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Madden v. Union Pacific Railroad Co.

United States District Court, D. Idaho

February 11, 2014

JOHN L. MADDEN and SHELLEY L. MADDEN, husband and wife, and as Trustees of the JOHN L. AND SHELLEY L. MADDEN FAMILY TRUST, Plaintiff,
v.
UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD COMPANY, a Delaware corporation doing business in the State of Idaho by Certificate of Authority issued by the Idaho Secretary of State as File No. C 125458, and as a successor in interest to SPOKANE INTERNATIONAL RAILWAY CO., a Washington Corporation previously authorized by the Secretary of State, State of Idaho which was forfeited November 30, 1942, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

B. LYNN WINMILL, Chief District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

Before the Court is plaintiffs' Motion to Remand (Dkt. 9). The motion is fully briefed and the Court has determined oral argument would not significantly assist the decisional process. The Court will therefore resolve the motion without a hearing. As explained below, the Court will grant the motion to remand, but will deny plaintiffs' request for an award of attorney's fees relative to this motion.

BACKGROUND

John and Shelley Madden own real property in Boundary County, Idaho. They access their property by a roadway that crosses Union Pacific's property. The Maddens allege that this road had been used to access their property for over 40 years, entitling them to a prescriptive easement.

In 2011, Union Pacific installed a gate at the entrance of the Madden easement, "threatening to shut off [the] Maddens' access to their real property." Mot. Mem., Dkt. 9-1, at 2. The Maddens sued for declaratory and injunctive relief in state court. See Dkt. 7-1. They alleged four claims: (1) prescriptive easement; (2) easement by necessity; (3) "quiet title and declaratory judgment"; and (4) injunctive relief. Defendants removed the action to this Court based on diversity of citizenship. The Maddens concede diversity but contend that the amount in controversy does not exceed $75, 000.

THE LEGAL STANDARD

Removal from state court is governed by 28 U.S.C. § 1441 and 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Section 1441(b) allows for removal based on diversity of citizenship, which is further defined by § 1332(a) as requiring that (1) the parties have diverse citizenship, and (2) the amount in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000.

Federal courts strictly construe the removal statute against removal. See Gaus v. Miles, 980 F.2d 564, 566 (9th Cir.1992). In diversity cases where the amount in controversy is in doubt, there is a presumption against removal jurisdiction, which means the defendant always has the burden of establishing that removal is proper. See id. This burden is satisfied if the plaintiff claims a sum greater than the jurisdictional requirement of $75, 000 or if the amount claimed is unclear from the complaint and the defendant proves by a preponderance of the evidence that "more likely than not" the jurisdictional requirement is met. See Sanchez v. Monumental Life Ins. Co., 102 F.3d 398, 404 (9th Cir. 1996). This "more likely than not" standard strikes an appropriate balance between the plaintiff's right to choose its forum and the defendant's right to remove. See id.

To determine whether the defendant has proved that the amount in controversy has been met, may consider "facts presented in the removal petition as well as any summary judgment-type evidence relevant to the amount in controversy at the time of removal. See Cohn v. Petsmart, Inc., 281 F.3d 837, 839 (9th Cir. 2002). Conclusory allegations by the defendant, or speculative arguments about the potential value of an award, however, will not suffice to overcome the traditional presumption against removal jurisdiction. See Singer v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 116 F.3d 373, 375 (9th Cir.1997); Gaus, 980 F.2d at 567. "[T]he defendant bears the burden of actually proving the facts to support... the jurisdictional amount." Id.

Relief which may be included in the amount in controversy includes (1) compensatory damages, (2) punitive damages, (3) the value of injunctive relief, and (4) attorneys' fees. See Cohn, 281 F.3d at 840.

ANALYSIS

1. The Value of the Real Property

Union Pacific first says the jurisdictional floor is easily met because the value of the real property at issue - the easement - exceeds $75, 000. To support this argument, Union Pacific relies on the general proposition that if a controversy relates to real property, the amount in controversy is measured by the value of that property. See Opp., Dkt. 14, at 2 (citing Chapman v. Deutsche Bank Nat'l Trust Co., 651 F.3d 1039, 1045 (9th Cir. 2011)).

But Union Pacific has not established that roadway easement is worth more than $75, 000. Union Pacific says Jacob Allen's declaration establishes this point but Mr. Allen, who is a manager of track maintenance for the railroad, does not opine about property values; even though he uses the term "value, " he is actually talking about maintenance and road construction costs. See Allen Dec., Dkt. 3, ¶¶ 2-4. And even if Mr. Allen is attempting to offer opinion testimony regarding land values, that testimony lacks foundation because Mr. Allen does not say he is familiar with the value of Union Pacific's property or the value of similar properties. Cf. Ruud v. United States, 256 F.2d 460, 461 n.2 (9th Cir. 1958) ("Value may be proved by the opinion of any witness who possesses sufficient knowledge on the subject... It is difficult to lay down any exact rule in respect to the amount of knowledge a witness must possess, and the determination of the matter rests largely in the discretion of the trial judge.'") (citation omitted); Cal-Bay Corp. v. United States, ...


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