United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia
ANNE BURNS and JOHN T. BURNS, Plaintiffs,
STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFFS'
MOTION TO REMAND AND DENYING REQUEST FOR ATTORNEY'S FEES
AND COSTS AS FRAMED
FREDERICK P. STAMP, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
plaintiffs, Anne Burns and John T. Burns, originally filed
their complaint in the Circuit Court of Brooke County, West
Virginia against defendant, State Farm Mutual Automobile
Insurance Company (“State Farm”), seeking (1) a
judicial declaration that Anne Burns has not been “made
whole” by the original settlement and (2) payment of
$12, 500.00 in underinsured motorist (“UIM”)
benefits for Anne Burns. ECF No. 1-1 at 9. As the result of a
2015 automobile accident, plaintiffs seek to recover UIM
coverage benefits from State Farm, along with any
extra-contractual benefits, compensatory damages,
attorney's fees and costs, interest, annoyance and
inconvenience, punitive and other general damages. The
underlying suit was settled through the tortfeasor's
insurance policy with settlement payments of $25, 000.00 for
Anne Burns and $4, 500.00 for John T. Burns. ECF No. 1-1 at
State Farm then removed the civil action to this Court. ECF
No. 1. In the notice of removal, State Farm asserts that this
is a civil action over which this Court has original
jurisdiction under the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1332,
and may be removed pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C.
§ 1441, because there is complete diversity as to all
real parties in interest. ECF No. 1 at 2. Further, State Farm
asserts that the matter in controversy exceeds $75, 000.00,
exclusive of interest and costs. Id.
Farm asserts that there is complete diversity because the
plaintiffs are residents of West Virginia and State Farm is
an Illinois corporation with its principal place of business
in Illinois. Next, State Farm contends that the amount in
controversy exceeds $75, 000.00, exclusive of interest and
costs, citing plaintiffs' UIM bodily coverage benefits of
$100, 000.00 per person and $300, 000.00 per accident, as
well as plaintiffs' intent to seek attorney's fees
and costs, along with an unspecified amount of consequential
damages, interest, annoyance and inconvenience damages, and
punitive damages. ECF No. 1 at 3.
plaintiffs then filed a timely 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. 4. The plaintiffs
assert that prior to the filing of the complaint, they did
not make a demand for an amount in excess of $75, 000.00,
exclusive of interest and costs. Rather, plaintiffs contend
that prior to the filing of the underlying complaint, the
plaintiffs had filed a claim for only $12, 500.00 of their
UIM benefit coverage. ECF No. 5 at 11. While plaintiffs have
since the original UIM payment request added claims for
attorney's fees, costs, and general damages, plaintiffs
maintain that State Farm fails to demonstrate how these
additional costs will reach $75, 000.00, exclusive of
interests and costs. Id. at 7. Under these
circumstances, plaintiffs contend State Farm has not met its
burden, and merely relies upon speculation, not facts, in its
attempt to satisfy the amount in controversy requirement.
Therefore, plaintiffs assert removal was inappropriate as
this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction. Id. at
State Farm filed a response in opposition to the
plaintiffs' motion to remand. ECF No. 7. In response,
State Farm argues the amount in controversy in this case
exceeds the jurisdictional amount in controversy threshold by
a preponderance of the evidence. Id. at 6. In its
attempt to satisfy the amount in controversy requirement,
State Farm combines the $12, 500.00 in UIM benefits with $12,
256.72 in medical bills surrounding the declaratory judgment
and an estimated $8, 252.24 in attorney's fees to arrive
at a total of $33, 008.67. Id. at 12. Defendant
argues that this Court should find that defendant has met its
burden because this amount, plus the variable of unspecified
damages could result in the value of the claim exceeding $75,
000.00, excluding interest and costs. Id. at 17.
defendant adds that because plaintiffs claim a right to
recover attorney's fees in addition to their claim for
underinsured motorist benefits, Marshall v.
Saseen and Hayseeds, Inc. v. State Farm Fire
& Casualty apply in regard to presumptive calculation
of reasonable attorney's fees. Furthermore, defendant
asserts that claims for attorney's fees made pursuant to
Hayseeds, can be considered in determining whether
the amount in controversy has been met. ECF No. 7 at 11.
Thus, defendant argues that even though plaintiffs'
attorney's fees claim is not quantified in the complaint,
this Court can conclude that the attorney's fee sought,
coupled with the special, punitive, and other general damages
previously stated, satisfy the amount in controversy.
Id. at 17. Lastly, State Farm claims that this Court
should deny plaintiffs' request for attorney's fees
and costs within their motion to remand because defendant had
an “objectively reasonable basis for seeking
plaintiffs filed a reply to State Farm's response in
opposition. ECF No. 9. In reply, the plaintiffs maintain that
this case should be remanded because the defendant has failed
to prove that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000.00,
exclusive of interest and costs. Id. Plaintiffs
allege a flawed calculation by State Farm and a failure by
State Farm to produce evidence regarding the value of
plaintiffs' claim. Id. In addition, plaintiffs
argue that because State Farm cannot demonstrate the
requisite amount in controversy, this Court should award the
plaintiffs their attorney's fees and costs in responding
to the notice of removal, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
reasons set forth below, the plaintiffs' motion to remand
(ECF No. 4) is GRANTED and the plaintiffs' request for
attorney's fees and costs is DENIED.
defendant may remove a case from state court to federal court
in instances where the federal court is able to exercise
original jurisdiction over the matter. 28 U.S.C. § 1441.
Federal courts have original jurisdiction over primarily two
types of cases: (1) those involving federal questions under
28 U.S.C. § 1331, and (2) those involving citizens of
different states where the amount in controversy exceeds $75,
000.00, exclusive of interest and costs pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 1332(a). However, if federal jurisdiction arises only
by virtue of the parties' diverse citizenship, such an
action “shall be removable only if none of the . . .
defendants is a citizen of the State in which such action is
brought.” Tomlin v. Office of Law Enf't Tech.
Commercialization, Inc., No. 5:07CV42, 2007 WL
1376030, at *1 (N.D. W.Va. May 7, 2007). The party seeking
removal bears the burden of establishing federal
jurisdiction. See In re Blackwater Sec. Consulting,
LLC, 460 F.3d 576, 583 (4th Cir. 2006); Mulcahey v.
Columbia Organic Chems. Co., Inc., 29 F.3d 148, 151 (4th
Cir. 1994). Removal jurisdiction is strictly construed, and,
if federal jurisdiction is doubtful, the federal court must
remand. Hartley v. CSX Transp., Inc., 187 F.3d 422
(4th Cir. 1999); Mulcahey, 29 F.3d at 151.
the court is limited to a consideration of facts on the
record at the time of removal. See Lowrey v. Ala. Power
Co., 483 F.3d 1184, 1213-15 (11th Cir. 2007) (“In
assessing whether removal was proper . . . the district court
has before it only the limited universe of evidence available
when the motion to remand is filed.”); O'Brien
v. Quicken Loans, Inc., No. 5:10CV110, 2011 WL 2551163
(N.D. W.Va. June 27, 2011); Marshall v. Kimble, No.
5:10CV127, 2011 WL 43034, at *3 (N.D. W.Va. Jan. 6, 2011)
(“The defendant's removal cannot be based on
speculation; rather, it must be based on facts as they exist
at the time of removal.”); Fahnestock v.
Cunningham, 5:10CV89, 2011 WL 1831596, at *2 (N.D. W.Va.
May 12, 2011) (“The ...