.

First, the plaintiff’s complaint did not contain specific damage allegations. The defendant, however, claimed that the amount in controversy could be determined on the face of the plaintiff’s complaint, as well as, on the basis of the plaintiff’s calculation of damages in his Initial Disclosures.  The Court, upon evaluating the entire record, found that the defendant failed to establish by a reasonable probability that the plaintiff’s individual damages would exceed $75,000, or that the putative class’s damages would exceed $5 million.

The Court observed that in support of its argument, the defendant failed to produce any specification or affirmative evidence of the amount in controversy.  Beyond reciting the categories of damages that the plaintiff was seeking, the defendant’s lone support for its contention that the plaintiff’s damage would exceed the jurisdictional minimum was a vague hypothetical and pointing to the plaintiff’s work-related expenses.

Specifically, the defendant speculated that the plaintiff’s claim for overtime compensation could be “quite high.”  Combined with trebling of damages, attorney’s fees, and the cost of purchasing a delivery vehicle, it was hard for the Court to imagine how any fair calculation of the amounts the plaintiff had put in controversy could fall below $75,000.  Paradoxically, the defendant did not even specifically refute the plaintiff’s estimation that his recovery (including trebling of damages) would not exceed $30,000. Unfortunately, the defendant left “any calculation to the imagination,” the Court remarked.

Moreover, the Court pointed out that the information necessary to determine the amount in controversy should be readily available to the defendant.  The Court noted that the only available figures were provided by the plaintiff, but the figures were not helpful in estimating the plaintiff’s potential damages.  Specifically, the plaintiff claimed that he earned $900 to $1,000 weekly while employed by the defendant or, after the allegedly unlawful deduction of business expenses, an annual sum of $23,359.93.  But the Court opined that this annual or weekly payment for deliveries and pick-ups that the plaintiff performed did not shed light on the amount of money that the plaintiff would seek for overtime hours or business-related expenses.  This “light can only be shined by information related to the plaintiff’s hours worked and expenses incurred,” the Court added.

The Court observed that the fact that the defendant declined to offer any such evidence suggested that this evidence might not support jurisdiction.  For example, the defendant could have pointed to expenses charged to the plaintiff by the defendant (e.g., uniforms), hours and days during which the plaintiff delivered packages, or perhaps specifics concerning the plaintiff’s business-related expenses that the defendant refused to reimburse.  Insofar as the defendant speculated that other unknown class members might have damages exceeding $75,000, the Court remarked that this speculation failed because the defendant must show that the plaintiff himself claimed such damages.

Next, because the defendant did not deny the plaintiff’s estimation that his recovery would not exceed $30,000, the Court found that the addition of attorney’s fees would still not raise recovery above the jurisdictional minimum.  Although the defendant pointed out that there could be at least one hundred class members, the defendant offered ‘no evidence’ which would indicate how large the plaintiff’s award might be.

Finally, the Court briefly noted that its holding was independent of the plaintiff’s stipulation that he would not accept any recovery in excess of $75,000 or class-wide recovery in excess of $5 million.  Such a stipulation did not alter the court’s determination of the existence of diversity jurisdiction.

Accordingly, the Court remanded the action to state court.