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Sherwood v. Fire It UP Productions LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Western Division

September 25, 2019

DUSTY SHERWOOD, as next friend of Kayden Sherwood PLAINTIFF


          Kristine G. Baker, United States District Judge.

         Before the Court is a motion to remand filed by plaintiff Dusty Sherwood, as next friend of Kayden Sherwood (Dkt. No. 4). Defendants Fire It Up Productions, LLC (“Fire It Up”), and Kevin Blackwell responded to the motion (Dkt. No. 7). For the following reasons, the Court grants the motion to remand and remands this action immediately to the Circuit Court of Cleburne County, Arkansas (Dkt. No. 4).

         I. Factual Background

         In his motion to remand, plaintiff maintains that Fire It Up hosted a team-roping competition in Jackson, Mississippi (Dkt. No. 5, at 1). Fire It Up sent text messages and otherwise advertised that the High Point Roper would win, among other prizes, a 2018 Ram Crew-Cab Dually Diesel (the “Truck”) (Id., at 1-2). Kayden Sherwood competed (Id., at 2). At an awards ceremony held at the end of the competition, Fire It Up announced that Kayden Sherwood was the High Point Roper and winner of the Truck (Id.). Kayden Sherwood left Jackson, Mississippi, with the Truck (Id.).

         The next day, plaintiff contends that Mr. Blackwell called plaintiff, who is Dusty Sherwood, Kayden Sherwood’s father, and told him that Fire It Up would not be sending the title to the Truck because, according to plaintiff, Mr. Blackwell claimed that Fire It Up should have handicapped Kayden Sherwood differently in the competition thereby requiring Kayden Sherwood to return the Truck (Id.). Plaintiff disputes that Kayden Sherwood should have been handicapped differently and contends that Kayden Sherwood is entitled to keep the Truck (Id.).

         In plaintiff’s complaint, plaintiff “specifically requests specific performance of the contract by the Court ordering Defendant to tender title of the truck to Plaintiff, ” for “attorney’s fees [and] costs, ” and “all other relief to which he is entitled either in law or equity.” (Dkt. No. 2, at 7, ¶¶ 59, 62, WHEREFORE).

         Defendants Fire It Up and Mr. Blackwell filed a petition of removal on October 24, 2018, removing this action from the Circuit Court of Cleburne County, Arkansas, to this Court (Dkt. No. 1). At the time of removal, although the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration was a named defendant, it had not been served nor had it made an appearance in the litigation (Id., ¶ 2). Defendants based their removal petition on “complete diversity of citizenship between the parties pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332 . . . .” (Id., ¶ 9). Defendants maintain that Fire It Up is a Texas corporation with its principal place of business in Jacksonville, Texas, and that plaintiff Dusty Sherwood, along with Kayden Sherwood, are citizens and residents of Cleburne County, Arkansas (Id., ¶¶ 5, 6). In plaintiff’s complaint, plaintiff alleges that Mr. Blackwell “is the principal owner or member” of Fire It Up and a resident of Texas (Dkt. No. 2, ¶ 3).

         Further, with respect to the amount in controversy, defendants in their removal petition allege the following:

(Dkt. No. 1, ¶ 7). Along with their notice of removal, defendants Fire It Up and Mr. Blackwell filed an answer to complaint and counterclaim against plaintiff (Dkt. No. 3). Defendants allege breach of contract, common law fraud, conversion, and, in the alternative, promissory estoppel (Id.).

         Plaintiff maintains that the Truck, “by Defendants’ own valuation is $45, 000” and that the amount in controversy does not exceed $75, 000, meaning this Court lacks jurisdiction and should remand (Dkt. No. 5, at 2). In response, defendants maintain that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000, but in making this argument, defendants focus on the value of their counterclaim to reach this amount, not the value of plaintiff’s complaint (Dkt. No. 7, at 3-6). In their filing, defendants represent that the value of the Truck is “approximately $48, 041.00” (Id., at 1, 3).

         II. Analysis

         Federal courts have the power to hear claims based on diversity of citizenship. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Federal jurisdiction based on diversity of citizenship has two requirements: (1) no plaintiff in the action can be a citizen of the same state as any of the defendants and (2) the amount in controversy must exceed $75, 000, exclusive of interests and costs. Id. Any civil action brought in a state court of which federal district courts have original jurisdiction may be removed. See 28 U.S.C. 1441(a). In removal cases, federal courts are required to construe strictly the federal removal statute, and doubts about federal jurisdiction are resolved in favor of remand. Transit Cas. Co. v. Certain Underwriters at Lloyd's of London, 119 F.3d 619, 625 (8th Cir. 1997).

         Generally, under § 1446, if removal of a civil action is “on the basis of jurisdiction conferred by section 1332(a), the sum demanded in good faith in the initial pleading shall be deemed to be the amount in controversy.” 28 U.S.C. § 1446(c)(2). However, the notice of removal may assert the amount in controversy if the initial pleadings seek non-monetary relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1446(c)(2)(A)(i). Where, as here, the sufficiency of the amount alleged to be in controversy is questioned, the party invoking federal jurisdiction must “prove the requisite amount by a preponderance of the evidence.” Bell v. Hershey Co., 557 F.3d 953, 956 (8th Cir. 2009) (citing Advance Am. Servicing of Ark., Inc. v. McGinnis, 526 F.3d 1170, 1173 (8th Cir. 2008)). This rule applies “even in a removed case where the party invoking jurisdiction is the defendant.” James Neff Kramper Family Farm P'ship v. IBP, Inc., 393 F.3d 828, 831 (8th Cir. 2005).

         In considering whether the amounts and claims alleged satisfy the required amount in controversy, the court looks to state law to determine the nature and extent of the right to be enforced as well as the state measure of damages and the availability of special and punitive damages. See Horton v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co.,367 U.S. 348, 352-53 (1961). The Court must engage in a “fact intensive” inquiry to determine whether the preponderance of the evidence standard has been met. Bell, 557 F.3d at 959. This standard requires the court to determine whether a fact finder might legally conclude the damages are greater than the requisite ...

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