The amount in controversy requirement is set out in 28 USC § 1332(a).
Diefenthal v. C.A.B.
681 F.2d 1039 (5th Cir. 1982).
Diefenthals are the plaintiffs while CAB and Eastern Airlines are the defendants. Case dismissed in trial and appealed.
Was the amount in controversy met?
If the claim was made in good faith and it is plausible that the amount could be more than the required amount, the claim has met the amount in controversy requirement. If not, the case must be dismissed.
There was insufficient evidence to support the claim that the amount in controversy was met. Affirmed.
The plaintiffs had purchased tickets for a flight from New Orleans to Pennsylvania. These tickets included the ability to fly first class in the smoking section. They had confirmed their seats, but upon arrival, they were informed “brusquely” that there were no more available smoking seats in first class. From this experience, the plaintiffs claimed that they were humiliated, embarrassed, and that the defendant’s had breached their contract.
In the complaint, the damages requested was $50,000. The amount in controversy requirement at the time was $10,000. The plaintiff asserted that the complaint was made in good faith, but the trial court dismissed because there was no “conceivable” way that the amount would exceed 10,000. They were permitted the opportunity to amend but the complaint came back quite similar as before. No additional facts were provided to show evidence for the claim.
Although the complaint was made in good faith, there were several pieces of evidence missing to show that the claim could possibly have arisen above $10,000. The claim merely stated that the plaintiffs had suffered humiliation and embarrassment to exceed emotional damages above the required amount. However, the court requires more evidence, based in fact, to show this claim. For instance, the plaintiff should show up with medical bills, therapy bills, etc. to show evidence of their suffering. This kind of evidence was totally lacking so there was no conceivable way to rise above the “legal certainty” level required to meet the amount in controversy requirement.
Amount in controversy = Legal certainty = Good faith claim + factual evidence.
At a certain point, amount in controversy rules become arbitrary.
Before Diefenthal, the Supreme Court heard St. Paul Mercury Indemnity Co. v. Red Cab Co., which said that if the plaintiffs claim was made in good faith, unless there is a legal certainty that the amount in controversy was less than the required amount, the courts would hear the case. In other words, Good faith + lack of legal certainty = Amount of Controversy met.
Usually, the plaintiff has the burden of proof. This is true during trial. However, for purposes of pleading (discovery) and filing the complaint, we assume the plaintiffs claim is true unless the defendant shows that there is no way for that much recover. So, defendants have the burden of proof during pretrial to show that the amount in controversy is not met.
Note: Injunctive relief, as well as monetary damages, counts for the amount in controversy determinations.
The only damage they felt was embarrassment. Can any court find that there was 10,000 in damages? No reasonable jury would be able to find that amount.
Why do plaintiffs often sue in these courts?
Why did the lawyer take the case in the first place?
The basic rule for an aggregate (summed up) claim is that a plaintiff can combine several claims against one defendant that can reach the amount in controversy rule. For instance, when the requirement is 75,000, a plaintiff can claim breach of contract for 40,000 and a fraud claim for another 40,000 and would satisfy the requirement.
Other parts of the rule mean that several plaintiffs can’t combine against one defendant. Additionally, a single plaintiff can’t combine against multiple defendants. Each claim must be made at a base level. Here are a couple examples where the requirement is not met.
- Plaintiff A has claim of 60,000 and Plaintiff B has claim of 60,000 against Defendant A.
- Plaintiff A has a claim of 60,000 against Defendant A and another claim of 60,000 against Defendant B.
For example, property and personal issue claims are different, but we can aggregate the claims (combine them).
- Single plaintiff can aggregate claims to a single defendant
- Single plaintiff cannot aggregate claims against several defendants even if the claims are related.
- Multiple plaintiffs can aggregate claims against a single defendant if one of the plaintiffs meets the requirement through supplemental jurisdiction.
- Multiple plaintiffs cannot aggregate claims against a single defendant if neither could state a claim alone even if the claims are related.
The content contained in this article may contain inaccuracies and is not intended to reflect the opinions, views, beliefs, or practices of any academic professor or publication. Instead, this content is a reflection on the author’s understanding of the law and legal practices.