Man wants burning phone case back in state court

CLARKSBURG –- A man who claims his phone caught on fire while in his pocket wants the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia to remand his complaint back to Monongalia Circuit Court where he originally filed it.

Samsung Telecommunications America and Sprint Nextel Corporation removed Hakan Inan's complaint to U.S. District Court, saying it belonged there because Inan is seeking more than $75,000 in damages and is a resident of a different state than the defendants.

However, Inan claims that he specifically requests less than $75,000 in his complaint; therefore, he contends his suit should remain in circuit court.

Inan originally filed his complaint in Monongalia Circuit Court on Sept. 15 after he says his Sprint cell phone caught on fire while in his pocket. The subject cell phone replaced Inan's original phone, which malfunctioned in September 2007 and would not operate, the complaint says.

Inan says he used the phone in accordance with Sprint's user's guide, and it appeared to function properly. In addition, he never dropped or damaged the phone before the incident occurred, the suit states.

According to the complaint, Inan used his phone as usual on Sept. 18, 2007, and placed it on a charger before he went to bed. The next morning at about 7:30 a.m., Inan removed his phone from the charger, saw it was fully charged and placed it in his right-hand pants pocket alone before heading to work, he claims.

"After he arrived at work, sometime between 10:30 and 11:00 a.m., Mr. Inan was sitting at his desk in his office when he heard popping sounds, felt sudden pressure and sensed significant heat on his right leg," the suit states. "There was visible smoke coming from his person.

"Mr. Inan jumped up, reached into his right-hand pocket, tried to remove the phone -– it was burning hot. The battery of the phone exploded, burned through his pocket, burned his leg. Mr. Inan frantically shook his leg, the cell phone battery fell to the floor. He was in pain. Heavy smoke filled his office."

Because of the incident, Inan says he suffered second-degree burns to his right thigh and the area behind his right knee and incurred property damage. In addition, he experienced pain, suffering and emotional distress and incurred out-of-pocket expenses, according to the complaint.

Inan alleges defective product, failure to warn, breach of implied warranty of merchantability and breach of implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose, the complaint says.

In his complaint, Inan requests a judgment of not more than $75,000 exclusive of interest and costs, plus an additional judgment for punitive damages and other relief the court deems just.

However, Samsung and Sprint removed the case to U.S. District Court as they claim the case could have originally been filed there.
In order for a complaint to be filed in U.S. District Court, the plaintiff and defendants must both be residents of different states and the plaintiff must be seeking more than $75,000. Samsung and Sprint say Inan's complaint meets these requirements.

"Under the plain language of the complaint, Plaintiff demands judgment for compensatory damages up to $75,000 and further demands punitive damages above that amount," the defendants' response states. "Even if the complaint is construed to demand an amount not to exceed $75,000 in total, the amount in controversy is met because, under West Virginia law, Plaintiff is not limited in his recovery to the amounts demanded in the complaint."

But Inan claims he expressly requested less than $75,000 in damages, so the case should remain in circuit court.

"Since filing, no known action of the Defendants, jointly or severally, calls into question the legitimacy of the pleading's averment that Mr. Inan seeks judgment against the defendants in an amount not to exceed $75,000 exclusive of interest and costs," Inan's response to the defendants' motion states. "Therefore, this Court should remand Mr. Inan's cause of action to the Monongalia Circuit Court."

Even if Inan had not explicitly requested less than $75,000, he says the defendants failed to prove through a preponderance of evidence that he seeks more than that amount.

"The Defendants have offered absolutely no competent proof or tangible evidence that it is more likely than not that the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000 as required for exercise of this Court's jurisdiction," Inan claims. "As Defendants have offered nothing save a speculative nullity in support of their assertion of jurisdiction under 1332, this Court must remand Mr. Inan's cause of action to the Monongalia County Circuit Court as its jurisdiction is not only doubtful, it is nonexistent."

Not only do the defendants want the case to remain in district court, but they want the court to dismiss Inan's complaint against them, saying the phone was of merchantable quality when Inan received it.
"If it is determined that plaintiff's alleged damages and injuries were caused by a cellular telephone which was defective or unreasonably dangerous, defendants assert that the cellular telephone was not that way at the time it was distributed by these defendants but it was altered or modified by plaintiff or others after it was sold or distributed," the defendants say in their answer.

Georgia Lee Gates of the Law Offices of Ron L. Tucker in Fairmont will be representing Inan.

Amy M. Smith and Karen Kahle of Steptoe and Johnson will be representing the defendants.

U.S. District Judge Irene M. Keeley has been assigned to the case.

U.S. District Court case number: 09-CV-158

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