Raspa v. The Home Depot, Civil No. 07-cv-1893 (D.N.J., December 21, 2007).

Raspa says: “Watch out for that raccoon!” This is not really a CAFA case, but its lesson is two-fold: 1) stay away from raccoons, no matter how cute and cuddly they may appear; 2) when practicing in the Third Circuit regarding removal and remand be sure to look at Fredrico, Samuel-Bassett and Morgan v. Gay

On December 21, 2007, Dennis M. Kavanaugh, United States District Judge for the District of New Jersey, handed down an opinion denying the plaintiffs’ motion to remand in a case that is a little wild.

The facts of the case state that on August 30, 2006, Antonio Raspa was shopping with Michael Egierd at the Home Depot when both of them were attacked and bitten by a raccoon. Antonio filed a complaint seeking compensatory and punitive damages alleging that, as a result of his injuries, he suffered severe and permanent physical, psychological, and emotional injuries; he suffered great pain; he incurred substantial medical expenses; he lost wages; and he will continue to suffer great medical expenses and lost wages into the foreseeable future. Antonio’s wife, Patricia, also alleged a loss of consortium claim. (Editors’ Note:  We don’t know where the raccoon bit Antonio in order to create a loss of consortium claim). Neither of the plaintiffs demanded a specific amount of damages in their complaint.

Michael Egierd and his wife Lisa also filed a complaint seeking compensatory and punitive damages. 

Home Depot removed their separate action to the federal court, but United States District Judge Stanley Chesler granted their motion to remand and the matter was remanded to state court.

Raspa’s case was also removed to federal court on the basis of diversity between the parties stating that “it was likely, that the amount in controversy exceeded the sum of $75,000.00”. 

The plaintiffs argued that under Samuel-Bassett, Home Depot failed to establish to a legal certainty that the amount in controversy exceeded the jurisdictional threshold of $75,000.00 and therefore the matter should be remanded to state court.

The court’s discussion surrounded three Third Circuit cases: Fredrico v. Home Depot, 2007 WL 3310553 (3d Cir. November 9, 2007), Samuel-Bassett v. Kia Motors AM., Inc., 357 F.3d 392 (3d Cir. 2004), and Morgan v. Gay, 471 F.3d 469 (3d Cir. 2006). (Editors’ Note: Even though this is not really a CAFA case, take a look at the analysis of the Morgan case posted on January 19, 2007). The court stated that Fredrico revamped the law governing the amount in controversy in diversity remand cases and eliminated much of the confusion spurred by both Samuel-Bassett and Morgan v. GayFredrico “articulates the quantum of proof necessary in ascertaining the requisite amount in diversity removal cases and defendant’s burden of proving the amount in controversy on a motion to remand.”

The Court discussed the interplay between Morgan and Samuel-Bassett. Morgan provides two specific points. First, the Court stated that Morgan added a precept that may be applied to all diversity class actions that have been removed: “because the Complaint may be silent or ambiguous on or more of the ingredients needed to calculate the amount in controversy, a defendant’s notice of removal serves the same functions as the Complaint would in a suit filed in federal court.” Second, Morgan set up guideposts in those cases where the plaintiff’s complaint specifically and precisely states that the amount sought in a class action diversity complaint and limits the amount in controversy below the five million dollar threshold. In those cases, the party wishing to establish jurisdiction has the burden to prove by a legal certainty that the amount in controversy exceeds the statutory threshold.

Fredrico reconciled the Third Circuit’s decisions in Morgan and Samuel-Bassett. According to Fredrico, Morgan applies to cases in which the Complaint specifically avers that the amount sought is less than the jurisdictional minimum. There, a defendant seeking removal must prove to a legal certainty that the plaintiff can cover the jurisdictional amount. On the other hand, Samuel-Bassett applies to cases in which the plaintiff has not specifically averred in the complaint that the amount in controversy is less than the jurisdictional minimum. There, the case must be remanded if it appears to a legal certainty that the plaintiff can not recover the jurisdictional amount. 

With all of that law in mind, I bet you are wondering about our raccoon mauled friend, Mr. Raspa. His Complaint did not contain any mention of the sum or value of the matter in controversy. Therefore, the case fell under the framework established by Samuel-Bassett. The Court held that it did not appear to a legal certainty that the plaintiffs could not recover the jurisdictional amount. Therefore, the Court stated that the case need not be remanded.

Lesson 1: Shopping at the Home Depot and petting zoos do not mix.

Lesson 2: Don’t get bit in the crotch by a raccoon.

Lesson 3: Remember Fredrico when practicing removal and remand law in the Third Circuit.