United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S
MOTION TO REMAND
FREDERICK P. STAMP, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
plaintiff, Marie Dynes (“Dynes”), originally
filed suit against Erie Insurance Property and Casualty
Company (“Erie”) in the Circuit Court of Ohio
County, West Virginia seeking judgment against defendant Erie
“for all benefits to which she is contractually
entitled pursuant to the Erie Insurance Property and Casualty
Company Policy, Policy No. Q03-5507961, and for compensatory
and general damages[, ] . . . for punitive damages, for
pre-judgment and post-judgment interest, attorneys' fees
and costs expended in this action, for any other specific or
general relief[, ] . . . and for such other relief as this
Court deems proper.” ECF No. 1-1 at 12. The
plaintiff's underinsured motorist (“UIM”)
claim arises out of a 2017 automobile accident. Id.
at 2. The underlying suit was settled through the
tortfeasor's insurance policy with settlement payments of
$50, 000.00. Id. at 5-6.
defendant removed the civil action to this Court on July 11,
2019. ECF No. 1. In the notice of removal, defendant Erie
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.
Defendant Erie claims there is complete diversity because
plaintiff Dynes is a resident of West Virginia and the
defendant is a Pennsylvania corporation with its principal
place of business in Pennsylvania. Id. According to
defendant Erie, the amount in controversy exceeds $75,
000.00, exclusive of interest and costs, based on the
plaintiff's allegations as pled in the complaint.
Id. Defendant Erie points to the plaintiff's UIM
coverage benefits of $100, 000.00 per person, along with the
plaintiff's claim based on the West Virginia Unfair Trade
Practice Act (“WVUTPA”), in support of its amount
in controversy argument. Id. In addition, defendant
Erie cites the plaintiff's aim to recover for
“punitive damages, interest, attorneys' fees, and
Dynes then filed a motion to remand, in which she asserts
that defendant Erie 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 at 3. Plaintiff
Dynes notes that the coverage limit of any applicable policy
of insurance is irrelevant in determining the amount in
controversy and that an allegation of general damages are not
enough to satisfy a defendant's burden of proving federal
jurisdiction. Id. at 3-4. Accordingly, plaintiff
Dynes asserts that this matter should be remanded.
Id. at 5.
Erie filed a response in opposition to the plaintiff's
motion to remand. ECF No. 5. In its response, defendant Erie
asserts that this Court should deny the plaintiff's
motion, as the amount in controversy exceeds the
jurisdictional threshold, contending that plaintiff Dynes has
made a settlement demand for $100, 000.00 and that
“Plaintiff's Complaint itself establishes that the
amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000.00. Plaintiff alleges
that she made [a] claim for ‘all benefits' from
Erie.” Id. at 1, 4-5. Defendant Erie contends
that “Plaintiff's Complaint makes clear that the
UIM benefit which she refers to when she seeks ‘all
benefits' is payment of the $100, 000 policy limit. As
such, Plaintiff's Complaint establishes that the amount
in controversy is at least $100, 000.” Id. at
5. Defendant Erie notes that plaintiff Dynes also seeks
punitive damages and that under West Virginia law, punitive
damages may be awarded in an amount up to the greater of four
times the amount of compensatory damages or $500, 000.00,
citing West Virginia Code § 55-7-29 (2015). Id.
Additionally, defendant Erie points to the plaintiff's
intent to recover attorneys' fees, damages for pain and
suffering, medical bills, and future medical bills.
Id. at 2, 5.
Dynes filed a reply to defendant Erie's response in
opposition. ECF No. 6. In reply, plaintiff Dynes again
asserts that defendant Erie has failed to meet its
“burden of proving that the value of Plaintiff's
claims does, in fact, exceed the $75, 000 threshold required
for federal jurisdiction.” Id. at 1. Plaintiff
Dynes states that a pre-removal demand should not be given
much weight in determining whether a case should be remanded
based on whether a plaintiff's claims meet the requisite
amount in controversy. Id. at 2.
reasons set forth below, the plaintiff's motion to remand
(ECF No. 4) is GRANTED.
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 amount in controversy is determined
by considering the judgment that would be entered if the
plaintiffs prevailed on the merits of his case as it stands
at the time of removal” (internal citations omitted)).
is no dispute that complete diversity exists. The only issue
in dispute is the amount in controversy requirement under 28
U.S.C. § 1332(a). Based on the record before this Court,
because defendant Erie fails to meets its burden of
satisfying the amount in controversy, the plaintiff's
motion to remand must be granted.
Court recognizes that “a defendant's notice of
removal need include only a plausible allegation that the
amount in controversy exceeds the jurisdictional
threshold.” Dart Cherokee Basin Operating Co. v.
Owens, 135 S.Ct. 547, 555 (2014). However, defendant
Erie in this case fails to demonstrate by a preponderance of
the evidence that the amount in controversy requirement has
been satisfied. In its response in opposition, defendant Erie
appears to rely on the following to establish the requisite
amount in controversy: (1) an alleged settlement demand of
$100, 000.00; (2) the plaintiff's claim for “all
benefits” in her complaint; and ...