OPINION AND ORDER
MARCOS E. LÓPEZ, Magistrate Judge.
On March 25, 2015, Isoris Bango Sánchez ("Mr. Bango"), Wanda Bango Sánchez ("Ms. Bango") and Saira Bango Sánchez (collectively "Plaintiffs") filed the complaint in this case, invoking the court's diversity jurisdiction alleging the parties are from different states and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000. ECF No. 1. Plaintiffs' seek recovery for pain, emotional distress, and economic damages allegedly suffered due to a vehicle collision.
I. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD
The purpose of summary judgment "is to pierce the boilerplate of the pleadings and assay the parties' proof in order to determine whether trial is actually required."
The party moving for summary judgment bears the burden of showing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.
In assessing a motion for summary judgment, the court "must view the entire record in the light most hospitable to the party opposing summary judgment, indulging all reasonable inferences in that party's favor."
II. UNCONTESTED MATERIAL FACTS
On or about May 7, 2014, Plaintiffs were involved in a vehicle collision the result of which they are claiming damages. ECF No. 31-1 at ¶1; ECF No. 32-1 at pg. 1 ¶1. The collision left minor scratches on the rear bumper of the vehicle Plaintiffs were driving. ECF No. 31-1 at ¶2; ECF No. 32-1 at pg. 1 ¶2. Immediately after the collision, Plaintiffs drove to the house of Ms. Bango's aunt, where Mr. Bango called the Police. ECF No. 31-1 at ¶3; ECF No. 32-1 at pg. 1 ¶3; ECF No. 31-1 at ¶4; ECF No. 32-1 at pg. 1 ¶4. That night, Ms. Bango felt "very stressed and started having a bad headache," and developed tension in her neck, limitation of movement on her right and left sides, and pain in her upper back. ECF No. 32-1 at pg. 4 ¶¶6 and 7. Mr. Bango did not sleep the night of the incident. ECF No. 32-1 at pg. 4 ¶ 8.
Plaintiffs first visited a hospital the morning after the incident, where they remained for the entire day. ECF No. 31-1 at ¶7 and 8; ECF No. 32-1 at pg. 2 ¶¶7 and 8. ECF No. 32-1 at pg. 5 ¶17. Although Ms. and Mr. Bango did not suffer any fractures, (ECF No. 31-1 at ¶9; ECF No. 32-1 at pg. 3 ¶9), Mr. Bango's neck was immobilized in a "cervical collar" and Ms. Bango's neck was immobilized with a "brace." ECF No. 32-1 at pg. 5 ¶¶12 and 13.
After receiving initial treatment in Puerto Rico, Ms. and Mr. Bango returned to their home in Florida where they received further medical care. After arriving home in Florida, Mr. Bango felt a constant pain in his head and the epidural area, radiating down by the shoulders to his arms and the upper back. ECF No. 32-1 at pg. 6 ¶19; ECF No. 34-1 at ¶19. After the incident, Mr. Bango received three epidural injections. ECF No. 32-1 at pg. 7 ¶28; ECF No. 34-1 at ¶ 29. After the epidural injections, Mr. Bango was referred to a neurosurgeon who recommended a cervical fusion at three different levels of his neck. ECF No. 32-1 at pg. 7 ¶29; ECF No. 34-1 at ¶29.
Mr. Bango also received psychiatric treatment after the incident; however, he began psychiatric treatment before the incident. ECF No. 31-1 at ¶24; ECF No. 32-1 at pg. 3 ¶24. Ms. Bango did not receive any psychological or psychiatric treatment, although she did miss two to three days of work for other medical treatment due to incident. ECF No. 31-1 at ¶22; ECF No. 32-1 at pg. 3 ¶22. Among the medical treatment she received, Ms. Bango attended more than fifteen physical therapy sessions for her upper back, shoulders, and neck. ECF No. 32-1 at pg. 6 ¶26.
On September 28, 2015, Ms. and Mr. Bango each sought and received independent medical evaluations by medical expert Dr. José López Reymundí. Ms. Bango's only complaints during her evaluation with Dr. López Reymundí were upper back pain, worsening when working as a nurse or doing house chores, and improving with medications. ECF No. 31-1 at ¶11; ECF No. 32-1 at pg. 3 ¶11. At the time of the medical evaluation, Ms. Bango referred to having difficulties with bathing, dressing and sleeping. ECF No. 32-1 at pg. 8 ¶35; ECF No. 34-1 at ¶35. Ms. Bango sat comfortably during the interview, was able to stand from the chair unassisted, ambulate independently, ambulate on tiptoes and heels, stand on one leg with good balance, and squat fully. In addition, she had full range of motion of the upper extremities without evidence of muscle atrophy and no muscle spasms in the cervical spine. ECF No. 31-1 at ¶10; ECF No. 32-1 at pg. 3 ¶10. Dr. López Reymundí found that her cervical spine range of motion was well preserved consistent with the neck motions observed during the interview but with tenderness at the end of the motions. ECF No. 32-1 at pg. 7 ¶33; ECF No. 34-1 at ¶33. After reviewing relevant medical records, Dr López Reymundí concluded that Ms. Bango suffered a cervical spine strain due to the May 7, 2014, incident, which in his opinion translates into a 1% whole person impairment. ECF No. 31-1 at ¶12; ECF No. 32-1 at pg. 3 ¶12.
Dr. López Reymundí conducted an independent medical evaluation of Mr. Bango and concluded that he presented a cervical spine strain, a cervical spine C4/C5 disc protrusion, and bulging disc C5/C6 and C6/C7. ECF No. 31-1 at ¶13; ECF No. 32-1 at pg. 3 ¶13. He found that Mr. Bango was able to "squat 60% with low back pain." ECF No. 32-1 at pg. 8 ¶37; ECF No. 34-1 at ¶37. He also found tenderness to palpation at the trapezium and base of the neck and muscle spasms. ECF No. 32-1 at pg. 8 ¶38; ECF No. 34-1 at ¶38. Dr. López Reymundí concluded that due to the May 7, 2014 collision, Mr. Bango suffered a cervical spine strain, and a 2% whole person impairment. ECF No. 32-1 at pg. 8 ¶39; ECF No. 34-1 at ¶39; ECF No. 31-1 at ¶15; ECF No. 32-1 at pg. 3 ¶15.
On the other hand, Dr. López Reymundí found that the disc protrusion that Mr. Bango presented during his evaluation was more likely than not related to another car accident that he suffered subsequent to the events giving rise to this case. ECF No. 31-1 at ¶14; ECF No. 32-1 at pg. 3 ¶14. Furthermore, Dr. López Reymundí's opinion was rendered assuming that Mr. Bango did not have a problem with his neck prior to the events giving rise to this case. ECF No. 31-1 at ¶17; ECF No. 32-1 at pg. 3 ¶17. Dr. López Reymundí did not review Mr. Bango's medical record with the Social Security Administration as part of the process of rendering his expert report. ECF No. 31-1 at ¶18; ECF No. 32-1 at pg. 3 ¶18.
Defendant's expert, Dr. José Suárez Castro, reviewed all relevant medical records, including Mr. Bango's record with the Social Security Administration, and the expert reports rendered by Dr. López Reymundí. ECF No. 31-1 at ¶19; ECF No. 32-1 at pg. 3 ¶19. Dr. Suárez Castro concluded that: (1) Dr. López Reymundí's opinion is based on the fact that Mr. Bango did not have any history of cervical conditions prior to the incident of May 7, 2014; (2) Mr. Bango did have chronic problems with his cervical spine prior to that day; and (3) Mr. Bango has no impairment that can be associated to the events giving rise to this case. ECF No. 31-1 at ¶20; ECF No. 32-1 at pg. 3 ¶20. The parties agree that Saira Bango, Ms. and Mr. Bango's minor daughter, did not suffer any injuries from the May 7, 2014, incident. ECF No. 31-1 at ¶21; ECF No. 32-1 at pg. 3 ¶21.
The jurisdiction of a federal court in diversity cases such as this one is limited to actions in which the controversy is between citizens of different states and involves a sum greater than $75,000. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1). Defendant contends that the case must be dismissed because the amount in controversy falls below the jurisdictional threshold.
A plaintiff's general allegation of damages that meet the amount requirement suffices unless questioned by the opposing party or the court.
As Defendant brought this challenge at the summary judgment stage, the parties have the benefit of the discovery conducted in this case. In sum, Plaintiffs cited to their depositions and medical evaluations showing Ms. and Mr. Bango's alleged pain and suffering has a basis in physical injuries they sustained from the incident, which continued to linger for more than a year. As of September 28, 2015, Ms. Bango continued to complain of upper back pain, which worsens when she works as a nurse or does chores and continued to have problems with bathing, dressing and sleeping. As to Mr. Bango, there is some evidence that he requires future medical care, including surgery. Their alleged pain and suffering is at least somewhat supported by medical evidence as Dr. López Reymundí found Ms. and Mr. Bango each suffered cervical strains and 1% and 2% whole person impairments from the incident, respectively.
While Defendant's medical expert disputes the cause of Mr. Bango's medical condition, weighing the conflicting expert conclusions is better left to a jury.
The case presently before the court, however, does not even reach the 3% impairment, thus making the decision regarding the pending motion for summary judgment a close call. A jury may well return a verdict below the jurisdictional threshold for each of Plaintiffs' claims in light of the minor damage to the vehicle, Ms. Bango's relatively mild impairment, and uncertainty over the cause of Mr. Bango's injuries. But it is not legally certain that Mr. Bango's damages involve less than the jurisdictional amount. As Mr. Bango met his burden of establishing diversity jurisdiction, the court exercises supplemental jurisdiction over Ms. Bango and Saira Bango's claims.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Several of the Defendant's replies to Plaintiffs' proposed facts neither admitted nor denied the corresponding proposed fact in its entirety, nor included record citations.