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Cohen v. Pruco Life Insurance Co.

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

December 23, 2019

LINDA COHEN, Plaintiff,
v.
PRUCO LIFE INSURANCE CO., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          JOHN A. ROSS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Linda Cohen's Motion to Remand. (Doc. 22.) Defendant Pruco Life Insurance Company (“Pruco”) opposes remand. (Doc. 27.) Also pending is Pruco's Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. 14.) Plaintiff Linda Cohen filed a memorandum in opposition (Doc. 20), and Pruco replied (Doc. 26).

         Background

         Plaintiff alleges the following in her complaint (Docs. 5, 6): Plaintiff purchased a life insurance policy from Pruco with a face value of $350, 000. In the latter half of 2018, the policy was due for renewal. As part of the renewal process, Plaintiff provided required health information. Plaintiff tendered a check for the premium amount due and Pruco cashed it. Pruco subsequently notified Plaintiff by mail that they were denying coverage and terminating the policy, and that she would be issued a refund. The letter stated that the denial was based on blood test results and an abnormal echocardiogram.

         Plaintiff asserts that the blood test in question was based on a sample drawn the morning after she had undergone a significant surgery, a time when irregular results are to be expected. Further, she asserts that the letter attributed the results to a physician who had not begun treating Plaintiff until two months after the test. Finally, Plaintiff asserts that her health records included a completely normal follow-up echocardiogram only a month after the abnormal result.

         On December 11, 2018, Plaintiff filed suit in Missouri state court, arguing that Pruco's denial of coverage and termination of the policy were the result of a negligent misuse of her health records and a breach of its fiduciary duty. (Doc. 5.) She sought compensatory damages “in an amount in excess of $25, 000” based on “humiliation . . . anxiety and sleeplessness, ” as well as “additional costs and expense for medical testing, ” and alleged that she has been unable to secure a replacement policy with similar terms. (Doc. 6 at ¶¶ 15-16.) She also sought attorney fees and costs. (Id. at ¶ 18.) On January 24, 2019, Pruco removed the case to this Court, arguing that it had diversity jurisdiction over the suit under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. (Doc. 1.)

         Motion to Remand

         Plaintiff seeks an order remanding the case to state court, arguing that “the jurisdictional amount in controversy does not exceed $20, 000.00.” (Doc. 22 at ¶ 6.) Pruco responds that the appropriate measure of damages is the face value of the policy: $350, 000. (Doc. 27.)

         Legal Standard

         “A defendant may remove a state law claim to federal court only if the action originally could have been filed there.” 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a); In re Prempro Prods. Liab. Litig., 591 F.3d 613, 619 (8th Cir. 2010) (citing Phipps v. FDIC, 417 F.3d 1006, 1010 (8th Cir. 2005)). Federal district courts have original jurisdiction in civil actions between citizens of different states if the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs. 28 U.S.C. § 1332. The party invoking jurisdiction bears the burden of establishing federal jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence. Prempro, 591 F.3d at 619 (citing Altimore v. Mount Mercy Coll., 420 F.3d 763, 768 (8th Cir. 2005). The case will be remanded only “if it appears to a legal certainty that the value of the claim is actually less than the required amount.” Perma Glass Corp. v. Sasak Corp., 718 F.Supp. 742, 743 (E.D. Mo. 1989) (citation and quotations omitted). “All doubts about federal jurisdiction should be resolved in favor of remand to state court.” Prempro, 591 F.3d at 620 (citing Wilkinson v. Shackelford, 478 F.3d 957, 963 (8th Cir. 2007)).

         Discussion

         Pruco cites In re Minnesota Mut. Life Ins. Co. Sales Practices Litig., 346 F.3d 830, 835 (8th Cir. 2003), for the proposition that, “[i]n actions based on alleged wrongful denial of life insurance coverage, the amount in controversy is the face value of the policy.” (Doc. 27 at 4.) Because the policy at issue in this case has a face value greater than $75, 000, Pruco argues that the amount-in-controversy requirement is obviously satisfied. (Id. at 5.)

         The Court believes Pruco's reliance on Minnesota Mutual is misplaced. In that case, two plaintiffs alleged that they been induced to buy life insurance based on a salesman's promise that the premiums would vanish-that is, the plaintiffs were told that after a small number of annual payments, they were entitled to the face value of the policy without making additional out-of-pocket payments for the remainder of their lives. Minn. Mut., 346 F.3d at 832-33. That representation was inaccurate, and when the plaintiffs refused to pay additional premiums, their policies were terminated. Id. at 833. They sued to force Minnesota Mutual to honor its salesman's representations and reinstate their polices. Id. at 835.

         Minnesota Mutual removed the case to federal court and the plaintiffs sought to remand. Id. Their motion was denied, the case was combined with similar suits in other districts, and, ultimately, Minnesota Mutual was granted summary judgment. Id. at 833. The plaintiffs appealed, arguing that the federal district court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction because less than $75, 000 was in controversy. Id. at 834. The Eighth Circuit rejected this argument, holding that, when a plaintiff seeks equitable ...


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