United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division
WILLIAM H. STEELE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is before the Court on the plaintiff's motion to
remand. (Doc. 5). The parties have filed briefs and
evidentiary materials in support of their respective
positions, (Docs. 5-1, 5-2, 7, 8), and the motion is ripe for
resolution. After careful consideration, the Court concludes
the motion is due to be granted.
case began as a suit against Zachariah Cowart
("Zachariah") for damages the plaintiff suffered
when Zachariah ran over her while driving her car, resulting
in compound fractures of her left leg and ankle. The
complaint asserted claims of negligence and wantonness and
sought damages for medical expenses, lost wages, mental
anguish (all past and future) and permanent physical
disfigurement and impairment. (Doc. 1-2).
October 2017, the plaintiff filed an amended complaint,
eliminating Zachariah as a defendant and adding Geico.
According to that pleading, the plaintiff had recently
settled with Zachariah, his liability insurance carrier
paying policy limits. The amended complaint seeks
underinsured motorist benefits from Geico, the
plaintiff's insurer. The amended complaint lists the
plaintiff's damages similarly to the original complaint.
No specific amount of damages is demanded. (Doc. 1-3).
timely removed on the basis of diversity of citizenship. The
parties agree that complete diversity exists,  but the plaintiff
denies that Geico has carried its burden of showing that the
amount in controversy at the time of removal exceeded $75,
000, exclusive of interest and costs.
court's analysis of the amount-in-controversy requirement
focuses on how much is in controversy at the time of removal,
not later.” Pretka v. Kolter City Plaza II,
Inc., 608 F.3d 744, 751 (11th Cir. 2010).
“[W]here jurisdiction is based on a claim for
indeterminate damages, ... the party seeking to invoke
federal jurisdiction bears the burden of proving by a
preponderance of the evidence that the claim on which it is
basing jurisdiction meets the jurisdictional minimum.”
Federated Mutual Insurance Co. v. McKinnon Motors,
LLC, 329 F.3d 805, 807 (11th Cir. 2003).
“[A] removing defendant must prove by a preponderance
of the evidence that the amount in controversy more likely
than not exceeds the … jurisdictional
requirement.” Roe v. Michelin North America,
Inc., 613 F.3d 1058, 1061 (11th Cir. 2010)
(internal quotes omitted); accord 28 U.S.C. §
1446(c)(2)(B). Geico acknowledges its burden. (Doc. 1 at 3).
the complaint does not claim a specific amount of damages,
removal from state court is proper if it is facially apparent
from the complaint that the amount in controversy exceeds the
jurisdictional amount. If the jurisdictional amount is not
facially apparent from the complaint, the court should look
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., 269 F.3d
1316, 1319 (11th Cir. 2001).
relies on the following to meet its burden: (1) its policy
limits exceed $75, 000; (2) the plaintiff demanded payment of
benefits under the policy; (3) the plaintiff characterized
her injuries as life-threatening; (4) the amended complaint
contains a laundry list of damages; and (5) medical records
and deposition testimony reflect the extent of the
plaintiff's injuries and medical treatment. (Doc. 1 at
3-5; Doc. 7 at 1-3).
policy limits exceed $75, 000 establishes that the amount in
controversy could exceed that amount, but it says
nothing about whether it does exceed that amount,
for the simple reason that an insured plaintiff's damages
in any given case may fall far short of her policy limits.
plaintiff demanded policy limits, that would say a great deal
about the amount in controversy, but she did not. Geico
relies on the amended complaint's allegation that the
plaintiff "has made demand upon GEICO for payment of
benefits pursuant to her contract of automobile
insurance." (Doc. 1-3 at 2). This language indicates a
demand simply for the payment of such benefits as would make
her whole, which begs the question of what that amount would
addressing the remainder of Geico's arguments, it is
necessary to recount the history of this action. As noted,
the plaintiff's injuries were caused by Zachariah, and
the plaintiff settled with him before suing Geico. That
settlement involved payment of policy limits by
Zachariah's insurer. Those limits, which the plaintiff
received, were $100, 000. (Doc. 5-1 at 2). The parties
disagree regarding the impact of these facts on the amount in
controversy. The plaintiff believes this payment reduced the
amount in controversy by $100, 000, pre-removal, from
whatever it would have been but for the payment. (Doc. 5-1 at
2). Geico believes the payment is irrelevant to the amount in
controversy at the moment of removal and that the payment can
be considered only at the conclusion of the litigation, when
it can demand a setoff of $100, 000 against any verdict
rendered against it. (Doc. 7 at 2 n.1).
only relevant case cited by either side is Reed v. State
Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., 2007 WL 2230586
(S.D. Ala. 2007). That case, though presented by Geico,
supports the plaintiff's position. In Reed, the
plaintiff sued the defendant for uninsured/underinsured
motorist benefits. Only $50, 000 in such benefits was
available, but the defendant argued that $155, 000 was in
controversy because the plaintiff had received $105, 000 in
other insurance and so would have to prove $155, 000 in
damages in order to recover the $50, 000. The Court ruled
that, for purposes of determining the amount in controversy,
what mattered was the amount of damages the plaintiff could
recover, not the amount of damages he would have to prove in
order to recover the lower amount. Id. at *2.
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