United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
C. COLLINS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Jennifer
Buckmaster's Motion for Remand (Doc. 8). The Motion is
fully briefed and ready for disposition. The parties have
consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned United
States Magistrate Judge pursuant to Title 28 U.S.C. §
636(c) (Doc. 5). For the following reasons, Plaintiff's
Motion will be DENIED.
Jennifer Buckmaster (“Buckmaster”) filed this
action for breach of contract (Count I) and Vexatious Refusal
to Pay (Count II) against Defendant Life Insurance Company of
North America, doing business as CIGNA Group Insurance
(“LINA”) on August 9, 2017, in St. Louis City
Circuit Court (Doc. 3). LINA provides long term disability
(“LTD”) benefits to eligible employees of the
Park Hills Public School District (Id. at 1). Ms.
Buckmaster, a former employee of the Park Hills School
District, stopped working in July of 2014 due to various
illnesses (Id. at 2). On November 6, 2014, LINA
approved Ms. Buckmaster's claim for long term disability
benefits (Id.). LINA paid LTD benefits to Ms.
Buckmaster for 24 months before denying her benefits as of
January 6, 2017 (Id. at 5). Ms. Buckmaster indicates
that she is entitled to payment of disability benefits in the
amount of $3, 277 per month and seeks, “past due
long-term disability benefits, for damages as provided in
Section 375.430 R.S.MO,  for prejudgment interest on past due
sums, attorney's fees, costs, and for an Order to pay
Plaintiff future monthly long-term disability benefits”
timely removed this action to this Court on September 19,
2017, based on diversity jurisdiction (Doc. 1). On October
10, 2017, Ms. Buckmaster filed a Motion for Remand in which
Ms. Buckmaster asserts the amount in controversy is not met
because, with offsets, Ms. Buckmaster's monthly benefit
from LINA is $526.57 per month and the “amount in
controversy to date, ” from the January 6, 2017
termination, is only $5, 265.70 (Doc. 8). In its Notice of
Removal, LINA argues that the amount in controversy exceeds
$75, 000 because in her Petition, Ms. Buckmaster alleges that
she is entitled to benefits as of January 6, 2017 as well as
future benefits of $3, 277 per month (Doc. 1 at 3).
Additionally, in response to the Motion for Remand, LINA
provides an email exchange with Plaintiff's counsel
indicating that Plaintiff has valued the case at $110, 579.70
with a monthly benefit of $526.57 for 17.5 years, from January
1, 2017 until Ms. Buckmaster's 67th birthday (Doc. 14-1).
LINA also provided the Court with the Affidavit of Alexandria
Gelb, a Senior Operations Representative for LINA (Doc.
14-2). Ms. Gelb calculates Ms. Buckmaster's potential
benefits as totaling $94, 311.00 (Id.).
courts have original jurisdiction where the parties are
citizens of different states and the amount in controversy
exceeds $75, 000. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). Where a complaint
alleges no specific amount of damages or an amount under the
jurisdictional minimum, the removing party must prove by a
preponderance of the evidence that the amount in controversy
exceeds $75, 000. Bell v. Hershey Co., 557 F.3d 953,
956 (8th Cir. 2009); In re Minnesota Mut. Life Ins. Co.
Sales Practices Litig., 346 F.3d 830, 834 (8th Cir.
2003). “To meet this burden, the defendant must present
some specific facts or evidence.” Harris v.
Transamerica Life Ins. Co., 2014 WL 1316245, at *1 (E.D.
Mo. Apr. 2, 2014) (internal quotation marks omitted). Once
the removing party has established by a preponderance of the
evidence that the jurisdictional minimum is satisfied, remand
is only appropriate if the plaintiff can establish to a legal
certainty that the claim is for less than the requisite
amount. Green v. Dial Corp., 2011 WL 5335412, at *1
(E.D. Mo. Nov. 4, 2011) (citing Bell, 557 F.3d at
956). Doubts concerning federal jurisdiction are resolved in
favor of remand. Bell, 557 F.3d at 956.
has established by a preponderance of the evidence that the
amount in controversy in this case exceeds $75, 000 and Ms.
Buckmaster has failed to establish to a legal certainty that
the claim is less than requisite amount. On the face of the
Petition, the amount in controversy is unclear. Ms.
Buckmaster appears to seek disability benefits in the amount
of $3, 277 per month from January 6, 2017, to an unclarified
time in the future as well as damages specific to her
vexatious refusal to pay claim, interest, attorney's fees
and costs (Doc. 3 at 5). Therefore, the Court must turn to
the specific facts or evidence provided by the parties. As a
preliminary matter, contrary to Ms. Buckmaster's
assertion, future benefits are to be considered when
determining a case's amount in controversy. Engle v.
Life Ins. Co. of N. Am., 2010 WL 2720697, at *2 (E.D.
Mo. July 8, 2010) (quoting Burns v. Massachusetts Mut.
Life Ins. Co., 820 F.2d 246, 249 (8th Cir. 1987))
(“The Eighth Circuit has instructed that ‘[w]here
the heart of a cause of action is a claim for future
benefits, the amount in controversy is the present value of
the claimed future benefit.'”). Here, Plaintiff
expressly seeks future benefits which accrue on a monthly
basis. Even if the Court were to apply the lowest proposed
monthly benefit amount to the projected timeline, by
counsel's own admission, the total benefit award amount
would exceed $75, 000 (Doc. 14-1). Indeed, LINA provided the
Court with the affidavit of Ms. Gibbs calculating the
potential total benefit award as $94, 311.00 using a slightly
higher monthly benefit amount (Doc. 14-2). Further, these
amounts do not include damages for Ms. Buckmaster's
vexatious refusal to pay claim or attorney's fees both of
which may be properly included in calculating the amount in
controversy. Schubert v. Auto Owners Ins. Co., 649
F.3d 817, 822 (8th Cir. 2011) (vexatious refusal to pay);
Young v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 2010 WL
173832, at *2 (E.D. Mo. Jan. 15, 2010) (attorney's fees
associated with a vexatious refusal claim). Ms. Buckmaster
purports to rebut these assertions by pointing to LINA's
affirmative defenses in which LINA argues that any
determination of future benefits should be remanded to LINA
for further administrative proceedings (Docs. 7 at 5, 15 at
2). However, in reviewing the amount in controversy, the
Court should not consider affirmative defenses or
counterclaims. See Stengrim v. Nw. Mut. Life Ins.
Co., 2004 WL 2390070, at *3 n.6 (D. Minn. Oct. 25,
2004). The question is not “whether the damages
actually are greater than the jurisdictional amount but only
whether the fact finder might conclude that they are.”
14AA Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal
Practice and Procedure, § 3702.3 (4th ed. 2017).
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Plaintiff Jennifer
Buckmaster's Motion for Remand (Doc. 8) is
IS FURTHER ORDERED that a Rule 16 Conference will be
set by separate order.
 Plaintiff inadvertently cites to the
incorrect statute. Plaintiff clearly intended to cite to
Missouri Revised Statute § 375.420 which ...