United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia
STEVEN AARON MATTHEWS and VANESSA MATTHEWS, his wife, Plaintiffs,
ISLAND OPERATING COMPANY, INC., a Louisiana corporation, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFFS'
MOTION TO REMAND
FREDERICK P. STAMP, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
plaintiffs, Steven Aaron Matthews (“Mr.
Matthews”) and Vanessa Matthews (“Mrs.
Matthews”), originally filed their complaint in the
Circuit Court of Wetzel County, West Virginia, against the
defendant, Island Operating Company, Inc. (“Island
Operating”). ECF No. 1 at 1. Mr. Matthews was allegedly
employed by Stone Operating Company (“Stone”),
and was working on behalf of his employer at the Howell Pad.
ECF No. 1-1 at 2. The plaintiffs allege in their complaint
that Island Operating was contracted to provide maintenance
and well production services for the Howell Well Pad. ECF No.
1-1 at 6. The plaintiffs further allege that, while following
the directions of one of Island Operating's employees,
Island Operating created a dangerous environment that was
recklessly unsafe, which resulted in an explosion and a fire,
and led to Mr. Matthews' serious and permanent injuries.
Id. at 7-8. Mrs. Matthews asserts a derivative claim
for the loss of consortium and services of her husband.
Id. at 7. The plaintiffs seek compensatory damages,
punitive damages, and costs, expenses, and fees. Id.
defendant removed this civil action to this Court on June 1,
2018. ECF No. 1. In the notice of removal, the defendant
asserts that this Court has jurisdiction over the matter
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332 because the parties are of
diverse citizenship and the amount in controversy exceeds
$75, 000.00, exclusive of interest and costs. ECF No. 1 at 2.
The defendant states that there is complete diversity because
the plaintiffs are citizens of West Virginia and the
defendant is a Louisiana corporation with its principal place
of business in Louisiana. Id. at 3. The defendant
states that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000.00,
exclusive of interest and costs, based on the plaintiffs'
allegations as pled in the complaint. Id.
plaintiffs then filed a motion to remand, in which they argue
that the defendant has failed to satisfy its burden of
proving that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000.00,
exclusive of interest and costs. ECF No. 6 at 5. The
plaintiffs assert that the defendant, in its notice of
removal, merely made conclusory allegations that the
plaintiffs' claims exceed the requisite amount.
Id. at 3. The plaintiffs contend that the
“defendant's notice of removal contains no
assertion of monetary amounts in issue and wholly fails to
meet any burden of proof concerning the threshold for federal
jurisdiction.” Id. at 2.
defendant filed a response in opposition to the
plaintiffs' motion to remand arguing that the amount in
controversy exceeds $75, 000.00, exclusive of interest and
costs, because Mr. Matthews was hospitalized for four days
following the fire. ECF No. 9 at 2-3. The defendant attached
the declaration of Angelle N. Guilbeau for support.
Id. In addition, the defendant alleges that Mr.
Matthews did not return to work until February 20, 2017.
Id. Moreover, the defendant asserts that from
January 1, 2016, until the start date of disbursement of
workers' compensation wages on December 15, 2016, total
wages paid by Stone to Mr. Matthews equaled $60, 537.00.
Id. The defendant contends that as part of Mr.
Matthews' workers' compensation claims, he was paid
wages equaling a total of $7, 787.60, and an award of $15,
426.32 in permanent partial disability benefits as of July
10, 2018, for a total of paid wages and permanent partial
disability benefits of $23, 213.92. Id.
Additionally, the defendant alleges the total cost of medical
bills resulting from plaintiff's hospitalization and/or
medical treatment as of July 10, 2018, totaled $37, 936.59.
Id. at 6. Thus, the defendant concludes that the
total for wages paid, partial disability benefits and medical
bills to date equals $61, 150.51. Id. In addition,
the defendant notes that the plaintiffs seek damages for
“severe” injuries, and accompanying severe
psychological injuries, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of
life, great pain and suffering of body and mind, past lost
income and future earning capacity, and past and future
medical bills. Id. at 5-6. Lastly, with respect to
punitive damages, the defendant cites Coleman v.
Wicker, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 45225, *8, 2012 WL 1111465
(S.D. W.Va. Mar. 30, 2012), where the Court noted, after an
estimate of $63, 000.00 was reached, that “[a]n austere
one-half multiplier for [an] aforementioned $63, 000 award is
enough to surmount the jurisdictional minimum [footnote
omitted].” Id. at 7. Further, the defendant
states that juries have returned verdicts that were many
times greater than the total amount of past medical bills
here, referencing decisions decided by the West Virginia
Supreme Court involving cases relating to burn injuries.
plaintiffs filed a reply to the defendant's response
arguing that the defendant's response is improperly
supported by an unsworn declaration (ECF No. 9-1) that is
allegedly based upon information improperly obtained by
defendant concerning Mr. Matthews' purportedly private
and confidential medical and workers' compensation
information. ECF No. 11 at 1-2. The plaintiffs, among other
things, cite W.Va. C.S.R. § 114-57-15.1 for the
proposition that West Virginia law confers an inherent right
to privacy of medical information. Id. at 2. The
plaintiffs also cite Morris v. Consolidation Coal
Co., 191 W.Va. 426, 446 S.E.2d 648 (1994), for support
that there is a privacy and confidential interest in
workers' compensation information. Id. at 3.
Moreover, the plaintiffs assert that a permanent partial
disability award is “absolutely irrelevant and has no
place in the calculation of the amount in controversy”
and that the actual amount that should be reflected in the
defendant's calculations based on the declaration could
be no more than $45, 742.19. Id. at 7-8. Lastly, the
plaintiffs argue that the defendant's punitive damage
analysis is speculative and contains no competent evidence,
and that the defendant improperly attempted to aggregate the
plaintiffs' claims to reach the jurisdictional amount.
Id. at 8-10.
defendant then filed a motion for leave to file a surreply in
opposition to plaintiffs' motion to remand, which was
granted. ECF Nos. 12 and 13. In its surreply, the defendant
first indicates that Island Operating has not requested,
obtained, reviewed, or accessed any medical records or
confidential information by Mr. Matthews, attaching an
affidavit of counsel for Island Operating for support. ECF
No. 15 at 1-2. Second, the defendant indicates that the
information contained in the declaration of Angelle Guilbeau
is not confidential medical information. Id. at 2.
Specifically, the defendant indicates that the plaintiffs
have failed to cite a “single case supporting the
proposition that mere reference to the fact of an
individual's hospitalization, medical treatment, and
amount of medical bills is considered confidential medical
information.” Id. Moreover, the defendant
argued that West Virginia does not have a constitutional
right to privacy of medical information and that since there
has been no production of medical or mental health records in
this litigation, the plaintiffs' reliance on W.Va. C.S.R.
§ 114-57.1 is misplaced since “[i]t relates to
actions of insurers and no insurer produced nonpublic health
information.” Id. at 5-6. The defendant argues
that since there were no oral or written communications
between Island Operating and Mr. Matthews' physicians,
Morris is inapplicable here. Third, the defendant
argues that the punitive damages analysis is not speculative
and that the plaintiffs have made a good faith claim based on
Island Operating's allegedly reckless conduct.
Id. at 7-9. The defendant contends that
“[e]ven using the lower numbers posited by plaintiffs
in their reply memorandum with respect to medical bills and
lost wages - totaling $45, 724.19, a multiplier of 1, clearly
exceeds the jurisdictional threshold.” Id. at
9. Lastly, with respect to Mrs. Matthews' loss of
consortium claim, the defendant asserts that the Court may
exercise supplemental jurisdiction over this claim.
Id. at 9-15.
plaintiffs filed a response to the defendant's motion for
leave to file surreply in opposition to the plaintiffs'
motion to remand the same day this Court entered an order
granting the defendant's motion for leave to file a
surreply. ECF No. 14. In the response, the plaintiffs assert
that Island Operating violated Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 7.02 by attaching a complete surreply. Id.
at 2. Moreover, the plaintiffs argue that Island Operating
obtained information that came from private and confidential
records. Id. at 2-3. The plaintiffs, however, did
not file a response to the defendant's surreply (ECF No.
defendant may remove a case from state court to a federal
court with original jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1441.
Under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a), district courts have original
jurisdiction where the dispute is between citizens of
different states and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,
000.00. The parties must be completely diverse, meaning that
“the citizenship of each plaintiff must be different
from the citizenship of each defendant.” Hoschar v.
Appalachian Power Co., 739 F.3d 163, 170 (4th Cir.
2014). Diversity is “assessed at the time the action is
filed.” Freeport-McMoRan, Inc. v. K N Energy,
Inc., 498 U.S. 426, 428 (1991).
party seeking removal bears the burden of establishing
federal jurisdiction. See In re Blackwater Security
Consulting, LLC, 460 F.3d 576, 583 (4th Cir. 2006). When
removal is challenged, the defendant must establish
jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence. Strawn
v. AT&T Mobility LLC, 530 F.3d 293, 297-98 (4th Cir.
2008). Further, this Court must strictly construe its removal
jurisdiction and remand if federal jurisdiction is doubtful.
Hartley v. CSX Transp., Inc., 187 F.3d 422, 425 (4th
Cir. 1999). However, courts are not required “to leave
common sense behind” when determining the amount in
controversy. Mullens v. Harry's Mobile Homes,
861 F.Supp. 22, 24 (S.D. W.Va. 1994). When the amount in
controversy is not apparent on the face of the
plaintiff's complaint, the court must attempt to
ascertain the amount in controversy by considering the
plaintiff's cause of action as alleged, the notice of
removal, and any other relevant materials in the record at
the time of removal. 14C Charles Allen Wright & Arthur R.
Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 3725.1
(4th ed. 2013). Typically, removal jurisdiction should be
evaluated based solely on the filings available when the
notice of removal was filed. Tamburin v. Hawkins,
No. 5:12CV79, 2013 WL 588739, *1 (N.D. W.Va. Feb. 13, 2013)
(citing Chase v. Shop ‘N Save Warehouse Foods,
Inc., 110 F.3d 424, 428 (7th Cir. 1997)). However, it
may be proper for the court to consider other evidence in the
record where the amount in controversy is not readily
ascertainable from the pleadings. See Wright &
Miller, supra § 3725.1; Mullins, 861
F.Supp. at 23.
is no dispute in this civil action that complete diversity
exists. In their complaint, the plaintiffs allege that Mr.
Matthews suffered and will continue to suffer severe burns,
severe injuries, great pain and suffering of body and mind,
loss of enjoyment of life, mental anguish, loss of income and
earning potential, and medical bills for past and future
treatment. See ECF No. 1-1 at 10. The plaintiffs
also seek punitive damages. ECF No. 1-1 at 6-7; see
Asbury-Castro v. GlaxoSmithKline, Inc., 352 F.Supp.2d
729, 732 (N.D. W.Va. 2005) (noting that “[u]nder West
Virginia law, a good faith claim for punitive damages may