Nelson v. Keefer

451 F.2d 289 (3d Cir. 1971)



One of the tools developed for determining the intangible factors relating to the amount in controversy is the requirement that a plaintiff must claim the necessary amount in good faith. The basic criterion for determining good faith is that it must appear to a legal certainty that the claim is really for less than the jurisdictional amount to justify dismissal. The test then is not what amount the plaintiff claims in the ad damnum clause of his complaint, but rather, whether it appears to a legal certainty that he cannot recover an amount above the jurisdictional minimum. It follows, therefore, that in order to find a plaintiff's claim lacking in good faith, the court must be able to conclude from the record before him that the plaintiff cannot recover a sum by way of damages above the $ 10,000 jurisdictional floor.


Plaintiff accident victims brought a diversity action in federal court. The district court dismissed the action at pre-trial on the grounds that it appeared that the claims were for less than the jurisdictional amount. On appeal, the court affirmed. The judgment dismissing plaintiff accidents victims' diversity action at pre-trial affirmed because the statutory jurisdictional minimum could not be gleaned from the facts averred in support of the complaint and because their legally recoverable ceiling did not at its apex reach the federal jurisdictional floor.


Were the facts alleged at pre-trial supporting the complaint  legally insufficient to give rise to a $10,000 claim?




Analogizing the authority of a court to reject a jury's verdict through the practice of remittitur, the court recognized a corollary power in that same court to evaluate a case prior to trial where sufficient information was made available through pre-trial discovery and comprehensive pre-trial narrative statements which disclosed medical reports. Assuming that claimed tangible items of damage legally related to the cause of action were taken as true, the court was able to determine the upper limit of a permissible award that included tangible recoverable items such as medical special and lost wages damage items as well as the intangibles of pain, suffering, and inconvenience. The upper limit of plaintiffs' damages did not bear a reasonable relation to the minimum jurisdictional floor, and there was no legal obstacle to a pre-trial determination that the action did not satisfy federal jurisdictional requirements.

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