United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Charleston Division
JOSEPH H. ROSS, Plaintiff,
PRUDENTIAL INSURANCE COMPANY OF AMERICA, et al., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
E. JOHNSTON, CHIEF JUDGE.
before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion to Remand. (ECF
No. 6.) For the reasons discussed more fully below, the Court
GRANTS the motion.
case arises out of a dispute between Plaintiff and his life
insurance providers. (See ECF No. 1-1 at 4-22.) The
complaint alleges Plaintiff holds five insurance policies
issued by either Prudential Insurance Company of America or
its subsidiary Pruco Life Insurance Company (collectively
“Defendants”). (Id. at 5, ¶ 6.) These
policies include a Waiver of Premium Benefits
(“Waiver”) which pays the premiums for the
policies in the event Plaintiff becomes disabled and is
unable to work. (Id. ¶ 7.)
1992, Plaintiff became totally disabled and was unable to
work due to complications from a traumatic brain injury.
(Id. at 5-6, ¶ 9.) Defendants paid the premiums
for these policies for twenty-four years due to
Plaintiff's disability, but, in 2017, Plaintiff received
a series of communications from Defendants requesting
additional documentation to support continued eligibility for
the Waiver. (Id. at 6, ¶¶ 11-16.) After a
dispute, Defendants began requiring Plaintiff to make premium
payments on all his policies. (Id. at 12,
March 29, 2019, Plaintiff filed his Complaint in the Circuit
Court of Kanawha County, West Virginia. (Id. at 4.)
Defendants removed the case to this Court on May 6, 2019.
(ECF No. 1.) In the Notice of Removal, Defendants assert that
the sole basis for this Court's subject- matter
jurisdiction is diversity pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332.
(Id. at 2, ¶ 3.)
filed the current motion to remand on June 6, 2019, in which
he argues this Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction
because the amount in controversy is below the $75, 000
requirement for diversity jurisdiction. (ECF No. 7 at 4.)
Defendants filed their Response on June 21, 2019. (ECF No.
9.) Plaintiff filed his Reply on June 27, 2019. (ECF No. 10.)
As such, this motion is briefed and ripe for the Court's
relevant here, this Court “ha[s] original jurisdiction
of all civil actions where the matter in controversy exceeds
. . . $75, 000 . . . and is between . . . citizens of
different States.” 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1); see
Lontz v. Tharp, 413 F.3d 435, 439 (4th Cir. 2005)
(“Since diversity always vests original jurisdiction in
the district courts, diversity also generates removal
jurisdiction.”). “[A]n action initiated in a
state court can be removed to federal court only if it might
have been brought in federal court originally.”
Sonoco Prods. Co. v. Physicians Health Plan, Inc.,
338 F.3d 366, 370 (4th Cir. 2003) (alteration and internal
quotation marks omitted); see 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 plaintiff challenges removal, however, the defendant
‘bears the burden of demonstrating that removal
jurisdiction is proper.'” Scott v. Cricket
Commc'ns, LLC, 865 F.3d 189, 194 (4th Cir. 2017)
(quoting Strawn v. AT&T Mobility LLC, 530 F.3d
293, 296 (4th Cir. 2008)). If the defendant's assertion
of the amount of controversy is challenged, “both sides
submit proof and the court decides, by a preponderance of the
evidence, whether the amount-in- controversy requirement has
been satisfied.” Dart Cherokee Basin Operating Co.,
LLC v. Owens, 135 S.Ct. 547, 554 (2014). “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.” Landmark Corp. v. Apogee Coal Co.,
945 F.Supp. 932, 935 (S.D. W.Va. 1996) (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. McCoy v. Erie Ins. Co., 147
F.Supp.2d 481, 489 (S.D. W.Va. 2001).
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)). “When a plaintiff's complaint leaves the
amount of damages unspecified, the defendant must provide
evidence to ‘show ... what the stakes of litigation ...
are given the plaintiff's actual demands.'”
Scott, 856 F.3d at 194 (quoting Brill v.
Countrywide Home Loans, Inc., 427 F.3d 446, 449 (7th
Cir. 2005)). 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)
Amount in Controversy
sole issue before the Court is whether the amount in
controversy exceeds the jurisdictional minimum of $75,
Plaintiff does not specify in the Complaint the amount of
damages he seeks so the Court must determine whether
Defendants have introduced sufficient facts to prove it is
“more likely than not” that the amount in
controversy exceeds the jurisdictional minimum. Landmark
Corp., 945 F.Supp. at 935. First, Defendants argue the
amount in controversy is $1, 775, 000, which is the total
contract value of the five policies at issue. (ECF No. 9 at
1.) In the alternative, Defendants argue that, if the claim
is less than the total value of these policies, the amount in
controversy is still met because the contract premium for the
five policies is $14, 401 per year, and Defendants further
argue that Plaintiff claims he is being wrongly denied the
Waiver for all the ...