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Thomas v. Mars, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

May 30, 2017

SEAN THOMAS, Plaintiff,
v.
MARS, INCORPORATED, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          PETER J. MESSITTE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. NATURE OF CASE AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Sean Thomas has sued Mars, Incorporated (Mars) and Maryland CVS Pharmacy, L.L.C. (CVS)[1] (collectively, Defendants). See Compl., ECF No. 2. He alleges that on January 15, 2013, when he began to consume a candy bar manufactured and released into the stream of commerce by Mars, which he purchased at a CVS store in Waldorf, Maryland, he bit into a nail that was concealed within the bar and sustained serious injury. Id. ¶¶ 4-5. He subsequently filed a Complaint, ECF No. 2, against Defendants in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County, Maryland, consisting of claims of negligence, breach of warranty, and strict liability, seeking damages in an amount in excess of $75, 000. Id. ¶¶ 6-24. CVS removed the case to this Court based on diversity jurisdiction, see ECF No. 1, and since then, both Mars and CVS have filed Answers. ECF Nos. 7, 8.[2]

         Earlier this year in this Court, Mars filed a Motion to Preclude Thomas' Expert Testimony and Rebuttal Expert Testimony. ECF No. 16. Thomas responded[3] and also filed his own Motion for Leave to File an Amended Complaint and Remand the Case to the Circuit Court for Prince George's County, Maryland. ECF No. 19. The Amended Complaint attached to the Motion alters the amount of damages from an amount in excess of $75, 000 to $74, 500. Mars opposes this proposed alteration of the ad damnum clause, and opposes remand of the case to state court.

         Thomas' Motion for Leave to File an Amended Complaint and Remand the Case to the Circuit Court for Prince George's County, Maryland (ECF No. 19) is DENIED. The Court DEFERS ruling on Mars' Motion to Preclude Thomas' Expert Testimony and Rebuttal Expert Testimony (ECF No. 16) and requests that the parties, within 21 days, file written response to the Court's concerns raised herein.

         II. ANALYSIS

         Thomas' Motion for Leave to File an Amended Complaint and Remand the Case to the Circuit Court for Prince George's County, Maryland (ECF No. 19) is easily disposed of.

         Thomas failed to seek leave to file his Amended Complaint until nearly three months after the deadline for doing so. Furthermore, it is well settled that federal jurisdiction is “fixed at the time the . . . notice of removal is filed.” Dennison v. Carolina Payday Loans, Inc., 549 F.3d 941, 943 (4th Cir.2008). What this means is that “a court determines the existence of diversity jurisdiction at the time the action is filed, regardless of later changes in originally crucial facts such as the parties' citizenship or the amount in controversy.” Porsche Cars N. Am., Inc. v. Porsche.net, 302 F.3d 248, 255-56 (4th Cir.2002) (citation and internal quotations marks omitted). “If, at [the time of removal], the parties are citizens of different states and the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000, the Court has jurisdiction on the basis of diversity ‘regardless of later changes in . . . the amount in controversy.'” Francis v. Allstate Ins. Co., 869 F.Supp.2d 663, 667-68 (D.Md.2012). “Numerous courts have concluded that federal courts retain subject matter jurisdiction where a plaintiff amends the complaint after removal so as to place the amount in controversy below the jurisdictional threshold.” Ross v. Mayor & City Council of Baltimore, 2014 WL 2860580, at *6 (D. Md. June 20, 2014) (collecting cases).

         In short, Thomas cannot alter the amount in controversy in order to oust the Court of diversity jurisdiction, and his Motion is denied.

         As for Mars' Motion to Preclude, it is clear that Thomas has been remiss in not filing his Rule 26(a)(2) disclosures within the applicable deadlines.[4] However, a trial date has yet to be set in this case. Accordingly, while the Court is at present inclined to deny Defendants' Motion, it will do so only if Thomas is prepared to meet the following conditions: (1) Thomas must pay Defendants the costs related to the taking of Thomas' expert's deposition including the cost of the expert's time, if any (but excluding Defendants' attorneys' fees and costs); (2) Thomas must pay Defendants the reasonable costs related to the retention and deposition of an expert by Defendants, including the reasonable cost of the expert's time, if any (but excluding Defendants' attorneys' fees and costs); (3) the parties shall consult with one another and agree on extended discovery dates.[5] The Court believes that if Thomas agrees to each of these conditions, Defendants will not otherwise be disadvantaged with respect to the merits of their case. See S. States Rack And Fixture, Inc. v. Sherwin-Williams Co., 318 F.3d 592, 595-96 (4th Cir. 2003).[6] If the proposed compensation is provided by Thomas and the discovery deadlines are extended, Defendants will be able to depose Thomas' expert's credentials and conduct any other expert related discovery.

         IV. CONCLUSION

         For the foregoing reasons, Thomas' Motion for Leave to File an Amended Complaint and Remand the Case to the Circuit Court for Prince George's County, Maryland (ECF No. 19) is DENIED. With regard to Mars' Motion to Preclude Thomas' Expert Testimony and Rebuttal Expert Testimony (ECF No. 16), the Court's ruling is temporarily DEFERRED. The parties SHALL, within 21 days, file status reports addressing the Court's concerns as expressed herein.

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