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Ross v. Prudential Insurance Co. of America

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Charleston Division

October 17, 2019

JOSEPH H. ROSS, Plaintiff,
v.
PRUDENTIAL INSURANCE COMPANY OF AMERICA, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          THOMAS E. JOHNSTON, CHIEF JUDGE.

         Pending before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion to Remand. (ECF No. 6.) For the reasons discussed more fully below, the Court GRANTS the motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This 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”).[1] (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.)

         In 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, ¶¶ 46-47.)

         On 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.)

         Plaintiff 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 consideration.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         As 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)).

         “If 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).

         In 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) (citation omitted).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Amount in Controversy

         The sole issue before the Court is whether the amount in controversy exceeds the jurisdictional minimum of $75, 000.[2] 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 ...


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