United States District Court, E.D. California
insurance coverage case, plaintiff moves to remand on the
basis that the amount in controversy does not meet the
jurisdictional minimum. For the reasons below, the court
DENIES the motion.
motion to remand is the proper procedure to challenge a
removal based on lack of jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C.
§ 1447(c). Removal is only proper when (1) the case
presents a federal question or (2) there is diversity of
citizenship between the parties and the amount in controversy
exceeds $75, 000. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331,
amount in controversy is an “estimate of the total
amount in dispute.” Lewis v. Verizon
Communications, Inc., 627 F.3d 395, 400 (9th Cir. 2010)
(citation omitted). In this circuit, when the amount of
damages is unspecified, the removing party must show by a
preponderance of the evidence that the amount in controversy
exceeds the jurisdictional threshold. Id. at 397;
Sanchez v. Monumental Life Ins. Co., 102 F.3d 398,
404 (9th Cir. 1996) (“Under this burden, the defendant
must provide evidence establishing that it is ‘more
likely than not' that the amount in controversy exceeds
[the jurisdictional amount].”). To determine if the
amount in controversy is met, the district court considers
the complaint, allegations in the removal petition, and
“summary-judgment-type evidence relevant to the amount
in controversy, ” Kroske v. U.S. Bank Corp.,
432 F.3d 976, 980 (9th Cir. 2005) (citation omitted); see
also Fritsch v. Swift Transportation Co. of Arizona,
LLC, 899 F.3d 785, 788 (9th Cir. 2018) (clarifying
amount in controversy not limited to amount at time of
removal, at least with respect to future attorneys'
fees), as well as evidence filed in opposition to the motion
to remand, Lenau v. Bank of Am., N.A., 131 F.Supp.3d
1003, 1005 (E.D. Cal. 2015) (citing Cohn v. Petsmart,
Inc., 281 F.3d 837, 840 n.1 (9th Cir. 2002) (per
curiam)). Ultimately, “[w]here doubt regarding the
right to removal exists, a case should be remanded to state
court.” Matheson v. Progressive Specialty Ins.
Co., 319 F.3d 1089, 1090 (9th Cir. 2003) (citation
Raven Duncan, does not specify an amount of damages in her
complaint. Compl, ECF No. 1, at 12. Therefore, defendant must
show it is more likely than not that the total amount in
dispute exceeds $75, 000.
complaint, plaintiff alleges defendant breached the
parties' contract and the covenant of good faith and fair
dealing when it denied plaintiff's insurance claim after
her vehicle was stolen. Id. ¶¶ 18-37.
Plaintiff alleges the value of her vehicle was $33, 000.
Id. ¶ 21. In addition to compensatory damages,
plaintiff asks for punitive damages, emotional and mental
distress damages, and attorneys' fees. Id. at
argues plaintiff's claim for emotional distress and
punitive damages causes the amount in controversy to exceed
$75, 000. ECF No. 14 at 6. Punitive damages may be considered
in amount in controversy calculations if they are recoverable
under state law. Gibson v. Chrysler Corp., 261 F.3d
927, 945 (9th Cir. 2001) (citing, inter alia,
Bell v. Preferred Life Assur. Society, 320 U.S. 238,
240 (1943)). In California, punitive damages are recoverable
for implied breach of covenant claims, such as
plaintiff's second claim for violation of the covenant of
good faith and fair dealing. Campbell v. Hartford Life
Ins. Co., 825 F.Supp.2d 1005, 1008 (E.D. Cal. 2011)
(citing Cal. Civ. Code § 3294).
assessing the probable amount of unspecified punitive damages
for jurisdictional purposes, courts may look to verdicts in
analogous cases as a reasonable approximation.”
Id. (citing Simmons v. PCR Technology, 209
F.Supp.2d 1029, 1033 (N.D. Cal. 2002)). Defendant has
identified only one similar case decided by a district court
in the Ninth Circuit in which plaintiff's breach of
contract damages were relatively small, and a jury awarded
punitive damages in excess of the jurisdictional minimum.
Opp'n at 9-10 (citing, inter alia, McCoy v.
Progressive West Insurance Company, 2007 WL 2068578
(Mar. 29, 2007) (jury awarded $17, 175 on breach of contract
and $100, 000 in punitive damages)). The other cases
defendant cites either do not involve punitive damages or do
not contain enough information to determine what portion of
the judgment was for punitive damages specifically.
See Ellingson Decl., Ex. 2-7. Moreover, defendant
has not articulated why the “particular facts
that are alleged in the instant case might warrant
extraordinary damages.” Scalzo v. Allied Prop.
& Cas. Ins. Co., No. 1:11-CV-00612 LJO, 2011 WL
2709001, at *3 (E.D. Cal. July 11, 2011) (emphasis in
original) (citation omitted), report and recommendation
adopted, 2011 WL 3418806 (E.D. Cal. July 27, 2011). The
record here is insufficient for the court to find that the
amount in controversy is met by a preponderance of the
evidence based on punitive damages.
Emotional Distress Damages
establish the requisite amount in controversy through
emotional distress damages, the defendant bears the same
burden as above for punitive damages. Cain v.
Hartford Life & Acc. Ins. Co., 890
F.Supp.2d 1246, 1250 (2012) (defendant may show emotional
distress damages will satisfy jurisdictional threshold by
preponderance of evidence by analogizing to verdicts in other
similar cases). When sufficiently analogous to the case at
hand, “settlements and jury verdicts in similar cases
can provide evidence of the amount in controversy.”
Mireles v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 845 F.Supp.2d
1034, 1055 (C.D. Cal. 2012) (citations omitted).
cases defendant cites, two involve jury awards in which
emotional distress damages were independently quantified.
Opp'n at 9-10 (citing White v. Geico Indemnity
Co., 13 Trials Digest 17th 17, 2014 WL 1394317 (Cal.
Super. Ct. Mar. 18, 2014); Martinez v. Mercury Ins.
Co., 30 Trials Digest 17th 28, 2014 WL 3845738 (Cal.
Super. Ct., June 16, 2014)). One of those awards was
overturned on appeal, Martinez v. Mercury Ins. Co.,
No. B261003, 2016 WL 4446576, at *6-7 (Cal.Ct.App., Aug. 24,
2016) (unpublished) (reversing award of $600, 000 for
emotional distress damages). The court looks to the remaining
case, White, as well as an additional case defendant
cites in which plaintiff's claim for the value of his
2001 Dodge Ram pickup truck and emotional distress damages
was settled for $190, 000. Cortez vs. Farmers Insurance
Exchange, 15 Trials Digest 10th 8, 2007 WL 968427, at
*1-2 (Cal. Super. Ct. Jan. 3, 2007); see also White v.
Geico Indemnity Co., 2014 WL 1394317, at *1-2 (Cal.
Super. Ct. Mar. 18, 2014) ($326, 000 in emotional distress
damages awarded where plaintiff's small claim for vehicle
damage wrongfully denied and plaintiff sought treatment for
emotional distress). These cases, in which defendants denied
insurance claims for vehicle-related loss based on the
allegedly erroneous conclusion plaintiff made material
misrepresentations, are adequately analogous to the case at
hand to signal that emotional distress damages are likely to
exceed $42, 000 if plaintiff is successful here. See Cain
v. Hartford Life & Acc. Ins. Co., 890 F.Supp.2d
1246, 1250 (C.D. Cal. 2012) (finding three somewhat analogous
cases showing emotional distress damages sufficient to meet
preponderance of the evidence standard for amount in
controversy). Accordingly, defendant has shown by a
preponderance of the evidence that the amount in controversy
exceeds $75, 000, including $33, 000 for compensatory damages
and more than $42, 000 for emotional distress damages.