Seventh Circuit Retracts Higher Standard For Diversity Jurisdiction

In Meridian Security Ins. Co. v. Sadowski, No. 05-2855 (7th Cir. Mar. 22, 2006), the Seventh Circuit examined and curtailed the development of a line of cases that had misconstrued a 1993 case to raise the barrier to diversity jurisdiction.

Shaw v. Dow Brands, Inc., 994 F.3d 364, 366 (7th Cir. 1993), had stated that defendants seeking removal must prove that they meet the jurisdictional amount through “proof to a reasonable probability that jurisdiction exists.” This language has since been construed within the Seventh Circuit to mean that uncertainty about the jurisdictional amount must be resolved against the removing defendants.

In Meridian, the court overruled that interpretation, which has not been adopted outside of the circuit. The court held that a proponent of federal jurisdiction must, if material jurisdictional facts are contested, prove those facts by a preponderance of the evidence. Once those facts have been proven, federal jurisdiction is satisfied and any uncertainty about whether the plaintiff will be able to prove its substantive claim has no effect on jurisdiction.


Texas Restricts Voir Dire Questions About Weight Jurors Will Give Relevant Evidence

The Texas legislature has guaranteed through statute that jury trials shall be conducted by panels of impartial jurors free from bias or prejudice. And of course one of the purposes of voir dire is to attempt to exclude jurors who are biased or prejudiced. In interpreting that rule, the Texas Supreme Court has adopted a general rule that it is improper to ask prospective jurors what their verdict would be if certain facts were proved.

In Hyundai Motor Co. v. Vasquez, No. 03-0914 (Tex. Mar. 10, 2006), the court extended that holding to prohibit voir dire questions addressed to the weight a juror would give to a relevant piece of evidence.

In this case, the court reversed an intermediate appellate court that had found the trial court to have abused its discretion in refusing to permit plaintiff’s counsel to ask prospective jurors whether the fact that plaintiff was not wearing her seat belt would have been determinative of their verdict.


Award For Discovery Violation Not Successful Outcome Supporting Attorneys’ Fees

A plaintiff who brings a “successful action to enforce” liability under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act is entitled to an award of attorneys’ fees. But sometimes the question is how one defines success.

In Dechert v. Cadle Co., No. 04-4213 (7th Cir. Mar. 16, 2006), the district court awarded $1,000 to plaintiff for discovery violations by the defendant, but then the plaintiff abandoned his statutory claims under the FDCPA. Ultimately, the district court awarded $60,000 in attorneys’ fees and the defendant appealed.

The appellate court revered the fee award, finding that the FDCPA claim on the merits was never proven and nothing was awarded under plaintiffs’ substantive claim. The award of a discovery sanction was insufficient to support characterizing the case as a “successful action” under the statute and trigger fee-shifting.