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Cain v. James Rivers Insurance Co.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

September 24, 2018

RELESTER CAIN
v.
JAMES RIVER INSURANCE COMPANY

         SECTION I

          ORDER & REASONS

          LANCE M. AFRICK UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is plaintiffs Relester Cain (“Cain”), Xavier Ball (“Ball”), and Bryanna McClendon's (“McClendon”) (collectively, the “plaintiffs”) motion[1] to remand the above-captioned matter to Louisiana state court. For the following reasons, the motion is granted.

         I.

         This case arises out of a May 2017 accident in which the plaintiffs, who were riding in one vehicle, were struck by another driver.[2] The other driver had an insurance policy that was allegedly insufficient to adequately compensate the plaintiffs, so they sought additional compensation from defendant James River Insurance Company (“James River”), their underinsured motorist coverage provider.[3]

         According to the plaintiffs' state court petition, James River refused to provide coverage.[4] Consequently, the plaintiffs filed the present lawsuit in the Civil District Court for the Parish of Orleans.[5] In August 2018, James River removed the case to this Court.[6] James River contends that this Court has original jurisdiction over this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332.[7]

         II.

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a), “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, ” unless Congress provides otherwise. Jurisdictional facts supporting removal are assessed at the time of removal. Louisiana v. Am. Nat'l Prop. Cas. Co., 746 F.3d 633, 636-37 (5th Cir. 2014). “The removing party bears the burden of establishing that federal jurisdiction exists.” De Aguilar v. Boeing Co., 47 F.3d 1404, 1408 (5th Cir. 1995).

         Pursuant to Section 1332, a district court has original jurisdiction over cases in which the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs, and the parties are citizens of different states. It is uncontested that the parties are completely diverse, as the plaintiffs are all citizens of Louisiana and James River is a foreign corporation.[8] However, the plaintiffs dispute the amount in controversy. They assert that the jurisdictional amount did not exceed $75, 000 at the time of removal and that, as a result, the Court must remand this case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.[9]

         When faced with an amount-in-controversy dispute, the applicable standard of proof depends on whether the plaintiff's state court petition alleges a specific dollar amount in damages. Allen v. R & H Oil & Gas Co., 63 F.3d 1326, 1335 (5th Cir. 1995) When the petition alleges a specific amount and that amount exceeds $75, 000, such amount “controls in good faith.” Id. “In order for the court to refuse jurisdiction, ‘it [must] appear to a legal certainty that the claim is really for less than the jurisdictional amount.'” Id. (quoting St. Paul Mercury Indem. Co. v. Red Cab. Co., 303 U.S. 283, 289 (1983)).

         However, in cases, such as this one, where the petition does not specify a damages amount, the removing defendant must establish that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs, by a preponderance of the evidence. Id.[10] “This requirement is met if (1) it is apparent from the face of the petition that the claims are likely to exceed $75, 000, or, alternatively, (2) the defendant sets forth ‘summary judgment type evidence' of facts in controversy that support a finding of the requisite amount.” Manguno v. Prudential Prop. & Cas. Co., 276 F.3d 720, 723 (5th Cir. 2002) (citations omitted). Once the defendant has met his burden, the plaintiff can only defeat jurisdiction by “showing to a ‘legal certainty' that the amount in controversy does not exceed $75, 000.” Grant v. Chevron Phillips Chem. Co., 309 F.3d 864, 869 (5th Cir. 2002) (quoting De Aguilar v. Boeing Co., 47 F.3d 1404, 1412 (5th Cir. 1995)).[11]

         III.

         Cain has sworn in an affidavit that she is not seeking to recover monetary damages in excess of $75, 000. However, the Fifth Circuit has held that such post-removal affidavits are of limited significance:

While post-removal affidavits may be considered in determining the amount in controversy at the time of removal, such affidavits may be considered only if the basis for jurisdiction is ambiguous at the time of removal. . . . [I]f it is facially apparent from the petition that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000 at the time of removal, post-removal affidavits, ...

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