Curtis v. Peerless Insurance Company, No. 1-68-Civ-288.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Court of Minnesota
Writing for the CourtH. H. McKnight, Memphis, Tenn., and Frederick A. Collatz, St. Paul, Minn., for defendants
Citation299 F. Supp. 429
PartiesJohn A. CURTIS and Dorothy Curtis, Plaintiffs, v. PEERLESS INSURANCE COMPANY, Floyd Adams, Jr., individually, and Floyd Adams, Jr., dba M & M Bail Bond Company, William Crowe, and William Stewart, Defendants.
Decision Date13 May 1969
Docket NumberNo. 1-68-Civ-288.

299 F. Supp. 429

John A. CURTIS and Dorothy Curtis, Plaintiffs,
PEERLESS INSURANCE COMPANY, Floyd Adams, Jr., individually, and Floyd Adams, Jr., dba M & M Bail Bond Company, William Crowe, and William Stewart, Defendants.

No. 1-68-Civ-288.

United States District Court D. Minnesota, First Division.

May 13, 1969.

299 F. Supp. 430
299 F. Supp. 431
A. E. Sheridan, Waukon, Iowa, and Robert T. Stich, Minneapolis, Minn., for plaintiffs

H. H. McKnight, Memphis, Tenn., and Frederick A. Collatz, St. Paul, Minn., for defendants.


DEVITT, Chief Judge.

In this action for false imprisonment, the threshold question, as it must be, is one of proper federal jurisdiction.

Plaintiff John Curtis seeks damages for false imprisonment, and for deprivation of his civil rights under the Civil Rights Acts, specifically §§ 1983 and 1985 of Title 42 U.S.C.A. Plaintiff Dorothy Curtis seeks damages for injuries allegedly sustained by her in her role as John's wife. Each attempts to mount jurisdiction on diversity of citizenship, 28 U.S.C.A. § 1332, and on the pursuit of redress for the deprivation of a federally guaranteed right, 28 U.S.C.A. § 1343. Defendants move to dismiss the complaint on the ground that the court is without jurisdiction over the subject matter of any of the claims.

I find: (1) that the values of the respective claims of the individual plaintiffs do not exceed $10,000 as is required by § 1332(a) of Title 28 U.S.C. A.; (2) that the plaintiff Dorothy Curtis is without standing to sue upon the alleged interference with the civil rights of her husband; and (3) that the lack of any allegation, of any showing, or of any attempt to demonstrate that the acts of defendants were done under color of state law as is required in actions under both §§ 1983 and 1985, renders that portion of the complaint relying on those provisions so insubstantial that the jurisdictional threshold of § 1343, Title 28 U.S.C.A. is not crossed. Hence, the complaint is dismissed because the court is without jurisdiction of the subject matter found therein.

Defendants' motion to dismiss was made before trial. However, at plaintiffs' request, they were afforded an opportunity to present testimony in support of jurisdiction as well as in support of their substantive case. Thus a full trial to a jury was had at the close of which the defendants' motion was renewed and granted.

The testimony and evidence disclosed the following tale: In December, 1965, John Curtis was living in Memphis, Tennessee, when and where he was indicted by the Shelby County Grand Jury for driving while intoxicated. In temporary response to that indictment, Curtis posted an appearance bond in the amount of $350.00 prepared by the defendant M and M Bail Bond Company agent for defendant Peerless Insurance Company. Defendant William Crowe, at the time a friend and fellow Legionnaire of Curtis, signed the bond as indemnitor. The bond contained a clause whereby the plaintiff agreed not to leave Shelby County without the permission of the sureties on the bond. Apparently through nonchalance more than calculated deceit, Curtis left Memphis without expressly notifying M and M or Crowe, and he returned to his home in Minnesota. Thereafter, he failed to appear at his trial.

Defendant Crowe soon discovered that the onus of the bond had come to rest on his head, and so by phone and by letter he implored John Curtis to "take care of the matter." But more than six months passed and Curtis did nothing. In June, 1967, Crowe and a friend of his, defendant

299 F. Supp. 432
William Stewart, were appointed agents for M and M Bail Bond Company for the purpose of apprehending Curtis and returning him to the hands of the Shelby County Court where he had originally been admitted to bail

Crowe and Stewart drove to Winona, Minnesota and laid in wait outside of Curtis's residence. When he appeared, they told him that they were going to see the sheriff. While it is not clear that Curtis initially understood what sheriff they were going to see, and while there is conflict in the testimony regarding the exact manner in which Curtis entered the defendants' car, it is clear that the apprehension was quite peaceable and that the defendants were not armed. In any case, the three men crossed the interstate bridge into Wisconsin and drove straight to the Shelby County Jail where John Curtis was deposited. The trip seems best characterized by the plaintiff's sullenness rather than by his recalcitrance. He apparently made no attempt to resist or to escape.

Because of this enforced journey, John Curtis incurred travel and phone expenses and one week of lost wages—a total of not more than $150.00. Dorothy Curtis was compelled to expend $1,000.00 in attorney fees in order to free her husband from jail. In this action, John seeks compensatory damages of $100,000.00; his wife asks compensatory damages of $50,000.00; and together they claim punitive damages of $200,000.00. Despite these demands, I find that, to a legal certainty, the actual amount put in controversy by each of the plaintiff's claims does not exceed $10,000.00.1

We begin with the plaintiffs' respective out-of-pocket expenses: $150.00 for John, and $1,000 for Dorothy. But each plaintiff claims a far greater sum is due: $100,000 and $50,000 respectively, and $200,000 jointly. Generally, the presence of the jurisdictional amount is to be determined by the good faith allegations of the complaint. St. Paul Mercury Indemnity Co. v. Red Cab Co., 303 U.S. 283, 288, 58 S.Ct. 586, 82 L.Ed. 845 (1938); Ringsby Truck Lines, Inc. v. Beardsley, 331 F.2d 14, 15 (8th Cir. 1964); Jackson v. Kuhn, 254 F.2d 555, 559 (8th Cir. 1958). Demands for punitive damages which are conceivably recoverable may be accounted in determining the existence of the jurisdictional amount. Bell v. Preferred Life Assur. Soc. of Montgomery, 320 U.S. 238, 64 S.Ct. 5, 88 L.Ed. 15 (1943); Gray v. Occidental Life Ins. Co. of California, 387 F.2d 935 (3d Cir. 1968), cert. den. 391 U.S. 926, 88 S.Ct. 1825, 20 L.Ed.2d 665 (1968); Dixon v. Northwestern National Bank of Minneapolis, supra, note 1.

However, if the existence of a jurisdictional element, such as the value in controversy has, as here, been controverted, the party claiming jurisdiction has the burden of proving its existence. McNutt v. General Motors Acceptance Corp., 298 U.S. 178, 56 S.Ct. 780, 80 L. Ed. 1135 (1936); Hulsenbusch v. Davidson Rubber Co., 344 F.2d 730 (8th Cir. 1965), cert. den. 382 U.S. 977, 86 S.Ct. 545, 15 L.Ed.2d 468 (1966); Ringsby Truck Lines, Inc. v. Beardsley, supra; Young v. Cooperative Refinery Ass'n, 320 F.2d 485 (10th Cir. 1963); Federated Mut. Imp. and Hardware Ins. Co. v. Steinheider, 268 F.2d 734 (8th Cir. 1959); Thomas v. Travelers Ins. Co., 258 F.Supp. 873 (E.D.La.1966).

The particular burden to be met by these plaintiffs is somewhat diminished by the rule of St. Paul Mercury

299 F. Supp. 433
Indemnity Co. v. Red Cab Co., supra, that
"it must appear to a legal certainty that the claim is really for less than the jurisdictional amount to justify dismissal." 303 U.S. at 289, 58 S.Ct. at 590.


"if from the face of the pleadings, or if from the evidence, the Court is satisfied to a legal certainty that plaintiff never was entitled to recover the jurisdictional amount, the suit should be dismissed." Jones v. Smith, 249 F.Supp. 624, 625 (E.D.N.C.1965).

See also, Parker v. Erie-Lackawanna System, 393 F.2d 229 (7th Cir. 1968); Santiesteban v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 306 F.2d 9 (5th Cir. 1962); Lind v. Canada Dry Corp., 283 F.Supp. 861 (D. Minn.1968); 1 Moore's Federal Practice ¶0.91 1 et seq,; Barron & Holtzoff, Federal Practice and Procedure § 24. Thus, the party asserting that the required amount in controversy is present has only to show that it is not apparent to a legal certainty that it is lacking.

In fairness and in the spirit of abundant...

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