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Ankerson v. American Zurich Insurance Co.

United States District Court, Southern District of Mississippi, Southern Division

February 2, 2015

SCOTT ANKERSON and BRITTNEY ANKERSON PLAINTIFFS/ COUNTER-DEFENDANTS
v.
AMERICAN ZURICH INSURANCE COMPANY DEFENDANT/ COUNTER-CLAIMANT

ORDER OF REMAND TO STATE COURT

HALIL SULEYMAN OZERDEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

This matter comes before the Court sua sponte, upon its January 14, 2015, Order [7] which directed briefing on the issue of the Court’s subject matter jurisdiction, particularly the amount in controversy. Defendant American Zurich Insurance Company filed a Memorandum Brief in Support of Subject Matter Jurisdiction [6] on January 28, 2015. Having considered the record as a whole and relevant legal authorities, the Court is of the opinion that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction and that this case must be remanded to the Circuit Court of Jackson County, Mississippi.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

Plaintiffs Scott and Brittney Ankerson [“Plaintiffs”] contend that they are named insureds under a builder’s risk policy [the “Policy”] issued by Defendant American Zurich Insurance Company [“Defendant”] or [“American Zurich”]. Compl. [1-2] at 3-4. According to Plaintiffs, the Policy covers their dwelling, dwelling extension, personal property, and related loss of use for their property located at 7329 Amberwood Lane, Lucedale, Mississippi. Id. The dwelling was under construction at all times relevant to this dispute. Id. at 4. Plaintiffs allege that on or about August 25, 2014, Plaintiff Scott Ankerson’s “contractors box” containing his tools was stolen while it was stored and being used on the dwelling’s premises. Id. Plaintiffs maintain that they timely presented a claim to American Zurich for the loss, but that American Zurich “improperly handled and/or denied the Plaintiffs [sic] claim and refused to provide the Plaintiffs with fair compensation for the covered losses.” Id.

B. Procedural History

Plaintiffs filed their Complaint [1-2] in the Circuit Court of Jackson County, Mississippi, on October 14, 2014, naming American Zurich as the sole Defendant. Compl. [1-2] at 3. The Complaint advances claims for breach of contract and negligence. Id. at 4-6. Plaintiffs seek compensatory damages; consequential and extra-contractual damages including compensation for emotional distress, inconvenience, attorneys’ fees, and costs of litigation; and punitive damages. Id. at 6-7. The Complaint does not contain a specific monetary demand.

American Zurich removed the case to this Court on November 26, 2014, invoking diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Notice of Removal [1] at 1-2. The Notice of Removal [1] does not reveal the amount in controversy, but asserts generally that the amount in controversy is satisfied because Plaintiffs seek both compensatory damages and an unspecified amount of punitive damages. Id. at 2.

On January 14, 2015, the Court required American Zurich to file a brief containing additional information demonstrating that the amount in controversy in this case exceeds the jurisdictional minimum. Order [5] at 2. On January 28, 2015, American Zurich filed a Memorandum Brief in Support of Subject Matter Jurisdiction [6]. According to American Zurich, “[u]pon information and belief, the alleged value of Plaintiffs’ contractors box and tools is $4, 320.” Mem. Br. [6] at 1-2 (citing Tool Inventory [6-2] at 1). American Zurich relies upon Plaintiffs’ request for unspecified liquidated consequential and punitive damages to argue that the amount in controversy requirement is nevertheless satisfied. Id. at 2-4.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Removal Standard

28 U.S.C. § 1441 provides for the removal of civil actions brought in a state court of which the district courts have original jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a) (2012). Under 28 U.S.C. § 1332, “[t]he district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs, and is between . . . citizens of different States . . . .” 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1).

Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, having subject matter jurisdiction only over those matters specifically designated by the Constitution or Congress. Epps v. Bexar-Medina-Atascosa Counties Water Improvement Dist. No. 1, 665 F.2d 594, 595 (5th Cir. 1982). For this reason, removal statutes are subject to strict construction. Willy v. Coastal Corp., 855 F.2d 1160, 1164 (5th Cir. 1988). Doubts about whether federal jurisdiction exists following removal must be resolved against a finding of jurisdiction. Acuna v. Brown & Root, Inc., 200 F.3d 335, 339 (5th Cir. 2000) (citing Willy, 855 F.2d at 1164). The party seeking removal bears the burden of establishing federal jurisdiction over the state court suit. Boone v. Citigroup, Inc., 416 F.3d 382, 388 (5th Cir. 2005); Willy, 855 F.2d at 1164.

The record reflects that the parties are of completely diverse citizenship. At issue is whether the amount in controversy is ...


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