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Cadence Bank N.A. v. Allianz Life Insurancy Co. of North America

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division

November 27, 2017

CADENCE BANK, N.A., Plaintiff,
v.
ALLIANZ LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY OF NORTH AMERICA, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          John E. Ott, Chief United States Magistrate Judge.

         This case is before the Court on the Plaintiff's motion to remand the case to the Circuit Court of Jefferson County, Alabama. (Doc. 8). The motion includes a request for an award of attorney's fees and costs incurred as a result of the removal. The Defendant has filed a response in opposition to the motion to remand (doc. 14) and the Plaintiff has replied (doc.17). For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant the Plaintiff's motion to remand but deny its request for fees and costs.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff Cadence Bank, N.A. (“Cadence”) filed this action in the Circuit Court of Jefferson County, Alabama. (Doc. 1-1, Complaint). The action arises from a security interest held by Cadence in an annuity issued by defendant Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America (“Allianz”). The annuity was pledged as security for a loan made by Cadence to a third-party. In its complaint, Cadence alleges that Allianz allowed withdrawals from the annuity without Cadence's knowledge or consent and in violation of Cadence's security interest. Cadence alleges that, when the third-party subsequently defaulted on the loan, the remaining value of the annuity was insufficient to pay off the entire amount due, and that a deficiency of $41, 348.92 remained on the loan as a result of the unauthorized withdrawals permitted by Allianz. Cadence has asserted claims against Allianz for breach of the annuity contract (Count One), conversion of funds from the annuity (Count Two), and negligence (Count Three). All three counts demand judgment against Allianz “in the amount of $41, 348.92, plus applicable prejudgment interest and costs” as well as “such further and different relief as the Court may deem just and appropriate.” (Complaint, Counts One, Two & Three).

         Allianz timely removed the case to this Court. (Doc. 1, Notice of Removal). In its notice of removal, Allianz asserts that the Court has diversity jurisdiction over the case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). Alliance avers that there is complete diversity of citizenship between the parties and that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000.00, exclusive of interest and costs, notwithstanding Cadence's demand for only $41, 348.92 in damages in each count of its complaint. Allianz contends that the actual amount in controversy is the difference between the value of the annuity before Allianz allegedly allowed the unauthorized withdrawals ($345, 515.59) and its value afterwards ($213, 000.00), or $132, 515.59. (Notice of Removal, ¶ 8).

         Following removal, Cadence filed the instant motion to remand. (Doc. 8). Although Cadence does not dispute that there is complete diversity of citizenship between the parties, it argues that Allianz has not established the minimum amount in controversy for purposes of diversity jurisdiction. Cadence insists that the amount in controversy is $41, 348.92, an amount that is far less than the jurisdictional threshold of $75, 000.00. (Doc. 8, ¶ 2).

         DISCUSSION

         A. Legal Standard

         “A removing defendant bears the burden of proving proper federal jurisdiction.” Leonard v. Enterprise Rent A Car, 279 F.3d 967, 972 (11th Cir. 2002). Because federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, the removing defendant's burden is a heavy one:

While a defendant does have a right, given by statute, to remove in certain situations, plaintiff is still the master of his own claim. Defendant's right to remove and plaintiff's right to choose his forum are not on equal footing; for example, unlike the rules applied when plaintiff has filed suit in federal court with a claim that, on its face, satisfies the jurisdictional amount, removal statutes are construed narrowly; where plaintiff and defendant clash about jurisdiction, uncertainties are resolved in favor of remand.

Burns v. Windsor Ins. Co., 31 F.3d 1092, 1095 (11th Cir. 1994) (internal citations omitted).

         Where, as here, a complaint filed in state court expressly pleads an amount in controversy that is less than the jurisdictional minimum set by 42 U.S.C. § 1332(a), “the sum demanded in good faith in the initial pleading shall be deemed to be the amount in controversy.” 28 U.S.C. § 1446(c)(2). To overcome this presumption, the removing party must establish “by the preponderance of the evidence” that the amount in controversy actually exceeds $75, 000.00. 28 U.S.C. § 1446(c)(2)(B). Where a plaintiff disputes a defendant's allegation that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000.00, “[t]he Court must find that it is ‘more likely than not' that the plaintiff could recover more than $75, 000 from the defendant[ ] in order for jurisdiction to exist under Section 1332.” Bennett v. Williams, No. 7:17-cv-00602-LSC, 2017 WL 3781187, *1 (N.D. Ala. Aug. 31, 2017) (quoting Roe v. Michelin N. Am., Inc., 613 F.3d 1058, 1061 (11th Cir. 2010). Moreover, if a plaintiff “does not desire to try his case in the federal court he may resort to the expedient of suing for less than the jurisdictional amount, and though he would be justly entitled to more, the defendant cannot remove.” St. Paul Mercury Indem. Co. v. Red Cab Co., 303 U.S. 283, 294 (1938).

         B. Analysis

         In its opposition to Cadence's motion to remand, Allianz correctly notes that “Alabama practice permits a plaintiff to recover damages in excess of the amount it demands in its complaint.” (Doc. 14 at 3) (citing Ala. R. Civ. P. 54(c)). Allianz then argues that “the preponderance of the evidence shows that the amount in controversy [in this case] exceeds the specifically pled amount of $41, 348.92.” (Id. at 4). Allianz advances three arguments for why the amount in ...


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