An issue of importance that any potential plaintiff must consider at the initiation of litigation is whether to bring his or her case in state or federal court. Given the differences in both procedural and, in more limited circumstances, substantive law to be applied, this choice can have a marked impact on the outcome of a case. Although not all litigants will have this option, since certain cases are limited to a particular forum based on their design or the issues involved, when the option presents itself litigants will often make an effort to keep the case in the chosen forum. Issues regarding the selective choice of forum were addressed in Garber v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., a recent decision from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida.
The Garber case arose from a slip-and-fall accident at a Wal-Mart store in Delray Beach, Florida. Following the fall, the injured customer brought a premises liability suit against Wal-Mart in the Circuit Court of the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit of Florida. Following initiation of the case, the defendant served a Request for Admission on the plaintiff, which asked in part that the plaintiff admit she was seeking less than $75,000 in damages. The plaintiff denied the admission. In a following response to interrogatory requests served by the defendant, the plaintiff claimed more than $88,000 in medical expenses. Thereafter, the defendant filed a notice of removal to federal court, since the action could’ve originally been brought in federal court because the parties were residents of diverse states and the amount in controversy exceeded $75,000. The parties then entered into a joint stipulation to dismiss the case without prejudice. Following dismissal of the first action, the plaintiff brought a second action in Florida state court, which was substantially similar to the first, except for the fact that the plaintiff added a new defendant, the manager of the Wal-Mart where the fall occurred. Following initiation of the second suit, Wal-Mart again filed a Notice of Removal. Following removal, the plaintiff made a motion in federal court to have the case remanded back to state court, since there was no federal subject matter jurisdiction. Therefore, at this juncture, the federal court needed to determine whether the presence of the new defendant eliminated possible federal jurisdiction such that the action could no longer be removed to federal court and, accordingly, should be remanded to back to state court.