United States District Court, District of Columbia
RICHARD J. LEON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Richard Goldman ("plaintiff), a member of the New York
Bar proceeding pro se, brings this action against
defendants Fiat Chrysler Automobiles US, LLC
("Fiat"), Safety Net Promotions ("Safety
Net"), and John Does 1-10 (collectively
"defendants") alleging breach of contract, tortious
inference with contractual relations, and "tortious
prevention of plaintiff from completing added requirements
for the contract." Plaintiff does not allege any claims
arising under federal law. Upon consideration of the Amended
Complaint and the relevant law, the Court shall sua
sponte REMAND the case to the Superior Court of the
District of Columbia.
case brings a whole new meaning to the term "shell
game." Plaintiff resides in New York, but on October 12,
2013 he was in Washington, D.C. and attended an event called
"Taste of D.C." PL's Am. Compl. ¶¶ 1,
11. Fiat sponsored a promotional contest at the event, which
was administered by Safety Net, a promotion company. The
contest involved the display of a four-door Fiat automobile,
the rear cargo area of which was brimming with bags of dry
pasta. Id. ¶ 14. A sign posted near the display
read, "Guess the number of pasta shells & you can win a
new Fiat!" Id. ¶ 12. The sign noted the
value of the prize Fiat was "up to $20, 000, "
id. Ex. A, and plaintiff likewise states that the
value of the Fiat was up to $20, 000, id. ¶ 35.
Plaintiff alleges that upon encountering the contest he asked
one of defendants' employees about how to enter to win
the car, and he was told that all he had to do was guess the
correct number of pasta shells on display within the car and
fill out the contest entry form. Id. ¶ 14.
After standing in a line of other contest entrants, plaintiff
began filling out his entry form. Id. ¶ 20. He
alleges that another contest employee then advised him that
his guess of the number of pasta shells "should be
written out as a five digit number like between 10, 000 and
50, 000 and then entered as a code through the keypad on an
electronic safe." Id. ¶ 21. If the guess
was correct, the safe would open. Id. Plaintiff
maintains that there were no other posted instructions or
specifics regarding the contest rules. Id. ¶22.
point, plaintiff had concluded that the pieces of pasta on
display in the Fiat were not actually "pasta shells,
" which he maintains "are a particular variety of
pasta noodle . . . having a shell-like shape, "
id. ¶ 17, but instead were bucatini and
dumplings, id. ¶ 15. Because it was plaintiffs
opinion that there were no "pasta shells" in the
vehicle, he believed that the winning number was zero.
Id. ¶ 19. Informing this conclusion was
plaintiffs inference that the contest was actually a test of
knowledge of Italian culture given Fiat's efforts to
educate American consumers about Italy. Id.
¶¶ 43, 45. But when plaintiff inputted
"00000" into the safe, it did not open and he was
not awarded the Fiat. Id. ¶25. Thereafter, he
complained to Fiat's customer relations department and to
the Office of the Attorney General of the District of
Columbia. Id. ¶¶ 27, 28. Fiat submitted a
letter to the Attorney General's investigator explaining
that contest entrants were to guess a number between 10, 000
and 50, 000 and that the winning number that was programmed
into the safe was a randomly generated number within that
range. Id. Ex. F.
filed the present suit against defendants in the Superior
Court of the District of Columbia on November 5, 2015. He
requested the following damages in his
Complaint: (1)the value of the Fiat, which he stated
was $20, 000, plus interest and inflation, or specific
performance of provision of a new Fiat, plus interest; (2)
the amount of the taxes and registration fees that would need
to be paid on the Fiat, which he estimated to be $7, 997; (3)
a sum of $12, 000, which he estimated to be the amount he
spent repairing his own vehicle that he alleges he would not
have had to spend had he been awarded the Fiat; (4) the
approximately $7, 000 he spent as a result of vehicular
inefficiencies on his own vehicle that alleges he would not
have had to spend had he been awarded the Fiat; (5) the
roughly $71, 575 he spent purchasing a new vehicle after his
own vehicle needed to be replaced that he alleges he would
not have had to purchase had he been awarded the Fiat; (6)
the value of the time he has spent pursuing his prize, which
he estimates to be $25, 000; and (7) reasonable costs and
fees, including attorney's fees. Compl. 9-13. Fiat
removed the action to this Court on December 1, 2015 on the
purported basis of diversity jurisdiction. Thereafter, on
January 4, 2016, plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint, which
defendants Fiat and Safety Net moved to dismiss for failure
to state a claim on January 19, 2016 and March 22, 2016
respectively. See Fiat's Mot. to Dismiss [Dkt.
#19]; Safety Net's Mot. to Dismiss [Dkt. #42].
without saying that "[f]ederal courts are courts of
limited jurisdiction. They possess only that power authorized
by Constitution and statute." Kokkonen v. Guardian
Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994).
Jurisdiction "goes to the foundation of the court's
power to resolve a case, and the court is obliged to address
it sua sponte.” Doe by Fein v. District of
Columbia, 93 F.3d 861, 871 (D.C. Cir. 1996). Fiat
asserts that subject matter jurisdiction lies under 28 U.S.C.
§ 1332(a), which grants federal district courts
jurisdiction "of all civil actions where the matter in
controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000, exclusive
of interest and costs, " and where the dispute "is
between . . . citizens of different States."
See Notice Of Removal 3-4 [Dkt. #1]. Typically, when
assessing whether the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000,
"the sum claimed by the plaintiff controls if the claim
is apparently made in good faith." St. Paul Mercury
Indem. Co. v. Red Cab Co., 303 U.S. 283, 288 (1938).
However, if it "appear[s] to a legal certainty that the
claim is really for less than the jurisdictional amount,
" dismissal is warranted. Id. at 289. Our
Circuit Court has explained that "the Supreme
Court's yardstick demands that courts be very confident
that a party cannot recover the jurisdictional amount before
dismissing the case for want of jurisdiction."
Rosenboro v. Kim, 994 F.2d 13, 17 (D.C. Cir. 1993)
(citing Martin v. Gibson, 723 F.2d 989, 991, 993
(D.C. Cir. 1983) (per curiam)). Although this standard is
exacting, it has been met here.
Court, of course, assesses the amount in controversy
according to the damages claimed in plaintiffs original
Complaint, which was operative at the time of
removal. See Paley v. Ogus, 20 F.Supp.2d
83, 93 (D.D.C. 1998) ("[Satisfaction of the
jurisdictional amount is determined by the amount of damages
that the plaintiff claims at the initiation of the
lawsuit."). As an initial matter, the $25, 000 of costs
and the unspecified amount of attorney's fees plaintiff
claims to have incurred pursuing his claim cannot be counted
towards the amount in controversy. See 28 U.S.C.
§ 1332(a) (amount in controversy must exceed $75, 000,
"exclusive of interest and costs"); Alston v.
Flagstar Bank, FSB, 609 F.App'x 2, 4 (D.C. Cir.
2015) (per curiam) (stating "out-of-pocket litigation
expenses" do not "count towards the amount in
controversy"); Griffin v. Coastal Int'l Sec,
Inc., No. 06-2246, 2007 WL 1601717, at *3 (D.D.C. June
4, 2007) ("Courts in this District have determined that
attorney's fees do not count towards the amount in
controversy requirement unless they are provided for by a
contract in issue or by a statute in controversy."
(internal citation and quotation marks omitted)). Next,
plaintiff seeks compensatory damages in the form of the value
of the Fiat or provision of a new Fiat and the consequential
damages he claims to have suffered as a result of not being
promptly awarded his prize, including the amount he spent on
a new vehicle. See Bay Gen. Indus., Inc. v. Johnson,
418 A.2d 1050, 1057 (D.C. 1980) (explaining that under
District of Columbia law "[b]oth incidental (special)
and consequential (general) damages are intended to
compensate a party for the loss incurred by the other's
breach, i.e., 'compensatory'"). Plaintiff does
not request punitive damages. "Compensatory damages are
awarded in order to 'make plaintiffs whole for the harms
that they have suffered as a result of defendants'
actions.'" Flythe v. District of Columbia,
Civ. No. 10-2021, 2016 WL 4506965, at *11 (D.D.C. Aug. 26,
2016) (quoting Hendry v. Pelland, 73 F.3d 397, 402
(D.C. Cir. 1996)). Under District of Columbia law, "in
the absence of punitive damages a plaintiff can recover no
more than the loss actually suffered." Snowden v.
D.C. Transit Sys., Inc., 454 F.2d 1047, 1048 (D.C. Cir.
1971). Under this "cardinal principle of law, " it
is clear "that an 'injured person may [not] have
more than full satisfaction, except as punitive damages. He
has no right to make profit from his harm . . . ."
Id. (quoting McKenna v. Austin, 134 F.2d
659, 664 (D.C. Cir. 1943) (alteration in original)).
prayer for relief here seeks the value of the Fiat, which is
approximately $20, 000, or the award of a new Fiat. He then
separately seeks the approximately $71, 575 that he spent on
a new vehicle. But, as a matter of law, plaintiff may not be
enriched through an award of compensatory damages; rather, he
may only be made whole. See Medina v. District of
Columbia, 643 F.3d 323, 326 (D.C. Cir. 2011). Therefore,
plaintiff cannot be awarded both a new Fiat or the
value of the Fiat he claims to have been wrongfully denied
and the value of another new-and
astronomically more expensive- vehicle. It is thus apparent,
to a legal certainty, that an award of the $71, 575 plaintiff
spent on his new vehicle would be a windfall not contemplated
by compensatory damages. After subtracting the $25, 000 that
does not count towards the amount in controversy and the $71,
575 plaintiff cannot recover as compensatory damages, the
amount in controversy falls to a mere $46, 997. This amount is so
far below that required for this Court to exercise original
jurisdiction in this case based on diversity of citizenship
that even were plaintiffs estimates later found to be
"low-balled" the Court is satisfied that the amount
in controversy would still not exceed the $75, 000
for all the reasons set forth above, the Court lacks subject
matter jurisdiction and REMANDS this case to the Superior
Court of the District of Columbia. See U.S.C. §
1447(c). I will gratefully leave it to that court to solve
the "pasta shell" issues, if any, embedded in this
epicurean contest. An Order consistent with this decision
accompanies this Memorandum Opinion.
 Defendant Fiat claims plaintiff
erroneously sued it as "Fiat Chrysler Automobiles U.S.
LLC" instead of its proper name "FCA USA,
LLC." The Court will refer to the parties as they are
named by plaintiff ...