United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division
W. Grimm United States District Judge
Kevin Wiggins filed this action in state court against
Gateway One Lending & Finance LLC ("Gateway"),
seeking damages for breach of contract. Gateway removed the
case to federal court and filed a motion to dismiss or, in
the alternative, for summary judgment.
review, I conclude that this Court lacks subject matter
jurisdiction over Mr. Wiggins's suit. While Gateway has
sought to invoke diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C.
§ 1332, it has failed to establish that Mr.
Wiggins's Complaint satisfies that statute's
amount-in-controversy requirement. The case will therefore be
remanded to state court.
October 7, 2016, Mr. Wiggins entered into an installment sale
contract for the purchase of a 2017 Acura ILX. See
Salazar Aff. ¶ 4, ECF No. 11-1. The seller, Norris Acura
West, soon afterward assigned its rights in the contract to
Gateway. See Id. ¶ 5.
Wiggins, according to Gateway, quickly fell behind in his
payments. See Id. ¶ 6. On April 11, 2017,
Gateway sent him a letter cautioning that it would repossess
the car unless he paid $769.60 or otherwise cured the alleged
default within 10 days. See Notice of Intent to
Repossess 10, ECF No. 11-1. The parties later agreed to a
contract extension. See Salazar Aff. ¶ 7;
Contract Extension 13, ECF No. 11-1.
suit followed. The Complaint, which Mr. Wiggins filed in the
Circuit Court for Baltimore City, alleges that Mr. Wiggins
mailed a check for $690 to Gateway on March 1, 2018, and
that, on the check's memo line, he had written the words
"full accord & satisfaction of account." Compl.
¶ 5, ECF No. 1-2. Gateway deposited the check and
credited the money to Mr. Wiggins's account on March 7,
2018. See Id. ¶ 6. Mr. Wiggins then sent the
company a series of letters purporting to put it "on
notice" that it must properly credit his account and
release its lien within 10 days. ECF No. 1-2, Ex. 2-4.
Undeterred, Gateway "ignored" the notices and
continued to demand payments under the terms of the financing
agreement. See Compl. ¶ 10.
Wiggins's state court lawsuit asserted a single claim of
breach of contract. See Id. ¶¶ 11-13. The
Complaint concluded with the following prayer for damages:
$2, 000 in compensation for "all payments made after the
acceptance of [the March 1, 2018] check tendered for full
accord and satisfaction"; the release of the lien on the
car; settlement of Mr. Wiggins's account with Gateway;
and $50, 000 in punitive damages "for breach of
contract, pain and suffering, harassment, emotional distress,
and dishonor." Compl. Mr. Wiggins filed a motion for
summary judgment in the state court. See ECF No.
1-2, Ex. 5.
removed the case to this Court in July 2018, purporting to
invoke the Court's diversity jurisdiction. See
Notice of Removal ¶ 4, ECF No. 1. The company later
filed a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary
judgment, ECF No. 11, which has now been fully briefed,
see ECF Nos. 13, 15. I have reviewed the
parties' briefings and do not find it necessary to hold a
hearing. See Loc. R. 105.6.
Wiggins has not contested Gateway's right to remove this
case to federal court. To be clear, though, he did not have
to. See Gonzalez v. Thaler, 565 U.S. 134, 141 (2012)
("Subject-matter jurisdiction can never be waived or
forfeited."). As the Fourth Circuit has noted,
"jurisdictional limits define the very foundation of
judicial authority." United States v. Wilson,
699 F.3d 789, 793 (4th Cir. 2012). Accordingly, a court has
an obligation to assure itself of its jurisdiction, no matter
whether either of the parties has challenged it. See
id.; see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(h)(3)
("If the court determines at any time that it lacks
subject-matter jurisdiction, the court must dismiss the
Notice of Removal asserts that this Court has diversity
jurisdiction over this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
1332(a)(1). This statute endows federal district courts with
"original jurisdiction of all civil actions where the
matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000,
exclusive of interest and costs, and is between . . .
citizens of different States." 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a).
Where, as here, a defendant has sought to remove the case to
federal court under 28 U.S.C. § 1441, it is the
defendant's burden to establish federal jurisdiction.
See Hicks v. Herbert, 122 F.Supp.2d 699, 701
has established that the parties are diverse. See
Notice of Removal ¶ 5 (stating that Mr. Wiggins is a
citizen of Maryland and that Gateway is a citizen of
Delaware, California, and South Dakota). What remains to be
shown is whether Mr. Wiggins's claim satisfies the
amount-in-controversy requirement. In making this
determination, courts generally accept the dollar figure
cited in the complaint, so long as "the claim is
apparently made in good faith." Joy Family Ltd.
P'ship v. United Fin. Banking Cos., No. ELH-12-3741,
2013 WL 4647321, at *6 (D. Md. Aug. 28, 2013) (quoting
St. Paul Mercury Indem. Co v. Red Cab Co., 303 U.S.
283, 288 (1938)). If, as it happens, the plaintiff is seeking
an amount sufficient to satisfy the amount-in-controversy
requirement, the court "may dismiss only if 'it is
apparent, to a legal certainty, that the plaintiff cannot
recover the amount claimed.'" Id. at *7
(quoting JTH Tax, Inc. v. Frashier, 624 F.3d 635,
638 (4th Cir. 2010)).
the prayer for relief in Mr. Wiggins's Complaint is clear
in parts and vague in others. It unequivocally alleges $2,
000 in compensatory damages for the payments he made after
Gateway deposited his March 1, 2018 check, plus $50, 000 in
punitive damages. Compl. It also seeks a
"settlement" of his account, but does not ...