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Stevenson v. National Union Fire Insurance Co. of Pittsburgh, PA

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

January 16, 2018

CALVIN STEVENSON ET AL., Plaintiffs
v.
NATIONAL UNION FIRE INSURANCE COMPANY OF PITTSBURGH, PA, Defendant

         SECTION: “E” (4)

          ORDER AND REASONS

          SUSIE MORGAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiffs Calvin Stevenson, Jr. and Gilmore Wheeler, Jr. filed suit in this case on October 26, 2017, in the Civil District Court for the Parish of Orleans, State of Louisiana.[1]On December 1, 2017, Defendant National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, PA (“National Union”) removed the case to the Eastern District of Louisiana.[2] Concerned with whether the necessary amount in controversy was met, the Court ordered National Union to provide “summary judgment-type evidence” demonstrating the amount in controversy in this matter exceeds $75, 000.[3] In response, National Union filed a memorandum on December 18, 2017 stating that the parties had discussed the issue, and, agreeing that neither party's claim exceeds $75, 000, signed a stipulation whereby Plaintiffs agreed to waive all damages to which they may be entitled against National Union that exceed $75, 000, and that “they will not ask the Judge or jury to award, and will not seek to enforce any Judgment that comes from this action that is over $75, 000, inclusive of statutory fees and penalties, and exclusive of interests and costs.”[4] The Court finds Plaintiffs' stipulation is sufficient to demonstrate that it is a “legal certainty” Plaintiffs will not be able to recover damages beyond the jurisdictional amount. For the reasons that follow, this action is hereby remanded to the Civil District Court, Parish of Orleans, State of Louisiana.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs Calvin Stevenson, Jr. and Gilmore Wheeler, Jr. filed suit in this case on October 26, 2017, in the Civil District Court for the Parish of Orleans, State of Louisiana.[5]Plaintiffs allege they suffered damages as the result of an automobile collision on November 22, 2016. Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that Plaintiff Stevenson was the driver and Plaintiff Wheeler was one of the five unrestrained passengers on a bus that was hit by an underinsured driver, Luzviminda Spears.[6] In their original petition, Plaintiffs did not specify the amount of damages they claimed. Instead, Plaintiffs allege that, as a result of this incident and resulting injuries, they sustained as follows: (1) past, present, and future medical expenses; (2) past, present, and future physical pain and suffering; (3) past, present, and future mental anguish and suffering; (4) permanent disability and loss of function; (5) loss of enjoyment of life; (6) property damage; and (7) loss of earning capacity.[7]

         On December 1, 2017, National Union removed this case to federal court.[8] In its notice of removal, National Union explains:

The Fifth Circuit has found the amount in controversy requirement to be satisfied in cases where plaintiffs allege far less significant injuries and categories of damages in their state court pleadings. Accordingly, it is facially apparent from the allegations in Plaintiff's Petition for Damages that the amount in controversy for their alleged “severe and disabling injuries' exceeds $75, 000.[9]

         On December 8, 2017, the Court ordered that Defendant provide additional evidence demonstrating that the amount in controversy is met.[10]

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction and possess only the authority conferred upon them by the United States Constitution or by Congress.[11] Therefore, the Court has an “independent obligation to determine whether subject-matter jurisdiction exists, even in the absence of a challenge from any party.”[12] Federal law allows for state civil suits to be removed to federal courts in certain instances. Generally, removal jurisdiction is governed by 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a), which provides:

Except as otherwise expressly provided by [an] Act of Congress, any civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction, may be removed by the defendant or the defendants, to the district court of the United States for the district and division embracing the place where such action is pending.[13]

         “The removing party bears the burden of showing that federal jurisdiction exists and that removal was proper.”[14] When removal is based on federal diversity jurisdiction, the removing party must show that (1) complete diversity of citizenship exists between the parties, and (2) the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000.00, exclusive of interest and costs[15] “The jurisdictional facts supporting removal are examined as of the time of removal.”[16] “Ambiguities are construed against removal and in favor of remand because removal statutes are to be strictly construed.”[17]

         LAW AND ANALYSIS

         The Fifth Circuit has “established a clear analytical framework for resolving disputes concerning the amount in controversy for actions removed from Louisiana state courts pursuant to 1332(a)(1).”[18] Because Louisiana law prohibits state-court plaintiffs from claiming a specific amount of damages, [19] the removing defendant must establish by a preponderance of the evidence that the amount in controversy exceeds the $75, 000.00 jurisdictional amount at the time of removal.[20] The removing defendant may meet its burden in one of two ways, either (1) by demonstrating that it was “facially apparent” from the allegations of the state court petition that the amount in controversy exceeded the $75, ...


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