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Williams v. Safeway Insurance Co.

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Southern Division

August 14, 2018

TRACY WILLIAMS PLAINTIFF
v.
SAFEWAY INSURANCE COMPANY DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF TRACY WILLIAMS' MOTION TO AMEND COMPLAINT [9] AND MOTION TO REMAND [10]

          HALIL SULEYMAN OZERDEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Tracy Williams' Motion to Amend Complaint [9] and Motion to Remand [10]. The Motions are fully briefed. Having considered the parties' submissions, the related pleadings, and relevant legal authority, the Court is of the opinion that Plaintiff's Motions should be denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On or about May 20, 2016, Plaintiff Tracy Williams (“Plaintiff”) was involved in an automobile accident at the intersection of Three Rivers Road and Highway 605 in Gulfport, Mississippi. Compl. [1-2] at 1-2. Plaintiff alleges that the collision was caused by the negligence of Jessica L. Ramirez (“Ramirez”), who was insured by USA Insurance Company with policy limits of $25, 000.00. Id. Plaintiff avers that because of the extensive nature of the injuries she suffered, her damages are in excess of Ramirez' policy limits. Id. at 3. She therefore filed a claim under her own underinsured insurance policy with Safeway Insurance Company (“Defendant”), seeking the policy limits of $50, 000.00. Id. According to Plaintiff, Safeway has “wrongfully and in bad faith withheld benefits due to the [P]laintiff.” Id. at 3-4.

         Plaintiff originally filed her Complaint on September 14, 2017, in the County Court of Harrison County, Mississippi, First Judicial District, Cause No. D2401-17-1440, naming Safeway as the Defendant and seeking an unspecified amount of compensatory and punitive damages. Id. at 3-4. Defendant removed the case to this Court invoking federal diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332, 1441, and 1446. Notice of Removal [1] at 1-3. Defendant contends that because Plaintiff is seeking a judgment for an unspecified amount of compensatory damages, plus an unspecified amount of punitive damages, her claims exceed $75, 000.00, crossing the jurisdictional threshold for diversity of citizenship cases. Id.

         Plaintiff has filed both a Motion to Amend Complaint [9] and a Motion to Remand [10]. Plaintiff seeks leave to amend her Complaint to clarify that the damages she is seeking “do not exceed $75, 000, inclusive of the $25, 000.00 (sic) in uninsured motorist's benefits available under the applicable Safeway policy, compulsory and punitive damages, attorney fees and costs.” Proposed First Am. Compl. [9-1] at 4. Simultaneously, Plaintiff asks that this case be remanded since the amount in controversy is less than the statutory minimum of $75, 000.00. Mot. to Remand [10] at 2.

         Defendant responds that federal jurisdiction attached at the time of removal, and cannot be defeated through a subsequent motion to amend the complaint to reduce the damages sought below the jurisdictional amount. Resp. in Opp'n to Remand [13] at 1-3; Resp. in Opp'n Am. Compl. [12] at 1-2.

         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. Halmekangas v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 603 F.3d 290, 292 (5th Cir. 2010) (citing 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. Hood ex. rel. Miss. v. JP Morgan Chase & Co., 737 F.3d 78, 92 (5th Cir. 2013); 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.

         B. Diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)

         The record reflects, and the parties do not dispute, that they are of diverse citizenship. At issue is whether the amount in controversy is satisfied. According to § 1446(c)(2),

[i]f removal of a civil action is sought on the basis of the jurisdiction conferred by section 1332(a), the sum demanded in good faith in the initial pleading shall be deemed to be ...

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