United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER OF REMAND
CATHERINE D. PERRY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Lisa Hofmann filed this wrongful foreclosure action in
Missouri state court to set aside defendants' foreclosure
of her house, claiming that she was not in default and that
defendants lacked authority to initiate and engage in the
foreclosure proceedings. Hofmann also brings a claim under
the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act, Mo. Rev. Stat.
§ 407.010, and a claim of slander of title; and she
seeks to quiet title to the property. Defendants Wells Fargo
Bank, N.A. and Select Portfolio Servicing, Inc., with the
consent of defendant Pittenger Law Group, LLC, removed the
action to this Court on March 8, 2019, claiming diversity
jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Because defendants
have failed to establish the requisite amount in controversy
by a preponderance of the evidence, I will grant
Hofmann's motion to remand the matter to state court.
removal cases, I must review the complaint or petition
pending at the time of removal to determine the existence of
subject-matter jurisdiction. St. Paul Mercury Indem. Co.
v. Red Cab Co., 303 U.S. 283, 291 (1938). I may also
look to the notice of removal to determine jurisdiction. 28
U.S.C. § 1446(c)(2)(A). The removing defendants, as the
parties invoking jurisdiction, bear the burden of proving by
a preponderance of the evidence that all prerequisites to
jurisdiction are satisfied. In re Prempro Prods. Liab.
Litig., 591 F.3d 613, 620 (8th Cir. 2010); Central
Iowa Power Co-op. v. Midwest Indep. Transmission Sys.
Operator, Inc., 561 F.3d 904, 912 (8th Cir. 2009).
“[A]ll doubts about federal jurisdiction must be
resolved in favor of remand[.]” Central Iowa
Power, 561 F.3d at 912.
jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332 requires an amount
in controversy greater than $75, 000 and complete diversity
of citizenship among the litigants. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a).
Diversity of Citizenship
in the state-court petition and in the notice of removal,
plaintiff Hofmann is a citizen of Missouri, defendant Wells
Fargo is a citizen of South Dakota, and defendant Select
Portfolio is a citizen of Utah. Pittinger Law Group,
LLC's sole member is a citizen of Kansas. For purposes of
diversity, a limited liability company's citizenship is
the citizenship of all its members. GMAC Commercial
Credit LLC v. Dillard Dep't Stores, Inc., 357 F.3d
827, 829 (8th Cir. 2004). Accordingly, Pittinger is a citizen
of Kansas, and complete diversity exists among the litigants.
Amount in Controversy
removing a diversity action to federal court must prove the
amount in controversy by a preponderance of the evidence.
Bell v. Hershey Co., 557 F.3d 953, 956 (8th Cir.
2009). Under this standard, “the jurisdictional fact .
. . is not whether the damages are greater than the
requisite amount, but whether a fact finder might
legally conclude that they are[.]” Id. at 959
(internal quotation marks and citation omitted) (alteration
and emphasis in Bell). A removing party who presents
only bald assertions that the nature of the relief sought is
sufficient to satisfy the amount in controversy fails to meet
the requisite burden of proof. Hill v. Ford Motor
Co., 324 F.Supp.2d 1028, 1036 (E.D. Mo. 2004). I cannot
find jurisdiction on speculation alone. Id.
state-court petition does not assert a specific amount in
controversy. Instead, Hofmann seeks equitable relief,
statutory attorney's fees, and an unspecified amount in
damages, including punitive damages. In such circumstances, I
must make a factual inquiry into the amount-in-controversy
issue. Sherrard v. Boeing Co., No. 4:17CV1444 RLW,
2017 WL 2973947, at *2 (E.D. Mo. July 12, 2017).
aver that the object of the controversy - Hofmann's
foreclosed property - had an appraised value between $60, 800
and $72, 000 and that when this value is considered with
Hofmann's request for statutory attorney's fees,
damages for emotional distress, and punitive damages, the
amount in controversy surpasses $75, 000. For the following
reasons, I find that defendants have failed to meet their
I agree with defendants that, in wrongful foreclosure cases,
the value of the property at the time of foreclosure is
considered as the value of the object of the controversy for
purposes of determining the amount in controversy. However,
the value is determined by the purchase price of the property
when it was sold at foreclosure, not the appraised value.
See Morris v. Wells Fargo Home Mortg., No.
4:11CV1452 CEJ, 2011 WL 3665150, at *1 (E.D. Mo. Aug. 22,
2011). See also Kisner v. Bank of Am., NA, No.
10-03527-CV-S-DGK, 2011 WL 2160891, at *2 (W.D. Mo. June 1,
2011) (value of property is its purchase price); Garland
v. Mortg. Elec. Registration Sys., Inc., Civil Nos.
09-71 (JNE/JJG), 09-72 (JNE/JGG), 09-342 (JNE JJG), 09-430
(JNE/JJG), 2009 WL 1684424, at *3 (D. Minn. June 16, 2009)
(foreclosure sale prices provide reliable indication of fair
market value). Here, Wells Fargo paid $41, 971.81 for
Hofmann's property at the foreclosure sale. The value of
the object in controversy, therefore, is $41, 971.81.
extent defendants argue that when combined with the value of
the property, Hofmann's claims for emotional and punitive
damages and for attorney's fees push the amount in
controversy over the jurisdictional threshold, defendants
offer no facts or evidence to support this assertion.
Instead, they speculate that, because the MMPA provides for
punitive damages and attorney's fees to the prevailing
party, the total amount of damages would exceed $75, 000.
They also rely on Holm v. Wells Fargo Home Mortg.,
Inc., 514 S.W.3d 590 (Mo. banc 2017), to show that the
nature of the relief sought in this case pushes the amount in
controversy over the jurisdictional threshold.
Defendants' argument is unavailing.
contend that in Holm - another wrongful foreclosure
case - the plaintiff obtained a $200, 000 judgment for
similar emotional distress damages, and punitive damages
nearing $3 million. The Holm case, however, is
easily distinguishable from this one. Not only are the
underlying facts significantly different between the cases,
but the procedural and legal posture of the cases are vastly
different. In Holm, the trial court imposed
sanctions on defendants Wells Fargo and Freddie Mac because
of their “flagrant and intentionally obstructive
conduct” during discovery. Holm, 514 S.W.3d at
597. Sanctions included striking the defendants'
pleadings, barring defendants from presenting any evidence at
trial, and barring defendants from objecting to
plaintiff's evidence and from cross-examining any of
plaintiff's witnesses. Id. at 593. After a
nonjury trial at which defendants' pleadings were not
considered and only plaintiff's evidence was presented,
the trial court awarded the damages as described above.
See Id. at 595.
Missouri Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's
imposition of sanctions, but held that the trial court's
award of damages denied defendants their constitutional right
to have a jury determine the amount of damages to be assessed
against them. Id. at 598, 602. The supreme court
therefore vacated the damages award and remanded the matter
for jury trial. Accordingly, the Holm monetary
judgment that defendants invoke here to support their
argument that Hofmann's requested damages could surpass
$75, 000 was actually entered with no consideration of
defendants' pleadings or evidence and no challenge to