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Barber v. Zurich American Insurance Co.

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

January 7, 2015

ROBERT BARBER, Plaintiff,
v.
ZURICH AMERICAN INSURANCE COMPANY and GREAT AMERICAN ASSURANCE COMPANY, Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

LAWRENCE P. ZATKOFF, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion to Remand [dkt. 5]. The motion has been fully briefed. The Court finds that the facts and legal arguments are adequately presented in the parties' papers such that the decision process would not be significantly aided by oral argument. Therefore, pursuant to E.D. Mich. L.R. 7.1(f)(2), it is hereby ORDERED that the motion be resolved on the briefs submitted, without oral argument. For the following reasons, Plaintiff's motion is DENIED.

II. BACKGROUND

This case presents a dispute over personal injury protection benefits. On June 13, 2014, Plaintiff Robert Barber ("Plaintiff") filed an amended complaint in Wayne County Circuit Court against Defendants Great American Assurance Company ("Defendant GAAC") and Zurich American Insurance Company ("Defendant Zurich"), alleging that Defendants breached contracts they have with Plaintiff by refusing to pay insurance benefits ("Plaintiff's first amended complaint"). Plaintiff's first amended complaint also requests declaratory relief, including a request for determination of the applicability of certain statutes, the amount of benefits owed to Plaintiff, and whether reductions or setoffs may be claimed by Defendants. On July 15, 2014, Defendant GAAC filed a timely Notice of Removal with this Court [dkt. 1]. It is this removal that Plaintiff now challenges.[1]

III. LEGAL STANDARD

A civil case filed in state court may be removed to federal court if it could have been brought in federal court originally. See 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). Federal courts have original, diversity jurisdiction where the amount-in-controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000.00, exclusive of interest and costs, and is between citizens of different states. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332. The Sixth Circuit has stated that:

[a] defendant wishing to remove a case bears the burden of satisfying the amountin-controversy requirement. Gafford v. Gen. Elec. Co., 997 F.2d 150, 155 (6th Cir. 1993). Normally, "the sum claimed by the plaintiff controls, " id. at 156, but where plaintiffs seek "to recover some unspecified amount that is not selfevidently greater or less than the federal amount-in-controversy requirement, " the defendant satisfies its burden when it proves that the amount in controversy "more likely than not" exceeds $75, 000, id. at 158.

Everett v. Verizon Wireless, Inc., 460 F.3d 818, 822 (6th Cir. 2006). "A defendant desiring to remove a case has the burden of proving the diversity jurisdiction requirements by a preponderance of the evidence[.]" Id. at 829 (citing Gafford, 997 F.2d at 155) (internal quotations omitted). Finally, the Sixth Circuit recently clarified that the amount-in-controversy is appraised directly from "the plaintiff's complaint." See Siding & Insulation Co. v. Acuity Mut. Ins. Co., 754 F.3d 367, 369 (6th Cir. 2014)

IV. ANALYSIS

As the parties do not dispute this matter is between citizens of different states, the central issue before the Court is whether the jurisdictional threshold codified in 28 U.S.C. § 1332 has been satisfied. As is established below, the Court finds that Defendant has met its burden in proving that the amount-in-controversy "more likely than not" is above the $75, 000.00 threshold required by 28 U.S.C. § 1332 for this Court to retain jurisdiction.

As articulated above, this Court must address the amount-in-controversy by appraising Plaintiff's first amended complaint. In considering Plaintiff's first amended complaint, the Court finds that Defendant GAAC is correct in asserting that Plaintiff failed to identify with any particularity the amount of damages claimed. Instead, Plaintiff's first amended complaint contends "[t]he amount in controversy exceeds $25, 000[.]" Dkt. # 1, Ex. A, p. 7. Plaintiff's first amended complaint concludes by requesting an "award of damages in whatever amount he is found entitled in excess of $25, 000, plus Interest [sic], costs, and no-fault attorney fees." Id. at p. 9. The Court finds that this "unspecified amount... is not self-evidently greater or less than the federal amount-in-controversy requirement, " and that Defendant must thus prove the amount-incontroversy "more likely than not" exceeds $75, 000.00. See Everett, 460 F.3d at 822.

As proof that the amount-in-controversy "more likely than not" exceeds $75, 000.00, Defendant GAAC states in its Notice of Removal that "Plaintiff... was not willing to commit to an Order that damages will not exceed $75, 000.00, notwithstanding Defendant's request made on July 14, 2014." Dkt. # 1, p. 6. Further, Defendant GAAC argues the allegations contained in Plaintiff's first amended complaint reasonably allowed Defendant GAAC to conclude the amount-in-controversy jurisdictional limit was met. These allegations include:

7. Under the terms and conditions of the automobile insurance policy, Defendant became obligated to pay to or on behalf of Plaintiff certain expenses or losses if Plaintiff sustained bodily injury or death in an accident arising out of the ...

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