United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia
JOHN A. HAMILTON and JAQUELINE HAMILTON, Plaintiffs,
LEXINGTON INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFFS'
MOTION TO REMAND
FREDERICK P. STAMP, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
plaintiffs, John Hamilton and Jacqueline Hamilton, originally
filed suit against defendant Lexington Insurance Company
(“Lexington”) in the Circuit Court of Marshall
County, West Virginia, alleging Lexington failed to pay the
full amount of their damages and losses, less deductible,
pertaining to a flood damage claim under plaintiffs'
homeowners' insurance policy.
timely removed the civil action to this Court on August 12,
2019. ECF No. 1. In the notice of removal, Lexington asserts
that this Court has jurisdiction over the matter pursuant to
28 U.S.C. § 1441 and 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. Id. Lexington claims there is complete
diversity because the plaintiffs are residents of Marshall
County, West Virginia, and the defendant is a citizen or
resident of Boston, Massachusetts. Id. at 2.
According to Lexington, the amount in controversy
“could include ‘fees' and/or other damages
which brings the Plaintiffs' total claim for damages in
excess of $75, 000, exclusive of interests and costs.”
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. 4. Plaintiffs note the complaint
alleges that damages and losses were approximately $20,
000.00, but Lexington only tendered a check for $2, 931.81
after applying the $2, 000.00 deductible. Accordingly,
plaintiffs contend that “the actual amount in
controversy at the time of the filing of the lawsuit was $15,
068.82.” Id. at 2. Plaintiffs also point to
the prayer demand in the complaint, noting that they did not
pray for an amount in excess of $75, 000.00 and state that on
its face, the complaint does not establish that the amount in
controversy exceeds the minimum jurisdictional amount of $75,
000.00 exclusive of interest and costs. Id.
Plaintiffs contend that the complaint involves a $15, 068.82
flood insurance claim and that defendant relies upon
speculation and conjecture to reach the jurisdictional
threshold. Id. at 3. Plaintiffs argue that defendant
offers no proof whatsoever that the amount in controversy
requirement is satisfied, and request that this action be
remanded to the Circuit Court of Marshall County, West
Virginia, with just costs, expenses and attorney's fees
incurred as a result of the improper removal assessed against
the defendant. Id. at 4.
filed a response in opposition to the plaintiffs' motion
to remand (ECF No. 7) and asserts that plaintiffs cannot
avoid federal jurisdiction with clever pleading as they have
“alleged numerous types of damages of unspecified
amounts and have requested all damages permitted by law,
which include punitive damages and attorneys'
fees.” ECF No. 7 at 1. Lexington contends that
attorney's fees and punitive damages may be added to the
amount in controversy calculation. Based on the nature of the
claims and unspecified damages of various claims, and
especially absent a stipulation disclaiming entitlement to
any amount over $75, 000.00, Lexington argues that
plaintiffs' motion to remand should be denied.
Id. at 5.
plaintiffs filed a reply to Lexington's response in
opposition. ECF No. 8. In reply, the plaintiffs again assert
that defendant is trying to create federal jurisdiction with
baseless and disingenuous arguments. Id. at 2.
Plaintiffs reiterate the argument that amount in controversy
is determined as the case stands at the time of removal, and
the law simply does not allow removal based on such mere
speculation and conjecture. Id. at 4. Plaintiffs
maintain that Lexington has failed to meet its burden to
establish jurisdiction in this Court as it cannot prove or
establish the requisite amount in controversy and, thus, the
matter should be remanded to the Circuit Court of Marshall
County, West Virginia. Id.
before this Court is the plaintiffs' fully briefed motion
to remand. For the reasons set forth below, the
plaintiffs' 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 fails to meet its burden of satisfying the
amount in controversy, the plaintiffs' 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, the defendant
in this case fails to demonstrate that the amount in
controversy requirement has been satisfied. In its response
in opposition, Lexington notes the $15, 068.82 in damages at
the time of removal, and can then only point to
plaintiffs' requests for damages under West Virginia law
if plaintiffs “substantially prevail.” ECF No. 1
at 2. Lexington's argument in support of removal states
that the amount in controversy, counting these damages, could
include “fees” and/or other damages. Id.
Defendant offers no further explanation of the conclusory
calculation it offers in support of its attempt to satisfy
the amount in controversy requirement. Simply put, based on
the facts as they exist at the time of removal, this action
involves a $15, 068.82 flood insurance claim. The defendant,
in removing this matter, relies ...