United States District Court, District of Columbia
P. Mehta United States District Judge.
matter comes before the court on Plaintiff Shalaura Ham's
Second/Renewed Motion for Default Judgment, ECF No. 19, and
on Plaintiff's response to this court's Minute Order
to Show Cause, see Minute Order, Feb. 13, 2018
[hereinafter Minute Order]; Pl.'s Response to Minute
Order to Show Cause, ECF No. 21. In her Motion, Plaintiff
seeks an award of $5, 000, against Defendant Teresa Memine
for pain and suffering resulting from a battery at the hands
of Defendant. Notice of Filing, ECF No. 20, Aff. of Shalaura
Ham, ECF No. 20-1, ¶¶ 7-8 [hereinafter Pl.'s
Aff.]; Second/Renewed Motion for Default J., Mem. in Support,
ECF No. 19-1, at 1, 3-4. In response to Plaintiff's
Motion, the court issued a Minute Order to Show Cause, which
questioned whether the court had subject matter jurisdiction
over this matter under the diversity statute-this case was
removed to federal court on that basis-in light of
Plaintiff's demand for only $5, 000 in damages, a sum far
less than the $75, 000 amount-in-controversy threshold in 28
U.S.C. § 1332. Minute Order; see also Gonzales v.
Thaler, 565 U.S. 134, 141 (2012) (stating that federal
courts may raise the question of their subject matter
jurisdiction sua sponte at any stage of the proceedings). The
court directed Plaintiff to “show cause . . . why this
matter should not be remanded to the D.C. Superior Court
under 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c).” Minute Order.
responded to the court's Minute Order to Show Cause on
February 18, 2018, as directed. See Pl.'s Resp.
to Minute Order to Show Cause, ECF No. 21 [hereinafter
Pl.'s Resp.]. In her filing, Plaintiff states that, in
her Complaint, Plaintiff “in good faith” demanded
damages “in the amount of $500, 000 for emotional
injuries against Defendants TJX Companies, Inc.”-her
former employer since dismissed from this action-“and
Teresa Burris Memine for their alleged tortious
conduct.” Id. ¶ 3. Plaintiff explains
that, at the time the case was removed, she believed that the
amount in controversy exceeded $75, 000, as required by the
diversity statute, but subsequent events prevented her from
seeking at least that amount as a default judgment.
Id. ¶¶ 4- 5. Specifically, Plaintiff
points to the dismissal of Plaintiff and Memine's common
employer, TJX Companies, which prevented her from
“gather[ing] evidence pertaining to its supervision of
Defendant Teresa Memine and to gather evidence to support her
demand for punitive damages as to this defendant.”
Id. ¶¶ 6-7. Without evidence from TJX
Companies, Plaintiff reasons, she cannot in good faith prove
damages of more than $5, 000. Id. ¶ 5.
rooted in diversity jurisdiction must satisfy the
amount-in-controversy threshold of $75, 000. 28 U.S.C. §
1332(a). In cases removed to federal court, like this one,
the amount-in-controversy requirement must be satisfied at
the time of removal. See Mitchell v. E. Savings Bank,
FSB, Civ. No. 12-657 (JEB), 2012 WL 13042901, at *2
(D.D.C. July 13, 2012); 14A Charles Alan Wright & Arthur
R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure §
3702.4 (4th ed. 2017) (stating that it is a
“well-settled principle” that the
“existence or nonexistence of the amount in controversy
required for subject matter jurisdiction is determined on the
basis of the facts and circumstances as of the time that an
action . . . arrives there from a state court by way of
removal”). Ordinarily, a plaintiff's
“amount-in-controversy allegation is accepted if made
in good faith.” Dart Cherokee Basin Operating Co.,
LLC v. Owens, 135 S.Ct. 547, 553 (2014). And
“[e]vents occurring subsequent to the institution of
suit which reduce the amount recoverable below the statutory
limit do not oust jurisdiction.” St. Paul Mercury
Indem. Co. v. Red Cab Co., 303 U.S. 283, 289-90 (1938).
Courts, however, have distinguished between “subsequent
events that change the amount in controversy and subsequent
revelations that, in fact, the required amount was or was not
in controversy at the commencement of the action.”
Cuneo Law Grp., P.C. v. Joseph, 920 F.Supp.2d 145,
150 (D.D.C. 2013) (quoting Jones v. Knox Expl.
Corp., 2 F.3d 181, 183 (6th Cir. 1993)); accord
Wright & Miller, supra, § 3702.4 (citing
cases). The former class of cases do not require
dismissal even if the amount in controversy falls below $75,
000; the latter class of cases, on the other hand, must be
dismissed. See St. Paul Mercury, 303 U.S. at 289-90.
To justify such dismissal, “it must appear to a legal
certainty that the claim is really for less than the
jurisdictional amount[.]” Id. at 289. The D.C.
Circuit has interpreted the “legal certainty”
standard to mean that “courts [must] 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).
The party that seeks to invoke federal diversity
jurisdiction-in this case, Plaintiff-bears the burden of
proving that the amount-in-controversy requirement is
satisfied. See id.
Plaintiff advanced three causes of action: (1) battery, (2)
negligent supervision, and (3) negligent infliction of
emotional distress. See Notice of Removal, ECF No.
1, Compl., Attach. 3, ECF No. 1-3. She asserted each of those
claims against her former employer, TJX Companies, and the
first and third claims against Memine. As Plaintiff's
claims sound in tort, her potential for recovery from both
Defendants was for the harm that she suffered. See
Restatement (Second) of Torts § 903 (defining
“compensatory damages”). Although not evident in
her original Complaint, Plaintiff now makes clear that she
never suffered any pecuniary loss or physical injury.
See Pl.'s Aff ¶¶ 5, 7-9. Rather, she
claims damages for humiliation and embarrassment, and she
says that after the assault she became depressed, wanted to
hurt herself, and suffered from migraines. See Id.
¶ 8. Plaintiff asks for only $5, 000 in
damages. Id. ¶ 7. She attributes that reduced
amount to the dismissal of TJX Companies from this case.
Pl.'s Resp. ¶¶ 5-7. That event, she maintains,
left her to proving damages only through her own sworn
testimony and that of her mother and a coworker. Id.
¶ 5. Further, she asserts, the absence of TJX Companies
prevented her from “gather[ing] evidence pertaining to
its supervision of Defendant Teresa Memine and to gather
evidence to support her demand for punitive damages as to
this defendant.” Id. ¶ 7.
on the foregoing, the court is “very confident”
that Plaintiff did not have a good faith basis to meet the
$75, 000 threshold at the time this matter was removed from
the D.C. Superior Court, and that no subsequent event to
removal caused the amount in controversy to slip below that
amount. Id. To begin, the dismissal of TJX Companies
had no effect on her ability to establish her claimed damages
for pain and suffering. Plaintiff and, presumably, her mother
and co-worker were available to testify to establish damages
at the time of removal just as they are today. If their
present collective testimony only gives rise to $5, 000 in
damages, it most certainly would not have given rise to a
greater sum when the case arrived in this court.
while it is true that TJX Companies' dismissal resulted
in the loss of Plaintiff s negligent supervision claim, that
claim could not have made up the $70, 000 shortfall. Under
District of Columbia law, an employer is not vicariously
liable for the intentional torts of its employees committed
solely for her own “malicious personal reasons.”
Phelan v. City of Mt. Rainer, 805 A.2d 930, 937-40
(D.C. 2002). A plaintiff, however, can hold an employer
liable for an employee's intentional torts, if the
employer negligently supervises the employee. Id.
Such liability is predicated on the employer's own
negligence, rather than a theory of vicarious liability.
Plaintiff had proven such a claim, she could not have
recovered any more from TJX Companies than she presently
seeks from Memine. Two principles establish that conclusion.
First, “[an] employer is subject to liability only for
such harm as is within the risk. If, therefore, the risk
exists because of the quality of the employee, there is
liability only to the extent that the harm is caused by the
quality of the employee which the employer had reason to
suppose would be likely to cause harm.” Restatement
(First) Agency § 213 cmt. d.; accord Fleming v.
Bronfin, 104 A.2d 407, 409 (D.C. Mun. Ct. 1954) (citing
Restatement (First) Agency § 213 cmt. d)). Second,
“[i]f two or more tortfeasors produce a single injury,
the plaintiff may sue each one for the full amount of the
damage and hold the defendants severally liable; but the
plaintiff can obtain only a single recovery, and each
defendant will be entitled to a credit for any sum that the
plaintiff has collected from the other defendant.”
Leiken v. Wilson, 445 A.2d 993, 999 (D.C. 1982).
Taken together, those principles mean in this case that, even
if Plaintiff could have proven that TJX Companies negligently
supervised Memine-say hypothetically, by having knowledge of
Memine's penchant for violence but doing nothing about
it-TJX Companies would be liable for no more than the harm
directly caused by Memine. True, Plaintiff could have held
TJX Companies liable for the full amount. But TJX
Companies' presence in this case would not have raised
Plaintiff's total damages claim above $5, 000, the
self-declared value of Plaintiff's emotional injuries.
Plaintiff's claim for punitive damages does not get her
over the jurisdictional hump. See Kahal v. J.W. Wilson
& Assoc., Inc., 673 F.2d 547, 549 (D.C.
Cir. 1982) (holding that a punitive damages claim may factor
into the amount-in-controversy determination only if it has a
“colorable basis in law and fact”). The Supreme
Court has held that the Due Process Clause provides
substantive protection against punitive damages awards.
See generally BMW of N. Am., Inc. v. Gore, 517 U.S.
559 (1996). Although the Court has not drawn a bright-line
punitive damages-to-compensatory damages ratio that would
offend due process, it has observed that “an award of
more than four times the amount of compensatory damages might
be close to the line of constitutional impropriety.”
State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Campbell, 538 U.S.
408, 425 (2003). Applying that near-outer-bounds multiplier
here, even a punitive award of four times compensatory
damages would result in only an additional $20, 000, still
leaving Plaintiff well short of the $75, 000 amount required
by 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Thus, even the inclusion of a generous
punitive damages does not get Plaintiff to the
amount-in-controversy requirement. See Hunter v. District
of Columbia, 384 F.Supp.2d 257, 261-62 (D.D.C. 2005)
(dismissing complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction
where the maximum compensatory damages available to the
plaintiff was the sum of $5, 500 in compensatory damages plus
summary, the dismissal of TJX Companies is not the type of
event subsequent to removal that changed the amount in
controversy in this case and would justify the court's
continued jurisdiction over this matter. Rather, in light of
Plaintiff's admission that she suffered no more than $5,
000 in provable damages, the court finds that the court did
not at any time have jurisdiction over this matter under the
diversity jurisdiction statute.
foregoing reasons, the court finds to a legal certainty that,
at the time of removal, Plaintiff did not have a good faith
basis to believe the combination of compensatory and punitive
damages would satisfy the $75, 000 threshold. Accordingly,
this court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over this
matter. The court therefore remands this ...