359 F.2d 96 (2nd Cir. 1966), 78, Deutsch v. Hewes St. Realty Corp.

Docket Nº:78, 29818.
Citation:359 F.2d 96
Party Name:Mariana DEUTSCH and Abraham Deutsch, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. HEWES STREET REALTY CORPORATION, Defendant-Appellee.
Case Date:March 30, 1966
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

Page 96

359 F.2d 96 (2nd Cir. 1966)

Mariana DEUTSCH and Abraham Deutsch, Plaintiffs-Appellants,



No. 78, 29818.

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit.

March 30, 1966

Argued Oct. 22, 1965.

Page 97

Julius Wilk, New York City, for plaintiffs-appellants.

Thomas M. Kelly, Schaffner & D'Onofrio, John J. Langan, New York City, for defendant-Appellee.

Before WATERMAN and MOORE, Circuit Judges, and TYLER, District Judge. [*]

WATERMAN, Circuit Judge:

On November 24, 1961 Mariana Deutsch, while washing dishes, allegedly was injured when, one leg of the kitchen sink in her apartment gave way and fell on her left foot. As a result of this mishap appellant claims she suffered a comminuted fracture of the distal phalanx of the first toe of her left foot with subungual hematoma, extrusion of the nail, swelling, pain, tenderness and discoloration. She further alleges that for some time she was unable to bear weight on the toes of her left foot and that she has continued to suffer pain.

With a view toward opening a small beauty shop upon completion of the prescribed course appellant claims she had been attending a school that trained beauticians. She alleges that as a consequence of the accident she was compelled to abandon her plans to become a beautician because that job requires that one stand for long periods of time. She also claims that for at least one month after the accident she was unable to earn a living as a knitwear mender, the employment she had engaged in prior to her short-lived career as a student beautician. She did, however, return to her job as a knitwear mender in January, 1962, and at present she earns $125 a week performing this work.

Alleging that appellee, Hewes Street Realty Corporation, was negligent in failing properly to maintain her apartment and sink, appellant, on June 28, 1962, commenced this action in the Southern District of New York to recover $25,000 for her alleged personal injuries.

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1 She also commenced suit for $25,000 on the same claim in the New York state courts. The complaint in the action she began in the federal court stated that the district court had jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). 2 By its answer the appellee denied the existence of a controversy 'in excess of $10,000,' the minimum amount required to confer federal jurisdiction in diversity suits, 3 and it submitted interrogatories designed to elicit from appellant information concerning the elements of damage for which she sought recovery and the valuation that she placed on those elements. In her replies to these interrogatories appellant claimed special damages totaling only $141.00. 4 Moreover, she indicated that she sought recovery for approximately one month's complete disability; a claim which viewed charitably could not possibly have totaled more than $1,500. 5 Finally, appellant's replies indicated, albeit vaguely, that the balance of the ad damnum comprised a claim for damages due to the impairment of appellant's future earning capacity.

Appellee moved to dismiss the action on the ground that appellant's claims fell short of the $10,000 jurisdictional requirement, and that the court therefore lacked jurisdiction over the subject matter of the controversy. The district judge considered this motion in connection with appellant's replies to the interrogatories and in a memorandum opinion granted appellee's motion and dismissed appellant's complaint, stating that the complaint had not been made in good faith because 'the claimed injuries and the monetary loss allegedly sustained could not justify a recovery in excess of $10,000.' The district judge also noted that appellant simultaneously had filed suit in the state courts, a move that he concluded was designed solely to protect against a jurisdictional dismissal in the federal proceeding. Amplifying his decision that appellant's claim could not justify a recovery in excess of $10,000, he further stated that 'in the remote unlikely possibility that a jury would return a verdict in the amount of $10,000 or more, the court in good conscience would be required to set it aside.' We reverse the dismissal of the action by the district court and remand for further proceedings.

One cannot underestimate the difficulties involved in developing clear and just rules to assist the district courts in determining whether an amount in controversy in a case exceeds $10,000. The problem is especially difficult because the major considerations tug in precisely opposite directions. On the one hand, with mounting federal case loads, as Chief Judge Lumbard recently has stated, 'it has become doubly important that the district courts take measures to discover those suits which ought never to have been brought in the federal court and to dismiss them when the court is convinced to a legal certainty that the plaintiff cannot recover an amount in excess of $10,000.' Arnold v. Troccoli, 344 F.2d 842, 845 (2 Cir. 1965) .

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On the other hand, we must not permit a preliminary jurisdictional determination regarding recoverable damages to deprive a plaintiff unfairly of a federal court trial of a case on its merits. The Supreme Court has struck the balance between these considerations thus: 'The rule governing dismissal for want of jurisdiction in cases brought in the federal court is that, unless the law gives a different rule, the sum claimed by the plaintiff controls if the claim is apparently made in good faith. It must appear to a legal certainty that the claim is really for less than the jurisdictional amount to justify dismissal.' St. Paul Mercury Indem. Co. v. Red Cab Co., 303 U.S. 283, 288-289, 58 S.Ct. 586, 590, 82 L.Ed. 845 (1938).

Taking the Court's opinion in St. Paul Mercury Indem. Co., supra, as a point of departure, it...

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