United States District Court, D. Maryland
Richard D. Bennett United States District Judge.
Jason Ritterstein (“Plaintiff” or
“Ritterstein”) brings this action against
Defendant IAP Worldwide Services, Inc.
(“Defendant” or “IAP”) alleging
retaliation in violation of the Maryland Fair Employment
Practices Act (“FEPA”), Md. Code Ann., State
Gov't § 20-601 et seq. (Compl., ECF No.
1-1.) Plaintiff initially filed this action in the Circuit
Court for Harford County, Maryland, and the Defendant removed
it to this Court on August 3, 2018. (ECF No. 1.) Currently
pending is the Plaintiff's Motion to Remand. (ECF No. 7.)
The parties' submissions have been reviewed, and no
hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md.
2016). For the reasons stated below, Plaintiff's Motion
to Remand (ECF No. 7) is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.
Specifically, this case will be REMANDED to the Circuit Court
for Harford County, Maryland, but the Plaintiff is not
entitled to costs.
27, 2018, Plaintiff Jason Ritterstein
(“Plaintiff” or “Ritterstein”) filed
a Complaint against Defendant IAP Worldwide Services, Inc.
(“Defendant” or “IAP”) in the Circuit
Court for Harford County, Maryland. (ECF No. 1-1.) The
Complaint alleges that IAP retaliated against Plaintiff for
assisting and/or participating in an Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission investigation initiated by
Plaintiff's coworker, in violation of the Maryland Fair
Employment Practices Act (“FEPA”), Md. Code Ann.,
State Gov't § 20-601 et seq. (Id.)
Ultimately, the Plaintiff alleges that he was terminated on
or about March 23, 2017. (Id. at ¶ 23.) The
Complaint's ad damnum clause states “Plaintiff
Jason Ritterstein demands judgment against Defendant IAP
Worldwide Services, Inc. for compensatory damages; back pay;
punitive damages; and/or recoverable attorneys' fees in
the amount of $75, 000.” (Id.)
August 3, 2018, IAP removed the action to this Court on the
basis of diversity jurisdiction under 18 U.S.C. § 1332.
(ECF No. 1.) The Notice of Removal indicates that there is
complete diversity between the parties and that “[i]t
is certain . . . that Plaintiff's requested damages are
in excess of $75, 000.” (Id. at ¶¶
4-7.) On August 31, 2018, Ritterstein filed a Motion to
Remand, asserting that his well-pled claim for relief is not
in excess of $75, 000 and therefore this Court does not have
diversity subject matter jurisdiction over his claim. (ECF
No. 7.) In addition, the Motion to Remand seeks an order that
the Defendant IAP pay the Plaintiff's costs related to
this federal action.
defendant in a state civil action may remove the case to
federal court only if the federal court can exercise original
jurisdiction over at least one of the asserted claims. 28
U.S.C. § 1441(a)-(c). Once an action is removed to
federal court, the plaintiff may file a motion to remand the
case to state court if there is a contention that
jurisdiction is defective. 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). The
party seeking removal, and not the party seeking remand,
bears the burden of establishing jurisdiction in the federal
court. Johnson v. Advance America, 549 F.3d 932, 935
(4th Cir. 2008). On a motion to remand, this Court must
“strictly construe the removal statute and resolve all
doubts in favor of remanding the case to state court.”
Verbal v. Giant of Maryland, LLC, 204 F.Supp.3d 837,
841 (D. Md. 2016) (quoting Richardson v. Phillip Morris,
Inc., 950 F.Supp. 700, 701-02 (D. Md. 1997)). “If
federal jurisdiction is doubtful, a remand is
necessary.” Pressl v. Appalachian Power
Company, 842 F.3d 299, 302 (4th Cir. 2016) (citing
Mulcahey v. Columbia Organic Chems. Co., Inc., 29
F.3d 148, 151 (4th Cir. 1994)).
Motion to Remand
order to satisfy diversity subject matter jurisdiction, the
amount in controversy must exceed $75, 000 and the
controversy must be between citizens of different states. 28
U.S.C. § 1332(a). Diversity between the parties is not
in dispute; the Notice of Removal identifies the Plaintiff as
a citizen of Maryland and the Defendant as a Delaware
Corporation with its principal place of business in Florida.
(ECF No. 1 at ¶¶ 4-5.) The pertinent inquiry is
whether, despite the fact that the Complaint's ad damnum
clause seeks $75, 000, “the matter in controversy
exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000, exclusive of interest
and costs . . ..” 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1).
most cases, the ‘sum claimed by the plaintiff controls
the amount in controversy determination.'” JTH
Tax, Inc. v. Frasier, 624 F.3d 635, 638 (4th Cir. 2010)
(quoting St. Paul Mercury Indem. Co. v. Red Cab
Co., 303 U.S. 283, 288, 58 S.Ct. 586 (1938)); see
also Farrell v. Macy's Retail Holdings, Inc., No.
15-1726, 645 Fed.Appx. 246, 249 (4th Cir. Apr. 14, 2016). The
amount in controversy must be pled “in good faith,
” and “both actual and punitive damages are
considered.” Mansaray v. Mut. Benefit Ins.
Co., No. PX-17-0098, 2017 WL 2778824, at *3 n. 5 (D. Md.
June 26, 2017) (citations omitted); Baron v. Directv,
LLC, No. JKB-16-3145, 2016 WL 6078263, at *1 (D. Md.
Oct. 17, 2016) (citations omitted). When a defendant
challenges the plaintiff's damages claim, “removal
is proper only if the defendant can prove to a ‘legal
certainty' that the plaintiff would actually recover more
than that if she prevailed.” Momin v. Maggiemoo's
Int'l, LLC, 205 F.Supp.2d 506, 509 (D. Md. 2002).
This is consistent with the United States Supreme Court's
declaration that “[i]f [a plaintiff] does not desire to
try his case in the federal court he may resort to the
expedient of suing for less than the jurisdictional amount,
and though he would be justly entitled to more, the defendant
cannot remove.” St. Paul Mercury, 303 U.S. at
294; Steers v. Samsung Elecs. Am., Inc., No.
ELH-18-494, 2018 WL 4538611, at *2 (D. Md. Sept. 21, 2018)
(quoting Mary L. Martin, Ltd. v. State Auto Property and
Cas. Ins. Co., 2013 WL 2181206, at *2 (D. Md. May 17,
addition to the proposition that the sum claimed by the
plaintiff normally controls the amount in controversy
determination, a plaintiff in Maryland state court may not
obtain more than the amount sought in his or her complaint.
See Osia v. Rent-a-Ctr., Inc., No. DKC 15-1200, 2015
WL 3932416, at *3 (D. Md. June 25, 2015) (“Under
Maryland practice, a party may not obtain more than the
amount sought in a complaint.” (citing Falcinelli
v. Cardascia, 339 Md. 414, 423, 663 A.2d 1256 (1995);
Scher v. Altomare, 278 Md. 440, 442, 365 A.2d 41
(1976); Bijou v. Young-Battle, 185 Md.App. 268,
290-91, 969 A.2d 1034 (2009))). While a plaintiff may seek to
amend the amount sought in the complaint after a jury verdict
is returned,  leave to amend after a jury verdict
“is not guaranteed.” See Jackson v.
Johnson, No. ELH-14-00011, 2014 WL 689390, at *4 (D. Md.
Feb. 20, 2014) (“However, the Committee Note's text
indicates that, even if a jury awards damages above the
amount sought, leave to amend a complaint following a verdict
is not guaranteed.”). Rather, permission to amend is
discretionary and there is no requirement that a court permit
the amendment. Id. (citing Gallagher v. Federal
Signal Corp., 524 F.Supp.2d 724 (D. Md. 2007)).
Ritterstein argues that in the Circuit Court for Harford
County, Maryland, he would be limited to the Complaint's
claim for damages which does not exceed $75, 000. (ECF No.
7-1). In the Opposition to the Motion to Remand, the
Defendant argues that the amount in controversy set forth in
the Complaint is sufficient to confer federal jurisdiction
and as explained above, Ritterstein could move, post-verdict,
to amend the Complaint's ad damnum clause. Reviewing the
Complaint and the parties' submissions, the Defendant has
not shown by a legal certainty that Ritterstein will actually
recover more than $75, 000 if he prevails on his Maryland
Fair Employment Practices Act claim.
support its argument that the Complaint satisfies the amount
in controversy requirement, IAP primarily relies on its
calculation of Plaintiff's potential back pay if he
succeeds on his claim. (ECF No. 8.) IAP asserts that at the
time of his termination, Ritterstein's salary was $55,
000.19. (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 8.) Based off of this salary,
IAP asserts that Plaintiff's back pay at the time of
removal-sixteen months since his termination-was
approximately $73, 333 without mitigation. (Id.)
Moreover, if the litigation was to take an additional eight
months, IAP asserts that two years of back pay would be
approximately $110, 000 without mitigation. (Id.)
Therefore, IAP asserts that Plaintiff's back pay alone
would be in excess of $75, 000 by the time of judgment.
Further, IAP argues that in addition to back pay, the
Complaint alleges that IAP acted “with actual