United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Western Division
MEMORANDUM OF OPINION
SCOTT COOGLER UNITED STATES DISTTRICT JUDGE
Connie Bennett (“Bennett”) initially brought this
action in Alabama state court against Defendants Christopher
N. Williams (“Williams”), Werner Enterprises,
Inc. (“Werner Enterprises”), Access Insurance
Company (“Access Insurance”) (collectively,
“Defendants”), and several fictitious defendants.
The complaint alleges state-law claims arising out of a motor
vehicle accident. Defendants removed the case to this Court
on April 13, 2017. (Doc. 1.) Before this Court is
Bennett's Motion to Remand. (Doc. 5.) For the reasons
stated more fully herein, the motion is due to be granted and
this matter remanded.
complaint alleges that on December 22, 2015, Bennett and
Williams were involved in a motor vehicle accident in
Tuscaloosa, Alabama. At the time of the accident, Williams
was driving a tractor-trailer owned by his employer, Werner
Enterprises. Bennett was insured by, and a beneficiary of, a
policy issued by Access Insurance protecting against bodily
injury, death, and property damage from uninsured or
Standard of Review
Court, like all federal courts, is a court “of limited
jurisdiction.” Jackson-Platts v. Gen. Elec. Capital
Corp., 727 F.3d 1127, 1134 (11th Cir. 2013). It is
authorized to hear only those cases falling within “one
of three types of subject matter jurisdiction: (1)
jurisdiction under a specific statutory grant; (2) federal
question jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331; or
(3) diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
1332(a).” PTA-FLA, Inc. v. ZTE USA, Inc., 844
F.3d 1299, 1305 (11th Cir. 2016). A defendant may remove an
action initially filed in state court to federal court if the
action is one over which the federal court has original
jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). “[A] defendant
seeking to remove a case to a federal court must file in the
federal forum a notice of removal ‘containing a short
and plain statement of the grounds for removal.'”
Dart Cherokee Basin Operating Co. v. Owens, 135
S.Ct. 547, 553 (2014) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 1446(a)).
notice of removal (Doc. 1) claims that this Court may
exercise diversity jurisdiction over this action. Diversity
jurisdiction exists if there is complete diversity of
citizenship between the parties and the amount in controversy
exceeds $75, 000. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). Where a
defendant's notice of removal makes a good-faith claim
for a specific amount in controversy, his “allegation
should be accepted when not contested by the plaintiff or
questioned by the court.” Dart Cherokee, 135
S.Ct. at 553.
when a defendant's amount-in-controversy allegation is
“contested by the plaintiff or questioned by the court,
” id., then “both [plaintiff and
defendant] submit proof and the court decides, by a
preponderance of the evidence, whether the
amount-in-controversy requirement has been satisfied.”
Id. at 554. The Court must find that it is
“more likely than not” that the plaintiff could
recover more than $75, 000 from the defendants in order for
jurisdiction to exist under Section 1332. Roe v. Michelin
N. Am., Inc., 613 F.3d 1058, 1061 (11th Cir. 2010). The
removing party bears the burden of proof to establish that
the amount in controversy exceeds the jurisdictional minimum.
Dudley v. Eli Lilly and Co., 778 F.3d 909, 913 (11th
Cir. 2014). Any doubt about the existence of federal
jurisdiction “should be resolved in favor of remand to
state court.” City of Vestavia Hills v. Gen. Fid.
Ins. Co., 676 F.3d 1310, 1313 (11th Cir. 2012) (quoting
Univ. of S. Ala. v. Am. Tobacco Co., 168 F.3d 405,
411 (11th Cir. 1999)).
have alleged that the amount-in-controversy requirement has
been met due to the wide-ranging damages sought in
Bennett's complaint. (Doc. 1 at 4-7). Specifically,
Defendants argue Bennett's complaint seeks compensatory
damages for serious injury, pain and suffering, future
medical expenses, loss of ability to pursue normal
activities, loss of earning capacity, lost wages, and
property damage, in addition to punitive damages. Though
Bennett's complaint and Defendants' Notice of Removal
aver Bennett suffered “serious” and
“permanent” injuries as a result of the accident,
neither is specific about the nature and extent of those
injuries. Id. The Court has questioned Defendants
about the sufficiency of Defendants'
amount-in-controversy allegations. In the same vein Bennett
in her motion to remand argues the Court lacks jurisdiction
because the amount in controversy does not exceed $75, 000.
(Doc. 5.) Thus, under Dart Cherokee, this Court must
look past the parties' allegations to evidence submitted
by both sides of the amount in controversy. 135 S.Ct. at 554.
In doing so the Court “must make findings of
jurisdictional fact to which the preponderance standard
applies.” Id. (quoting H.R.Rep. No. 112-10, p.
16 (2011)). If “the jurisdictional amount is not
facially apparent from the complaint, ” this Court
“look[s] to the notice of removal and may require
evidence relevant to the amount in controversy at the time
the case was removed.” Williams v. Best Buy Co.,
Inc., 269 F.3d 1316, 1319 (11th Cir. 2001). “Where
the pleadings are inadequate, [this Court] may review the
record to find evidence that diversity jurisdiction
exists.” Id. at 1320.
notice of removal, Defendants rely solely on the allegations
from the complaint as set out above. These allegations are
devoid of “specific facts on the amount in controversy,
” and Defendants have not provided “their own
affidavits, declarations, or other documentation” in
support of federal jurisdiction. See Pretka v. Kolter
City Plaza II, Inc., 608 F.3d 744, 752, 755 (11th Cir.
2010). The Court is left with no evidence from Defendants
from which it can draw “reasonable inferences and
deductions.” Dudley, 778 F.3d at 913 (quoting
S. Fla. Wellness v. Allstate Ins. Co., 745 F.3d
1312, 1315 (11th Cir. 2014)). “Serious” and
“permanent” injury accompanied by “pain and
suffering” and “loss of ability to pursue normal
activities” could be a minor injury or total paralysis.
The general allegations made in the complaint and notice of
removal simply do not provide the evidence needed to analyze
the amount in controversy. Bennett, on the other hand, offers
evidence that her medical expenses due to the “neck and
back pain” she suffered as a result of the accident
total only $1, 637.50. Where the sole definite expense shown
by either party does not exceed $2, 000, it is difficult to
imagine, using “judicial experience and common sense,
that [the] claim satisfies the amount-in-controversy
requirement, ” Roe, 613 F.3d at 1064.
cite Smith v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Co.
from the United States District Court for the Northern
District of Alabama for the principle that if Bennett does
not “in [her] complaint formally and expressly disclaim
any entitlement to more than $74, 999.99, and categorically
state that [she] will never accept more, ” then she is
subject to federal jurisdiction. 868 F.Supp.2d 1333, 1335
(N.D. Ala. 2012). This opinion is not binding or persuasive
authority. Defendants' burden-shifting argument ignores
Dart Cherokee's removal inquiry and Eleventh
Circuit precedent. Dart Cherokee, 135 S.Ct. at
553-54; Dudley, 778 F.3d at 912-13; see also
Pretka, 608 F.3d at 754 (Defendant may prove amount in
controversy by “mak[ing] specific factual allegations
establishing jurisdiction and . . . support[ing] them . . .
with evidence combined with reasonable deductions, reasonable
inferences, or other reasonable extrapolations.”).
Defendants have failed to submit any evidence that
“with reasonable deductions, reasonable inferences, or
other reasonable extrapolations, ” Pretka, 608
F.3d at 754, could show an amount in controversy that
“exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000.” 28 U.S.C.
also assert that Bennett's claim for uninsured- or
underinsured-motorist benefits against Access Insurance is
proof that she seeks more than $75, 000 in the action because
federal law requires Werner Enterprises, Williams'
employer, to maintain at least $750, 000 of insurance
coverage. (Doc. 10. at 4.) According to Defendants,
Bennett's claim implies that Werner Enterprises
“does not have sufficient financial limits to cover
[her] direct claims against [it] and Mr. Williams alone
because her claims would exceed this amount.”
Eleventh Circuit has not directly addressed Defendants'
argument that Section 1332(a)'s amount in controversy can
be established by Bennett's claim for uninsured- or
underinsured-motorist benefits from her own insurer where the
Defendants' primary policy limit exceeds $ 75, 000.
However, Friedman v. New York Life Ins. Co. has
suggested in dicta that it is not proper to consider the
policy's face value as the amount in controversy, unless
there is an actual dispute about the face value of the
policy. 410 F.3d 1350, 1357 (11th Cir. 2005) (“[If]
there is no controversy involving the face value of the
policy, but only with regards to certain premiums, it would
make no sense to consider the policy's face value to be
the amount in controversy.”). The Court declines to
anchor Section 1332(a)'s jurisdictional minimum on such a
theory. There are many possible reasons why Bennett included
a claim for uninsured- or underinsured-motorist benefits.
Werner Enterprise's insurance provider may seek to defend
under a reservation of right, or coverage may not be
available if ...