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Jackson v. American National Property and Casualty Co.

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Charleston Division

November 17, 2017

TARA L. JACKSON Plaintiff,
v.
AMERICAN NATIONAL PROPERTY AND CASUALTY COMPANY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          TWMAS E. JOHNSTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pending before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion to Remand. (ECF No. 4.) For the reasons discussed below, the Court DENIES the motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case arises out of an insurance claim involving damage to Plaintiff's home, and particularly the floors in her home, in Fayette County, West Virginia, allegedly caused by a 2012 storm. (See ECF No. 1-1 at 6 ¶ 3; ECF No. 5 at 1-2.) Defendant denied the claim after a structural engineer discovered problems at the home indicating that the damage actually arose from “settling and a structural/construction defect[, ] which are specifically excluded from coverage under Plaintiff's policy.” (See ECF No. 6 at 3.) Plaintiff is a resident of West Virginia, (ECF No. 1-1 at 6 ¶ 1), and Defendant is “a foreign corporation, ” (ECF No. 1 at 2).

         On July 11, 2017, Plaintiff filed her Complaint in the Circuit Court of Fayette County, West Virginia. (ECF No. 1 at 1.) The Complaint states that because Defendant refused to pay Plaintiff under the insurance policy, Plaintiff has “suffered damages by way of unpaid insurance proceeds, as well as consequential damages because her house was not repaired in a timely fashion.” (ECF No. 1-1 at 6-7 ¶ 6.) It includes three counts: (1) breach of insurance contract, (2) violations of the West Virginia Unfair Trade Practices Act (“UTPA”), and (3) breach of good faith and fair dealing pursuant to Hayseeds. (See Id. at 6-9 (citing Hayseeds, Inc. v. State Farm Fire & Cas., 352 S.E.2d 73 ( W.Va. 1986)).) The Complaint requests compensatory damages, statutory damages under the UTPA, general damages “for annoyance, aggravation and inconvenience, ” damages “for loss of use of the insurance proceeds, ” and attorney fees and costs. (See id.)

         Defendant removed the case to this Court on August 10, 2017, asserting that the sole basis for this Court's subject-matter jurisdiction is diversity pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. (See ECF No. 1 at 1.) Plaintiff filed the current Motion to Remand on September 11, 2017, in which she asserts that this Court lacks diversity jurisdiction over the matter because the amount in controversy is below the $75, 000 requirement. (See ECF No. 5 at 3-4.) Defendant responded to the motion on September 22, 2017, (ECF No. 6), and Plaintiff did not file a reply brief. As such, this motion is briefed and ripe for adjudication.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Article III of the United States Constitution provides, in pertinent part, that “[t]he judicial Power shall extend . . . to Controversies . . . between Citizens of different States.” U.S. Const. art. III, § 2. “The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs, and is between . . . citizens of different States.” 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1).

         Congress provided a right to remove a case from state to federal court under 28 U.S.C. § 1441. This statute states, in relevant part:

Except as otherwise expressly provided by Act of Congress, any civil action brought in a state court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction, may be removed by the defendant or the defendants, to the district court of the United States for the district and division embracing the place where such action is pending.

28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). Because removal of civil cases from state to federal court infringes state sovereignty, federal courts strictly construe the removal statute and resolve all doubts in favor of remanding cases to state court. See Shamrock Oil & Gas Corp. v. Sheets, 313 U.S. 100, 109 (1941); see also Mulcahey v. Columbia Organic Chems. Co., 29 F.3d 148, 151 (4th Cir. 1994) (“Because removal jurisdiction raises significant federalism concerns, we must strictly construe removal jurisdiction.” (citation omitted)).

         The party asserting federal jurisdiction bears the burden of proof. Landmark Corp. v. Apogee Coal Co., 945 F.Supp. 932, 935 (S.D. W.Va. 1996). “A defendant that removes a case from state court in which the damages sought are unspecified, asserting the existence of federal diversity jurisdiction, must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the value of the matter in controversy exceeds the jurisdictional amount.” Id. (citing Gaus v. Miles, Inc., 980 F.2d 564, 567 (9th Cir. 1992)). “This test is framed alternatively as a requirement that a defendant demonstrate that it is more likely than not that the amount in controversy exceeds the jurisdictional amount.” Id. (citation omitted). “To satisfy this burden, a defendant must offer more than a bare allegation that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000, ” Judy v. JK Harris & Co., No. 2:10- cv-01276, 2011 WL 4499316, at *3 (S.D. W.Va. Sept. 27, 2011) (citation omitted), and must supply evidence regarding the amount at issue. See McCoy v. Erie Ins. Co., 147 F.Supp.2d 481, 489 (S.D. W.Va. 2001). “In so doing, he may rely upon the entirety of the facts and circumstances comprising the plaintiff's damages claim.” Judy, 147 F.Supp.2d at 489 (citation omitted).

         In evaluating a party's claim to federal jurisdiction, a court should look toward the circumstances as they existed at the time the notice of removal was filed. See Dennison v. Carolina Payday Loans, Inc., 549 F.3d 941, 943 (4th Cir. 2008) (“[F]ederal jurisdiction . . . is fixed at the time the . . . notice of removal is filed.” (citation omitted)). In particular, where the plaintiff's monetary demand is not specified in the complaint, “[t]he value of the matter in controversy . . . is determined by considering the judgment that would be entered if plaintiff prevailed on the merits.” Landmark Corp., 945 F.Supp. at 936-37 (citation omitted). To calculate the amount in controversy, a court may consider the entire record and make an independent evaluation of whether the amount in controversy is satisfied. See Grubb v. Jos. A. Bank Clothiers, Inc., No. 2:05-0056, 2005 WL 1378721, at *5 (S.D. W.Va. June 2, 2005) (citation omitted).

         III. ...


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