United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division
ELECTRA E. JACKSON, Plaintiff,
GEICO CASUALTY COMPANY, Defendant.
STEPHEN R. BOUGH UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the Court is Plaintiff's Motion to Remand. (Doc. #7). For
the following reasons the motion is granted. The case is
remanded to the Circuit Court of Jackson County, Missouri.
The Clerk of the Court is directed to mail a certified copy
of this Order to the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Jackson
County, Missouri, as required by 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c).
Electra Jackson (“Plaintiff”) filed this action
in the Circuit Court of Jackson County, Missouri, against
Defendant GEICO Casualty Company (“Defendant”)
alleging breach of contract, vexatious refusal, and
negligence. In her Petition, Plaintiff seeks damages for
breach of contract “in an amount in excess of $15,
000.” (Doc. #1-1, ¶ 13). Plaintiff seeks
“Vexatious Refusal damages specified in Missouri
Revised Statutes Section 375.420 including attorney's
fees.” (Doc. #1-1, ¶18). Plaintiff also seeks
“actual damages, punitive damages, and attorney's
fees” for her negligence claim. (Doc. #1-1, ¶ 25).
Defendant subsequently filed a Notice of Removal to this
Court on the basis of diversity of citizenship. Plaintiff
then filed this Motion for Remand for lack of subject matter
jurisdiction, arguing the amount in controversy does not
exceed $75, 000. Plaintiff also seeks an award of
may remove an action to federal court if there is complete
diversity of the parties and the amount in controversy
exceeds $75, 000. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332(a), 1441(a).
“The sum demanded in good faith in the initial pleading
shall be deemed to be the amount in controversy[.]”
§ 1446(c)(2). “However, where the plaintiff does
not demand a specific sum, the federal court may retain
jurisdiction if defendant proves ‘by the preponderance
of the evidence that the amount-in-controversy exceeds
[$75, 000].'” Pleasant v. Noble Fin.
Corp., 54 F.Supp.3d 1071, 1076 (W.D. Mo. Oct. 10, 2014)
(quoting § 1446(c)(2)). “[T]he question is not
whether the damages will exceed the jurisdictional amount,
but whether a fact finder might legally find that the damages
exceed that amount.” Walz v. FedEx Office &
Print Servs., Inc., No. 2:12-CV-04188-NKL, 2012 WL
5386058, at *1 (W.D. Mo. Nov. 2, 2012) (citing Bell v.
Hershey, 557 F.3d 953, 959 (8th Cir. 2009)). “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.” Hargis v. Access Capital Funding,
LLC, 674 F.3d 783, 790 (8th Cir. 2012).
parties agree there is complete diversity of the parties in
this case. Plaintiff argues, however, that the amount in
controversy requirement is not satisfied because she filed
the case in the Associate Circuit Court of Jackson County,
Missouri, “which has a jurisdictional maximum of $25,
000.” (Doc. #8, pp. 2-3) (citing Mo. Rev. Stat. §
517.011.1). Therefore, Plaintiff contends, it is impossible
that the amount in controversy will exceed $75, 000. Citing
B.C. Nat'l Banks v. Potts, 30 S.W.3d 220, 222
(Mo.Ct.App. 2000), Defendant argues that the monetary
jurisdictional limit for Associate Circuit Court cases has
been repealed and that, “although Section 517.011 . . .
does create procedures applicable to civil cases in which the
sum demanded does not exceed $25, 000, Plaintiff's
Petition fails to specify that her prayer does not exceed
$25, 000.” (Doc. #13. pp. 1-2). Defendant argues that
“Plaintiff could be awarded (1) a minimum of $15, 000
on her breach of contract claim; (2) $1, 650 for statutory
penalties on her vexatious refusal to pay claim; (3)
statutory attorney's fees in excess of $20, 000; and (4)
$45, 000 on her negligence claim, ” plus $25, 000 in
punitive damages, totaling $106, 650 in damages. (Doc. #13,
Defendant correctly states that a monetary jurisdictional
limit for Associate Circuit Courts is no longer in place and
that Plaintiff did not demand a specific sum, Plaintiff
subsequently stipulated that she does not seek damages in
excess of $75, 000, including attorney's fees and
punitive damages. (Doc. #16). Accordingly, because the amount
in controversy in this case does not exceed $75, 000, this
Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction on the basis of
diversity of citizenship. The case shall be remanded.
Plaintiff's request for attorney's fees pursuant to
28 U.S.C. § 1441(c) is denied. Plaintiff's request
for attorney's fees is predicated on her incorrect belief
that the Associate Circuit Court is limited to hearing cases
in which the maximum amount in controversy is $25, 000, which
led Plaintiff to argue there was “no objective reason
why Defendant could have believed that the amount in
controversy exceeded [$75, 000].” (Doc. #8, p. 7).
Similarly, Plaintiff's argument that Defendant cannot
remove a case before “hearings, conferences, admissions
. . . and the required certification from the presiding judge
that the case will exceed the associate court
threshold” is without merit, and the authority cited by
Plaintiff supports no such contention. (Doc. #15, p. 3)
(citing Covent Corp. v. City of North Little Rock
Arkansas, 784 F.3d 479 (8th Cir. 2015)). Because
Defendant had “an objectively reasonable basis”
for removal based on Plaintiff's claims and prayers for
relief, Plaintiff's request for attorney's fees is
denied. See Covent Corp., 784 F.3d at 483
(“[W]hen an objectively reasonable basis exists [for
seeking removal], fees should be denied.”) (internal
quotation marks and citations omitted); Walz, 2012
WL 5386058, at *1 (“[T]he question is not whether the
damages will exceed the jurisdictional amount, but
whether a fact finder might legally find that the
damages exceed that amount.”) (emphasis added) (citing
Bell, 557 F.3d at 959); Crawford v. F.
Hoffman-La Roche Ltd., 267 F.3d 760, 766 (8th Cir. 2001)
(recoverable punitive damages and statutory attorney's
fees are included in the jurisdictional amount calculation).
Court does not have subject matter jurisdiction over this
case, this Court will not address the issues raised in the
pending Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, to Quash
for Insufficient Service of Process (Doc. #5).
Plaintiff's Motion to Remand (Doc. #7) is granted. The
case is remanded to the Circuit Court of Jackson County,
Missouri. The Clerk of the Court is directed to mail a
certified copy of this Order to the Clerk of the Circuit
Court of Jackson County, Missouri, as required by 28 U.S.C.