In bringing or defending against a lawsuit, an important question is which court should hear the merits of the dispute, a state court or a federal court. Any court hearing the lawsuit must have “jurisdiction”; the power to hear a particular dispute. Under 28 U.S.C. § 1332, titled “diversity jurisdiction”, federal courts have original jurisdiction over all civil actions between citizens of different states and the amount in controversy (damages sought) exceed $75,000, exclusive of interest and costs. 28 U.S.C. § 1441 allows the defendants to remove civil actions from state courts to federal courts when a case becomes “removable,” i.e. when federal courts would have proper jurisdiction over the case. Skilled lawyers know that jurisdictional issues can have significant effect on the outcome of the case and understand the nuances of procedural posturing. A 2015 case from the Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal discusses how amendments or supplements to pleadings such as a Petition can raise important jurisdictional questions.
On April 3, 2011, Jerry and Elnora Harris’s home in Springfield, Louisiana burned to ashes. A year later, the Harrises filed a lawsuit against Union National Fire Insurance Company for the payment of their policy limits, penalties, and attorney fees. In their petition against Union National, the Harrises asserted that the total amount of damages did not exceed $75,000.00 including attorney fees, penalties, and interest. On April 9, 2012, the Harrises amended their petition, adding as defendants Bank of New York Melon, successor-in-interest to J.P. Morgan Chase Bank. The Harrises’ Amended Petition alleged that the Defendants engaged in predatory lending and fraudulent practices and sought additional damages for mental anguish, damage to their credit, and attorney fees. The Amended Petition stated that the total amount of damages sought by the plaintiffs against all named defendants would not exceed $75,000.00 including attorney fees, penalties, and interest.
On November 15, 2013, after the Defendants filed exceptions and answered the Petition and Amended Petition, the Harrises filed a Second Amended Petition, asserting that the total amount of damages against all defendants would exceed $75,000.00. The Defendants countered by filing a motion to strike the Second Amended Petition from the record, or alternatively, set for a hearing. The Trial Court granted the Defendants’ motion and ordered that the Second Amended Petition be struck from the record. The Harrises then filed a motion to vacate that order and requested that the Trail Court reinstate their Second Amended petition. After a hearing, the Trial Court vacated the order dismissing the Harrises’ Second Amended Petition and imposed sanctions of the Defendants for filing a frivolous motion to strike.