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Branyan v. Southwest Airlines Co.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

May 20, 2015



NATHANIEL M. GORTON, District Judge.

This case involves allegations of tortious conduct by defendant Southwest Airlines Co. ("Southwest"). At the time of that purported conduct, plaintiff Corian Branyan ("Branyan"), who was employed by Southwest as a flight attendant, was out on paid leave. Pending before the Court is Branyan's second motion to remand and Southwest's motion to dismiss the remaining counts of the complaint. For the reasons that follow, the second motion to remand will be denied and the motion to dismiss will be allowed.

I. Background

In July, 2013, Branyan suffered a wrist injury while assisting a Southwest passenger and was placed on paid leave. Southwest continued to provide Branyan with paid benefits until its insurer denied her workers' compensation claim in September, 2013.

Southwest then allegedly began harassing plaintiff and demanding reimbursement of more than $4, 500 in benefits that it had provided to her while she was on leave. Southwest, inter alia, purportedly took money out of Branyan's "sick bank" account to satisfy the debt and made repeated calls to Branyan in the months after her claim was denied. The calls suggested Branyan's continued employment with Southwest was contingent on the expedient resolution of the debt. Plaintiff directed those inquiries to her attorney before disconnecting the calls.

In early December, 2013, Southwest once again contacted Branyan and told her that she would need to report for work forthwith. Branyan advised Southwest that she was scheduled to have surgery that day and would be unable to report as requested.

After an apparent interlude in communications between the parties, Southwest made in excess of 25 calls to Branyan during February and March, 2014. The complaint fails, however, to allege whether Branyan answered any of those calls or otherwise made contact with Southwest.

On April 11, 2014, in light of its continued inability to contact Branyan, Southwest contacted the Halifax, Massachusetts police department and asked them to go to her home address 1) to conduct a "wellness check" out of concern for her well-being and 2) to let her know that her employer had been unsuccessfully trying to contact her. Halifax police made contact with Branyan at her residence and advised her to call her employer.

Three days later, Branyan received written notice that her employment with Southwest had been terminated. She maintains that Southwest's actions negatively affected her health and well-being by causing her severe stress, debilitating anxiety, panic attacks, depression, loss of sleep and suicidal thoughts.

In December, 2014, plaintiff filed a four-count complaint in the Massachusetts Superior Court for Plymouth County, asserting claims against Southwest for: 1) intentional infliction of emotional distress, 2) negligent infliction of emotional distress, 3) invasion of the right of privacy, in violation of M.G.L. c. 223, § 1, and 4) bullying, abuse and harassment, in violation of M.G.L. c. 151G, § 1(a).[1]

Southwest timely removed the case to this Court in January, 2015. In March, 2015, the Court denied Branyan's initial motion to remand which was predicated on a lack of diversity of citizenship. In April, 2015, Branyan moved to remand for the second time, this time contesting the amount in controversy.

II. Plaintiff's Second Motion to Remand

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a), federal courts have diversity jurisdiction over cases so long as 1) the parties are citizens of different states and 2) the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000. Having unsuccessfully argued that diversity of citizenship was deficient in her first motion to remand, plaintiff now attempts to evade federal jurisdiction by contesting the amount in controversy. Branyan argues that recent settlement negotiations between the parties now value her claims at far below the $75, 000 jurisdictional requirement and, as such, the case must be remanded.[2] This argument amounts to gamesmanship and is without merit.

It is well-settled that federal courts retain jurisdiction of removed cases even if subsequent circumstances reduce the amount in controversy below the $75, 000 threshold. See St. Paul Mercury Indem. Co. v. Red Cab Co., 303 U.S. 283, 293 (1938). The First Circuit Court of Appeals is clear on this point, stating that the value of a case for amount in controversy purposes is determined at the time of removal. Spielman v. Genzyme Corp., 251 F.3d 1, 5 (1st Cir. 2001). Other circuits have reached the same conclusion. See, e.g., The Burt Co. v. Clarendon Nat'l Ins. Co., 385 F.Appx. 892, 894 (11th Cir. ...

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