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Mic Philberts Investments v. American Casualty Company

June 8, 2012

MIC PHILBERTS INVESTMENTS,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
AMERICAN CASUALTY COMPANY OF READING, PENNSYLVANIA,
DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Barbara A. McAuliffe United States Magistrate Judge

ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO REMAND (Document 5)

On April 6, 2012, MIC Philberts Investments ("Plaintiff") filed the instant Motion to Remand. (Doc. 5). American Casualty Company of Reading, Pennsylvania ("Defendant" or "American Casualty") filed an Opposition on April 27, 2012. (Doc. 8). Plaintiff filed a Reply on May 7, 2012. (Doc. 10). The motion was referred to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule 302. The Court deemed the matter suitable for decision without oral argument pursuant to Local Rule 230(g), and vacated the hearing scheduled for June 8, 2012. (Doc. 14). Having considered the moving, opposition and reply papers, as well as the Court's file, Plaintiff's Motion to Remand is GRANTED.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff filed this action against Defendant in the Fresno County Superior Court of California, Case No. 11CECG01375, on April 25, 2011. (Doc. 1, Notice of Removal). Defendant was served with the complaint on August 10, 2011. (Doc. 1, Ex. A). Defendant filed an answer to the complaint on September 8, 2011. (Doc. 1, Ex. B).

Plaintiff's complaint alleges causes of action for Breach of Contract and Breach of the Implied Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing, arising out of American Casualty's denial of a claim for water damage to Plaintiff's office suite caused by a burst water pipe. After the damage, Plaintiff provided notice of its claims for loss and damage to American Casualty. Plaintiff alleges that American Casualty wrongfully denied the claim, failed to investigate the claim promptly, failed to make a thorough investigation as to coverage of the damage, and failed to make payment in accordance with the policy. (Doc. 1, Ex. A).

On January 26, 2012, Defendant filed the Notice of Removal (Doc. 1), removing this action to this District Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1441 and 1446. In its Notice of Removal, American Casualty asserted that federal subject-matter jurisdiction was conferred by 28 U.S.C. § 1332, inasmuch as there is complete diversity of citizenship between MIC Philberts and Defendant, and the amount in controversy exceeds the sum of $75,000, exclusive of interest and costs.

Plaintiff has now moved for remand of this action, reasoning that diversity jurisdiction does not lie because Defendant failed to provide sufficient evidence to support diversity of citizenship and the amount-in-controversy requirement. Defendant disagrees, insisting that: 1) the evidence supports a finding of diversity of citizenship and 2) though Plaintiff has been deliberately vague in its allegations concerning the value of its claims, under a common sense analysis, Plaintiff's alleged damages exceed $75,000, establishing that the minimum jurisdictional threshold is met. In its Reply, Plaintiff does not challenge diversity of citizenship, but again argues that Defendant has failed to offer competent evidence to support its claim of $75,000 in damages. Thus, the Motion to Remand hinges on the application of amount-in-controversy principles in removal actions to the damages allegations of the Complaint.

DISCUSSION

A. Removal Jurisdiction

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a) a defendant may remove an action to federal court if the plaintiff could have filed the action in federal court initially. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a); Ethridge v. Harbor House Restaurant, 861 F.2d 1389, 1393 (9th Cir.1988). The removal statute is strictly construed against removal jurisdiction, and federal jurisdiction must be rejected if any doubt exists as to the propriety of removal. Gaus v. Miles, Inc., 980 F.2d 564, 566 (9th Cir. 1992). Thus, "[f]ederal jurisdiction must be rejected if there is any doubt as to the right of removal in the first instance." Id. "The 'strong presumption' against removal jurisdiction means that the defendant always has the burden of establishing that removal is proper." Id. This case was removed based on diversity jurisdiction, which provides as follows:

Any civil action of which the district courts have original jurisdiction founded on a claim or right arising under the Constitution, treaties, or laws of the United States shall be removable without regard to the citizenship or residence of the parties. Any other such action shall be removable only if none of the parties in interest properly joined and served as defendants is a citizen of the State in which such action is brought.

28 U.S.C. § 1441(b)

B. Diversity of Citizenship

28 U.S.C. § 1332(a) establishes diversity of citizenship jurisdiction and provides in pertinent part:

The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value ...


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