United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
SARAH PECK; J.P., by and through her Next Friend, SARAH PECK; and S.P., by and through his Next Friend, SARAH PECK, Plaintiffs,
COUNTRY PREFERRED INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
L. WHITE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is before the Court on the Motion to Remand to State
Court by Plaintiffs Sarah Peck and minors J.P. and S.P. by
and through their Next Friend Sarah Peck (collectively
"Plaintiffs")- (ECF No. 8) The motion is fully
briefed and ready for disposition.
February 11, 2010, Plaintiffs filed a Petition in the Circuit
Court of the City of St. Louis against Defendant Country
Preferred Insurance Company ("Country Preferred").
(Pet., ECF No. 4) Plaintiffs allege Breach of Contract for
Underinsured Motorist Benefits and Vexatious Refusal to Pay
underinsured motorist benefits stemming from a vehicle
accident that resulted in the death of Plaintiff Sarah
Peck's husband, Adam Peck. Each Plaintiff seeks an amount
for individual damages not to exceed $75, 000. (Id.
at ¶¶ 19, 21, 23) Plaintiffs also seek declaratory
judgment that the policy at issue provides coverage.
Country Preferred removed the case to federal court on
February 28, 2019, invoking this Court's jurisdiction
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332, 1441, and 1446.
(Notice of Removal, ECF No. 1) Country Preferred asserts that
the Court has diversity jurisdiction because Plaintiffs are
citizens of Missouri, and Defendant is an insurance
corporation organized and existing under the laws of the
State of Illinois with its principal place of business in
Bloomington, Illinois. (Id. at ¶¶ 9-10)
Further, Country Preferred contends that the damages sought
by Plaintiffs are in excess of $75, 000, exclusive of
interest and costs. (Id. at ¶ 11)
April 1, 2019, Plaintiffs filed a Motion to Remand to State
Court, asserting that none of the individual claims seeks an
amount greater than $75, 000. Plaintiffs claim Country
Preferred has failed to meet its burden of proving that the
amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000. Thus, Plaintiffs
argue federal diversity jurisdiction is absent in this cause
of action such that the case should be remanded to the
Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis, Missouri.
removal cases, the Court reviews the state court petition and
the notice of removal in order to determine whether it has
jurisdiction. Branch v. Wheaton Van Lines, Inc., No.
4:14-CV-01735-AGF, 2014 WL 6461372, at *1 (E.D. Mo. Nov. 17,
2014) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1446(c)(2)(A)(ii)). Diversity
jurisdiction exists where a civil action is between citizens
of different states, and the amount in controversy exceeds
$75, 000. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). Defendant has the burden
of proving that the prerequisites to jurisdiction are
satisfied. Branch, 2014 WL 6461372, at * 1. "A
case must be remanded if, at any time, it appears that the
district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction."
Hrastich v. Advance Auto Parts, Inc., No.
4:14-CV-22-JAR, 2014 WL 3341121, at *1 (E.D. Mo. July 8,
2014) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c)).
meet its burden with regard to the jurisdictional amount, the
removing party must prove by a preponderance of the evidence
that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000."
Id. at *2 (citations omitted). "Removal
statutes are strictly construed and all doubts about the
propriety of removal must be resolved in favor of
remand." Jackson v. Fitness Resource Grp.,
Inc., No. 4:12 CV 986 DDN, 2012 WL 2873668, at *2
(E.D. Mo. July 12, 2012) (citations omitted).
removal cases, "the sum demanded in good faith in the
initial pleading shall be deemed to be the amount in
controversy, except that the notice of removal may assert the
amount in controversy if the initial pleading seeks
nonmonetary relief; or a money judgment, but the State
practice either does not permit demand for a specific sum or
permits recovery of damages in excess of the amount
demanded." 28 U.S.C. § 1446(c)(2)(A). Where, as
here, "the state court petition seeks an unspecified
amount of damages, the court must make a factual inquiry into
the amount-in-controversy issue." Jackson, 2012
WL 2873668, at *2 (citations omitted).
Plaintiffs' motion for remand, memorandum in support, and
reply memorandum, Plaintiffs argue that Country Preferred has
failed to show by a preponderance of evidence that the amount
in controversy exceeds $75, 000. However, Country Preferred
contends the policy limit is $100, 000, and in an action for
declaratory judgment, the amount in controversy is measured
by the object of the litigation. Further, Country Preferred
claims that Plaintiffs' separate claims for less than
$75, 000 for each Plaintiff may be aggregated to satisfy the
jurisdictional amount. Thus, Country Preferred asserts that
it has met its burden of proving diversity jurisdiction.
on the other hand, argue their individual claims may not be
aggregated because each claim is personal to each Plaintiff.
Further, Plaintiffs contend Count III of the Petition is
merely seeking declaratory judgment as to whether Country
Preferred's uninsured motorist policy affords coverage.
the Court finds Country Preferred has not met its burden of
showing that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000 with
respect to its argument that the value of the object of the
litigation, or $100, 000, is the amount in controversy.
Country Preferred asserts Plaintiffs' request for a
declaration of the amount of coverage demonstrates the amount
in controversy would be the $100, 000 policy limit. However,
the Court notes "[i]t is not axiomatic that the amount
in controversy is met if the policy limit exceeds $75, 000.
If the substance of the declaratory judgment seeks to
determine whether an insurance policy itself is valid, then
the policy limit is, essentially, the value of the object of
the litigation." Hartford Ins. Co. of Midwest v.
Wyllie, No. 4:04 CV 1537 DDN, 2005 WL 902776, at *2
(E.D. Mo. Mar. 28, 2005) (citing Home Ins. Co. of N.Y. v.
Trotter, 130 F.2d 800, 803 (8th Cir. 1942)). On the
other hand, where an action for declaratory judgment seeks to
determine whether an occurrence is covered under the policy,
the court must look to the underlying claim. Id. at
of Plaintiffs' claim demonstrates they seek a declaration
as to whether the policy provides coverage, and if so, the
amount of coverage. (ECF No. 4 pp. 10-11) Plaintiffs do not
seek a declaration regarding the validity of the policy.
Reviewing the underlying claims in this matter, the Court
finds each individual Plaintiff seeks an amount not to exceed
$75, 000. Therefore, Count III of the Petition seeking
declaratory judgment does not satisfy the
amount-in-controversy requirement simply by virtue of the
$100, 000 policy limit. See Wylie, 2005 WL 902776,
at *3 ("To reason that the policy limit reflects the
amount in controversy would essentially
"federalize" any action concerning an insurance
policy with limits greater than $75, 000 regardless of the
claim for damages. Such a holding is incongruous with the
principle of limited jurisdiction in federal courts.");
see also Fainer v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co.,
No. 4:08CV1536 AGF, 2009 WL 911724, at *2 (E.D. Mo. Apr. 1,
2009) ("[T]he coverage limit of ...