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Federal Court Jurisdictional Minimum Not Met in Chemical Explosion Case

Reinforcing that each individual plaintiff must meet the jurisdictional minimum for federal removal, the Middle District of Louisiana remanded a chemical explosion personal injury case to state court. Perritt v. Westlake Vinyls Co., 3:12-cv-00253 (lead case), Order (M.D. La. Dec. 9, 2013).

In March of 2012, several individuals were allegedly injured by an explosion and resulting release of chemicals such as vinyl chloride monomer, hydrochloric acid, and chlorine at Westlake Vinyls Company (“Westlake”) in Geismar, Louisiana. Id. at 2-3. Plaintiffs filed petitions in Louisiana state court, claiming they had suffered emotional distress, pain and suffering, and property damage. Id. at 3-4. Although at least one petition expressly stated the amount alleged was less than the threshold for federal jurisdiction, in April 2012, Westlake removed the actions to federal court, where they were consolidated. Id. at 4.

In December 2013, following an earlier ruling that was subsequently vacated, the court explained that although the diversity requirement had been met, the amount in controversy did not exceed $75,000 for each of the Plaintiffs. The court reasoned that it was not “facially apparent” that the amount in controversy for each claim exceeded $75,000, finding that it could not consider Defendant’s affidavits submitted after the time of removal and that Defendant’s allegations regarding the amount in controversy were conclusory. Id. at 11-13. Although the court acknowledged the “potential” that the claims and class representative attorney’s fees would be in excess of the jurisdictional minimum, the vague damages allegations did not meet the “more likely than not” standard. Id. at 13-14.