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Smither v. Northeast Mississippi Community College

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Aberdeen Division

July 19, 2017

RICKY SMITHER PLAINTIFF
v.
NORTHEAST MISSISSIPPI COMMUNITY COLLEGE DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS

         Presently before the Court is a motion to dismiss [11] filed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure by Defendant Northeast Mississippi Community College. Upon due consideration and for the reasons stated below, the Court finds that the motion to dismiss [11] should be granted.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         On June 29, 2016, Plaintiff Ricky Smither ("Plaintiff), former football coach at Northeast Mississippi Community College, filed this action against Defendant Northeast Mississippi Community College ("Defendant"). Plaintiff asserts a breach of contract claim against Defendant pertaining to the termination of his employment. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant hired him in February 2007 as an assistant football coach and promoted him to head football coach in 2008. Pl's Compl. [1] ¶ 5. Plaintiff worked pursuant to a one-year employment contract that was up for renewal each year. Id. ¶ 6. In 2014, Plaintiff signed a standard employment contract that covered the time frame of July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2015. Id. Plaintiff avers that after certain incidents occurring during a home game against Pearl River Community College on October 16, 2014, Defendant terminated his employment. Id. ¶ 13. Plaintiff further avers that he exhausted his administrative remedies. Id. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant breached its contractual obligations to him by terminating him without cause and by evicting him without cause. Id. ¶ 14. Plaintiffs complaint does not explicitly state an amount in controversy, but provides that Plaintiff seeks "the specific performance of the contract and the payment of all damages flowing therefrom . . ., including costs of court and attorney's fees[J as well as any other relief deemed appropriate." Id. ¶ 18, 5.

         In lieu of filing an answer, Defendant has filed the present motion to dismiss, wherein it contends pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure that the Court does not have diversity jurisdiction over the case because Plaintiff has failed to satisfy the jurisdictional amount in controversy. Plaintiff filed a response, and Defendant filed a reply. Subsequently, without leave to do so, Plaintiff filed what is apparently an untimely memorandum brief corresponding to her earlier filed response, and Defendant subsequently filed an amended rebuttal to Plaintiffs memorandum brief.

         II. Analysis and Discussion

         " 'Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, ' possessing 'only that power authorized by Constitution and statute.' " Gunn v. Minton, __ U.S. __, __, 133 S.Ct. 1059, 1064, 185 L.Ed.2d 72 (Feb. 20, 2013) (quoting Kokkonen v. Guar. Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377, 114 S.Ct. 1673, 128 L.Ed.2d 391 (1994)). "A Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss challenges the subject-matter jurisdiction of the federal court." In re FEMA Trailer Formaldehyde Prods. Liab. Litig., 668 F.3d 281, 286 (5th Cir. 2012) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1)). "[A] factual attack under Rule 12(b)(1) may occur at any stage of the proceedings, and plaintiff bears the burden of proof that jurisdiction does in fact exist." Arena v. Graybar Elec. Co., 669 F.3d 214, 223 (5th Cir. 2012) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

         The Fifth Circuit has instructed:

A case is properly dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction when the court lacks the statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate the case. In considering a challenge to subject matter jurisdiction, the district court is free to weigh the evidence and resolve factual disputes in order to satisfy itself that it has the power to hear the case. Thus, under Rule 12(b)(1), the district court can resolve disputed issues of fact to the extent necessary to determine jurisdiction[.]

Smith v. Reg'l Transit Auth, 756 F.3d 340, 347 (5th Cir. 2014) (quotation marks and citation omitted).

         Plaintiff alleges in the complaint that the basis of the Court's jurisdiction is federal diversity jurisdiction. Federal diversity jurisdiction requires complete diversity between plaintiffs and defendants and an amount in controversy that exceeds $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a); In re 1994 Exxon Chem. Fire, 558 F.3d 378, 387 (5th Cir. 2009). Defendant does not dispute diversity of citizenship;[1] its sole challenge in the present motion to dismiss is to the jurisdictional amount in controversy.

         Defendant attaches to its motion to dismiss supporting documentation. The motion therefore presents a facial attack that requires the resolution of factual matters outside the pleadings. In ruling on a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss, the Court can consider: "(1) the complaint alone; (2) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts evidenced in the record; or (3) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts plus the court's resolution of disputed facts." Tsolmon v. United States, 841 F.3d 378, 382 (5th Cir. 2016) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         Courts generally begin the amount-in-controversy analysis by " 'look[ing] only to the face of the complaint and ask[ing] whether the amount in controversy exceeds' the jurisdictional threshold." Ervin v. Sprint Commc'ns Co., 364 F.App'x 114, 117 (5th Cir. 2010) (per curiam) (quoting S. W.S. Erectors, Inc. v. Infax, Inc., 72 F.3d 489, 492 (5th Cir. 1996)). The Fifth Circuit has stated that "[i]t has long been recognized that unless the law gives a different rule, the sum claimed by the plaintiff controls if the claim is apparently made in good faith. To justify dismissal, it must appear to a legal certainty that the claim is really for less than the jurisdictional amount." St. Paul Reinsurance Co. v. Greenberg, 134F.3d 1250, 1253 (5th Cir. 1998) (citing St. Paul Mercury Indem. Co. v. Red Cab Co., 303 U.S. 283, 288-89, 58 S.Ct. 586, 82 L.Ed. 845 (1938) (internal citation omitted)). "[H]owever, . . . this 'legal certainty' test has limited utility-in fact is inapplicable-when, [as in the case sub judice, ] the plaintiff has alleged an indeterminate amount of damages. See Id. (citing De Aguilar v. Boeing Co., 47 F.3d 1404, 1409 (5th Cir.), cert, denied, 516 U.S. 865, 116 S.Ct. 180, 133 L.Ed.2d 119 (1995)). "Importantly, the jurisdictional facts must be judged as of the time the complaint is filed; subsequent events cannot serve to deprive the court of jurisdiction once it has attached." Id. at 1253-1254 (citing St. Paul Mercury Indem. Co., 303 U.S. at 288-89, 58 S.Ct. 586) (internal citation omitted)).

         Pertinent to the amount-in-controversy analysis, in Plaintiffs complaint, he seeks damages for Defendant's alleged breach of his employment contract by "terminating him without cause" and by evicting him from his residence provided by said employment contract "without cause." Pl's Compl. [1] ¶ 14. Although Plaintiff alleges in his complaint an indeterminate amount of damages, he conclusorily alleges that "the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000." Id. ¶ 3. Plaintiff seeks the following: "the specific performance of the contract and the payment of all damages flowing therefrom .. . including costs of court and attorney fees[, ] as well as any other relief deemed appropriate." Id. ¶ 18, 5. "Where, as here, the plaintiffs complaint makes only a conclusory statement concerning jurisdiction and the amount in controversy is indeterminate, we ask 'whether it is "facially apparent" that the claims exceed the jurisdictional amount.' " Celestine v. TransWood, Inc., 467 F.App'x 317, 319 (5th Cir. 2012) (per curiam) (quoting St. Paul Reinsurance Co., 134 F.3d at 1253). The Court finds that it is not facially apparent that Plaintiffs claims exceed the jurisdictional amount. The complaint merely indicates that the amount in controversy is comprised of the specific performance of the contract and any damages flowing therefrom that would not include fees and costs. Plaintiffs complaint includes " ' bare allegations [of jurisdictional facts] [that] have been held insufficient to invest a federal court with jurisdiction.' " See St. Paul Reinsurance Co., 134 F.3d at 1253 (quoting Asociacion Nacional de Pescadores a Pequena Escala o Artesanales de Colombia v. Dow Quimica de Colombia S.A., 988 F.2d 559, 566 (5th Cir. 1993), cert, denied, 510 U.S. 1041, 114 S.Ct. 685, 126 L.Ed.2d 653 (1994)).

         Furthermore, in considering Plaintiffs subsequent arguments in response to the factual challenge, as well as the record in this case, the Court finds that Plaintiff has failed to meet ...


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