Trahan v. U.S. Bank National Association, No. 10-15665, 2010 WL 1986182 (9th Cir. May 18, 2010)(designated not for publication).

In Trahan, U.S. Bank National Association (“U.S. Bank”) removed this case to federal court on the basis of diversity under 28 U.S.C. § 1332 (a) and § 1332 (d). Jerry Trahan (“Trahan”) subsequently filed a motion to remand. There was no dispute that the parties were diverse; the only question before the court was the amount in controversy. 

U.S. Bank argued that Trahan’s individual claims were worth $76,691.48, of which $23,174.49 were alleged punitive damages and that the class’s claims were worth $6,491,652.38 of which $2,412,331.35 were alleged punitive damages. Looks as if the amount in controversy was satisfied, doesn’t it? Think again.

The appellate court held, “Simple subtraction reveals that the amount in controversy requirement is not satisfied under either § 1332(a) or § 1332 (d) without sufficient punitive damages.” (author’s comment: *wide eyes, mouth ajar* Simple subtraction? I was sure you would have used calculus and long division to figure this one out. *blank stare*)

The court noted that under Davenport v. Mut. Benefit Health & Accident Ass’n, 325 F.2d 785,787 (9th Cir. 1963) which stated, “A District court need not consider punitive damages in determining the amount in controversy when such damages are unavailable as a matter of state law,” you don’t count punitives in this type of case.  The court noted that Trahan’s wage and hour claims were inherently tied to employment contracts Trahan and the class had with U.S. Bank, and according to Brewer v. Premier Golf Props., 86 Cal. Rptr. 3d 225, 235 (Ct. App. 2008)(review denied Mar. 18, 2009); and Cal. Civ. Code § 3294(a), “such claims cannot support punitive damages under California law.” 

Just as quick as one crawfish is devoured at the New Orleans Jazz Fest, Trahan stipulated in his oral argument that “in the light of these authorities, despite what is currently alleged in his complaint, he cannot, and will not attempt to, collect punitive damages or pursue a conversion claim in this case.” (author’s comment: wow! really dude?! you are insanely strategic! *blank stare*)

I think I’ll keep this one in my back pocket the next time I am on The Price is Right and I spin the wheel for the second time, go over $1.00 and am knocked out of the showcase. I’ll simply say, “I cannot and will not accept that second spin of the wheel. I’ll stick with .75 cents from the first spin.” Better yet, whenever I am a contestant on Deal or No Deal and I choose the case with $0, I’ll simply change my mind and ask if I can exchange it for the million dollar case.

By: Diamond Paten