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Parker v. Four Seasons Hotels, Ltd.

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

January 6, 2017

Diane Parker, Plaintiff-Appellant,
Four Seasons Hotels, Limited, Defendant-Appellee.

          Argued September 27, 2016

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. l:12-cv-03207 - Manish S. Shah, Judge.

          Before Bauer, Rovner, and Hamilton, Circuit Judges.

          ROVNER, Circuit Judge.

         Diane Parker was injured when a sliding glass door in the bathroom of her Four Seasons Hotel room shattered. The hotel admitted negligence and a jury awarded Parker $20, 000 in compensatory damages, which was reduced to $12, 000 after a motion for set-off was granted. The district court declined Parker's request to put the question of punitive damages to the jury, finding her evidence insufficient as a matter of law. We reverse and remand for further proceedings on the question of punitive damages.


         Four Seasons asserts that the federal courts lack jurisdiction over this diversity suit because the amount in controversy does not exceed $75, 000, citing the ultimate award of $12, 000. But the requirements for diversity jurisdiction (including the amount in controversy) must be satisfied only at the time the suit is filed. Rosado v. Wyman, 397 U.S. 397, 405 n.6 (1970) (noting the well-settled rule that a federal court does not lose jurisdiction over a diversity action which was well founded at the outset even though one of the parties may later change domicile or the amount recovered falls short of the statutory threshold); St. Paul Mercury Indent. Co. v. Red Cab Co., 303 U.S. 283, 289-90 (1938) ("Events occurring subsequent to the institution of suit which reduce the amount recoverable below the statutory limit do not oust jurisdiction."). Four Seasons does not deny that, when Parker filed her complaint, she brought claims in apparent good faith for compensatory and punitive damages exceeding $150, 000. Dart Cherokee Basin Operating Co. v. Owens, 135 S.Ct. 547, 553 (2014) ("When a plaintiff invokes federal-court jurisdiction, the plaintiff's amount-in-controversy allegation is accepted if made in good faith."); Meridian Sec. Ins. Co. v. Sadowski, 441 F.3d 536, 541 (7th Cir. 2006) (once the facts supporting the amount in controversy have been established, the proponent's estimate of the claim's value must be accepted unless there is legal certainty that the controversy's value is below the threshold). Parker's claimed damages are well in excess of the requisite amount, and federal jurisdiction is secure.

         We turn to the facts, which we will simplify to focus on the issue at hand. Parker and her sister, Cindy Schiavon, checked into the Four Seasons on April 27, 2007, requesting adjoining rooms. After a short delay at the desk, Parker was assigned to room 3627 and her sister was given the room next door. In Parker's room, a sliding glass door separated the shower area from the vanity area.[1] On the day after check-in, Parker took a shower and attempted to exit the shower area by opening the glass door. As she slid the door, it exploded suddenly, raining shards of glass onto her naked body and causing her injuries. Parker's sister summoned help from the front desk. Shortly thereafter, Joseph Gartin, an engineer employed by the hotel, arrived to investigate the incident. According to Schiavon's affidavit, Gartin:

immediately looked up at the overhead track and said: "Looks like the stopper moved again!" ... He explained that the hotel had recently undergone renovations, and that a "bunch" of the newly installed sliding glass doors had exploded because the overhead track stoppers were not working properly. That allowed the door-handles to crash into the walls and cause the glass doors to explode. This was one of the rooms on the "do not sell" list. You might want to check yours.

R. 101-7, at 2. Taking Gartin's advice, Schiavon checked the sliding door in her bathroom in the adjoining room and determined that it suffered from the same defect.

         Parker also uncovered evidence suggesting that the sliding door in her room had shattered before the incident that caused her injury, and that the door had been replaced. An October 2007 email between third party contractors working on door breakage issues revealed that several rooms configured in the same manner as Parker's room had similar issues:

Here is an update from Contract Mirror & Supply on the shower doors at the Four Seasons. CMS installed 150 tub doors, 136 shower doors, and 136 sliding barn doors during the renovation. We have had one shower door break (room 4401) and five sliding glass barn doors break (rooms 3427, 3527, 3627 twice, and 4419). The cause of the shower door breakage was identified and all of the shower doors were inspected to be sure that there were no additional problems. Since the X27 rooms represent 80% of the barn door failures these rooms were examined to identify what was different in these rooms that may have caused the problems. The thicker wall construction in this room leaves less clearance for the door ( Vi" clearance versus 1" in other rooms) and the tight tolerance may contribute to the breakage because the door may deflect up to Vi" if someone pulls on the door while operating it which would allow the corner of the glass to hit the ...

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