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Knight v. Nationwide Insurance Co. of America

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division

July 12, 2017

DOUGLAS KNIGHT, Plaintiff,
v.
NATIONWIDE INSURANCE COMPANY OF AMERICA, Defendant.

          ORDER

          FERNANDO J. GAITAN, JR., United States District Judge

         Currently pending before the Court is defendant's Motion to Transfer Venue (Doc. # 2); defendant's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. # 4) and plaintiff's Motion to Remand (Doc. # 10).

         I. BACKGROUND

         On September 21, 2014, plaintiff Douglas Knight was involved in a motor vehicle accident with Danielle Ely. Knight alleges that Ely was operating her car while under the influence of alcohol. Knight asserts that Ely's car crossed the center dividing line, striking his car head-on, causing him to suffer serious injuries to his head, neck, ear, shoulder and back. On July 20, 2016, Knight issued a claim for payment of the $100, 000 policy limits of his underinsured motorist (“UIM”) coverage benefits to Nationwide Insurance Company of America (“Nationwide”). On August 29, 2016, Nationwide denied Knight's UIM claim on the basis that the policy did not provide $100, 000.00 in UIM coverage. (Plaintiff's Petition, Doc. 1-1).

         On August 31, 2016, Nationwide filed a Declaratory Judgment Action in the Eastern District of Missouri (Case No. 4:16CV01401RLW). Nationwide was seeking an interpretation of an insurance policy that it issued to Knight and a declaratory judgment defining its rights and obligations to Knight. Nationwide's claim arose from Knight's claim for UIM benefits. Nationwide is seeking a declaration that it does not owe UIM benefits to Knight.

         Almost a month after Nationwide filed its declaratory judgment action, Knight filed an action in the Circuit Court of Jackson County, Missouri, on September 21, 2016 against Nationwide asserting claims for breach of contract, vexatious refusal to pay and declaratory judgment. Knight alleged that his automobile insurance policy shows that he purchased $100, 000 per person limits of underinsured motorist coverage. Knight states that the policy “promises to provide payment for Mr. Knight's damages from bodily injury cause by negligence of an underinsured motorist in excess of the tortfeasor's insurance policy limits up to $100, 000 per person.” (Complaint, ¶34). Knight also alleges that he “suffered in excess of $100, 000 of damages due to bodily injury and therefore Ms. Ely was an underinsured motorist.” (Complaint ¶ 35). In Count I of his petition, plaintiff asserts a breach of contract action against Nationwide. In Count II of his petition, plaintiff asserts that Nationwide vexatiously refused to pay his claim under the policy. Under this count, plaintiff seeks judgment against Nationwide for an additional amount as a penalty not to exceed 20% of the first $1, 500 of plaintiff's damages, 10% of the remainder of such award and interest. Plaintiff also seeks attorney fees and costs. In Count III of his petition, plaintiff seeks a declaration that “[t]he limits of liability of underinsured motor vehicle coverage which are available under the policy sold by Defendant Nationwide Insurance Company to Plaintiff Douglas Knight are $100, 000.” (Complaint - Count III).

         Nationwide was served on November 30, 2016 and removed the case to the Western District of Missouri on December 29, 2016. Nationwide asserts that jurisdiction is proper as plaintiff is a Missouri resident residing in Hickory County and Nationwide is a Wisconsin corporation with its principal place of business in Des Moines, Iowa. Nationwide claims that the amount in controversy has been met because Knight is seeking the full value of his $100, 000 underinsured motorist benefits, has asserted that Nationwide has vexatiously refused to pay these benefits and is seeking a declaration that the policy provides coverage in the amount of $100, 000.00.

         Nationwide states that this action was removed to the Western District of Missouri, because plaintiff filed his petition in Jackson County, Missouri. However, Nationwide states that venue in Jackson County is not proper, as the accident occurred in St. Charles County, Missouri, which is located in the Eastern District of Missouri. Additionally, Nationwide states that it filed its declaratory judgment action in the Eastern District of Missouri three weeks before plaintiff filed the present action in Jackson County. Nationwide has also contemporaneously filed a Motion for a Change of Venue and a Motion to Dismiss.

         Knight has moved to remand stating that he has not requested damages in excess of $75, 000 and has limited his recovery to $75, 000 or less. Plaintiff requests leave to amend his petition to clarify and/or remove the declaratory judgment count if the Court determines that the amount in controversy requirement is met by this declaratory judgment count.

         Plaintiff is a Missouri resident. Defendant Nationwide is domiciled in Wisconsin and has its principal place of business in Des Moines, Iowa. Thus, Nationwide is considered as a citizen of either Wisconsin or Iowa for diversity purposes.

         I. STANDARD

         In Bank of America v. Pennington-Thurman, No. 4:15-CV-381 RLW, 2015 WL 5518728 (E.D.Mo. Sept. 17, 2015), the Court noted:

[r]emoval statutes are strictly construed, and any doubts about the correctness of removal are resolved in favor of state court jurisdiction and remand. . . . A civil action brought in state court may be removed to the proper district court if the district court has original jurisdiction of the action. 28 U.S.C.ยง 1441(a). Federal district courts have original jurisdiction in all civil actions between citizens of different states if the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000.00, exclusive of interest and costs. . . . The party ...

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