United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division
FERNANDO J. GAITAN, JR., United States District Judge
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).
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).
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.
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).
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.§ 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