The District of South Carolina’s Approach to Post-Removal Damage Stipulations: The Need for One Less “Controversy” in the Amount-in-Controversy Analysis

Consider the following hypothetical: On an August day, Mary, a South Carolina citizen, is driving along I-26 from Columbia to Folly Beach to enjoy her last free weekend before school starts back. Suddenly, she is sideswiped by a Big Corp. truck, causing her to lose control of her car and strike the guardrail. While not seriously injured, Mary is taken to a hospital where she is examined, x-rayed, and CT scanned out of precaution, racking up thousands of dollars in medical bills in the process. Once back in Columbia, Mary meets with a lawyer and decides to sue Big Corp. in the Orangeburg County Court of Common Pleas under the theory of respondeat superior.

While this hypothetical may simply seem like a run-of-the-mill negligence action, it poses several interesting issues regarding removal. First, how does a federal court determine whether it has subject-matter jurisdiction over a removed case like Mary’s where the amount in controversy is not specifically stated? Second, what weight, if any, should the court give a post-removal damage stipulation in determining whether, at the time of removal, the amount in controversy exceeded the $75,000 threshold for federal jurisdiction? Finally, how can defendants counter the effectiveness of such stipulations?

This Note seeks to answer these questions and proposes a process that would prevent post-removal damage stipulations from being considered in the amount-in-controversy analysis. Section II.A generally discusses the background of, and procedures for, removal. Section II.B explains how plaintiffs use damage stipulations to support remand orders in cases where their original complaint is silent as to the amount of damages sought. Section III.A analyzes how courts in the District of South Carolina weigh post-removal damage stipulations when deciding remand motions, while Section III.B discusses the issues associated with the treatment of these stipulations. Finally, Part IV provides a recommendation for courts in the District of South Carolina to adopt, as well as a procedure for “removal-minded defendants” to follow, that will limit the effectiveness of post-removal damage stipulations.