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Raaf v. UPS Ground Freight, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Oregon

September 25, 2018

CATHIE RAAF, Plaintiff,
v.
UPS GROUND FREIGHT, INC., Defendant.

          ORDER

          Michael J. McShane, United States District Judge

         Plaintiff brings this negligence action alleging that Defendant's employee damaged an antique sleigh during transport. Defendant removed this action, alleging that Plaintiff's claims are preempted by federal law. Plaintiff moves to remand, arguing this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over this action because her claim does not meet the jurisdictional minimum required for removal under the Carmack Amendment. For the reasons discussed below, Plaintiff's motion to remand, ECF No. 6, is GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND

         In 2017, Plaintiff contracted with Defendant to ship a newly purchased antique Studebaker horse drawn sleigh to Redmond, Oregon. After the sleigh's arrival in Redmond, the sleigh was significantly damaged when it fell off a loading dock due to the alleged negligence of Defendant's employee. Compl.¶ 5.

         On May 2, 2018, Plaintiff filed her complaint in the Circuit Court of the State of Oregon for Deschutes County. Defendant was served on May 4, 2018 and filed a timely Notice of Removal on June 4, 2018.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A defendant may remove a civil action from state court to federal district court if the federal court would have had original jurisdiction over the matter. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). District courts have original jurisdiction over all civil actions arising under the Constitution and laws of the United States. 28 U.S.C. § 1331. When, as here, the court lacks diversity jurisdiction, removal is proper only when the court has federal-question jurisdiction over the subject matter of the complaint. Caterpillar Inc. v. Willaims, 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987). “The presence or absence of federal-question jurisdiction is governed by the well-pleaded complaint rule, which provides that federal jurisdiction exists only when a federal question is presented on the face of the plaintiff's properly pleaded complaint. The rule makes the plaintiff the master of the claim; he or she may avoid federal jurisdiction by exclusive reliance on state law.” Id. (internal quotations and citation omitted).

         One exception to the well-pleaded complaint rule is the “artful pleading” doctrine. Hall v. N. Am. Van Lines, Inc., 476 F.3d 683, 687 (9th Cir. 2007). When a federal statute completely preempts a particular area of law, the artful pleading doctrine provides that even a well-pleaded state law claim may be brought in federal court. Id. “When the federal statute completely preempts the state law cause of action, a claim which comes within the scope of that cause of action, even if pleaded in terms of state law, is in reality based on federal law.” Beneficial Nat'l Bank v. Anderson, 539 U.S. 1, 8 (2003).

         If, following removal, the court determines it lacks original jurisdiction, and that the case was therefore improperly removed, it must remand the matter to state court. 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c); Franchise Tax Bd. v. Constr. Laborers Vacation Trust, 463 U.S. 1, 8 (1983). “Federal jurisdiction must be rejected if there is any doubt as to the right of removal in the first instance.” Gaus v. Miles, Inc., 980 F.2d 564, 566 (9th Cir. 1992). “The ‘strong presumption' against removal jurisdiction means that the defendant always has the burden of establishing that removal is proper.” Id. (quoting Nishimoto v. Federman-Bachrach & Assoc., 903 F.2d 709, 712 n.3 (9th Cir. 1990)). While a defendant's standard of proof is unclear when, as here, the plaintiff has claimed less than the required amount in controversy some district courts have held that the defendant must prove the amount in controversy by a preponderance of the evidence. Graybill v. Khudaverdian, No. SACV 15-01627-CJC(JCGx), 2015 WL 7295378, at *2-3 (C.D. Cal. Nov. 17, 2015) (“[T]he preponderance of the evidence should apply . . . when a defendant attempts to remove a case where a single plaintiff has affirmatively pled an amount below the jurisdictional minimum.”).

         DISCUSSION

         I. Carmack Amendment

         The Carmack Amendment, 49 U.S.C. § 14706, “is the exclusive cause of action for interstate-shipping contract claims alleging loss or damage to property.” Hall, 476 F.3d at 688. As such, the Carmack Amendment completely preempts a contract claim alleging loss or damage to property.[1] Id. However, a defendant may not remove an action against a carrier for damage to shipments unless the matter in controversy exceeds $10, 000. 28 U.S.C. § 1445(b). Removal under § 1445(b) is only proper if the matter in controversy for each bill of lading exceeds $10, 000. See Hunter v. United Van Lines, 746 F.2d 635, 652 (9th Cir. 1985); 28 U.S.C. § 1337(a).

         Defendant contends that removal is proper in this case because Plaintiff's negligence claims are completely preempted by the Carmack Amendment and the matter in controversy exceeds $10, 000. As proof of the actual amount in controversy, Defendant points to Plaintiff's demand letter, [2] in which Plaintiff wrote that the “total cost of remediation and repair in this matter could well exceed $10, 000.” ECF No. 1-3. Defendant also claims that Plaintiff's settlement demand for $10, 000 in the same letter demonstrates that Plaintiff is seeking more than $10, 000 in this action. Defendant argues that Plaintiff's statements are sufficient evidence that the amount in controversy “exceeds” $10, 000.

         In response, Plaintiff argues that her demand letter and complaint capped the damages at $10, 000. Plaintiff notes that her demand letter and complaint clarifies her intent to bring her claim under ORS 20.080. ORS 20.080 is titled “Attorney fees for certain small tort claims, ” and provides for fees “where the amount pleaded is $10, 000 or less[.]” Plaintiff also notes her complaint expressly limits the damages to $10, 000. See Compl. ...


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