United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S
MOTION TO REMAND
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff Kristine Rael's
Motion to Remand, filed April 13, 2017. Doc. 12. Plaintiff
asserts that the Court lacks diversity jurisdiction in this
case because the amount in controversy is less than $75, 000.
For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion to
remand is denied.
February 2, 2017, Plaintiff filed suit against Defendant for
recovery of uninsured motorist benefits in the First Judicial
District Court for the State of New Mexico. Doc. 1-1 (Ex. A).
In her single-count complaint, Plaintiff alleges she was in
an automobile collision on January 22, 2013 that was caused
by the other driver's negligence. Id.
¶¶ 13-17. At the time of her accident, Plaintiff
had uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage from Defendant
GEICO General Insurance Company. Id. ¶ 4.
Having settled her liability claims against the other driver,
Plaintiff asserts in her complaint that she is entitled to
underinsured motorist benefits from Defendant because her
damages exceed the other driver's available liability
limits. Id. ¶¶ 22-25. Plaintiff
specifically seeks damages for past and future medical
expenses, past and future pain and suffering, and lost wages.
Id. ¶¶ 18-21.
March 14, 2017, Defendant removed the case to this Court,
asserting federal subject matter jurisdiction on the basis of
diversity of citizenship. See Doc. 1. In its notice
of removal, Defendant asserted that its citizenship is
diverse from that of Plaintiff because Plaintiff is a citizen
of New Mexico and Defendant is a Maryland corporation with
its principal place of business in Maryland. Id. at
2. Defendant also asserted that the amount in controversy
exceeds $75, 000. Id. at 3-5. On April 13, 2017,
Plaintiff filed the present motion to remand this case to
state court, arguing that the Court lacks jurisdiction over
this case because Defendant has failed to meet its burden of
showing that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000.
See Doc. 12. This is the sole issue raised by
Plaintiff in her motion to remand.
Standard of Review
action is removable from state court if the federal district
court has original jurisdiction over the matter. 28 U.S.C.
§ 1441(a). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a), a
federal district court possesses original subject matter
jurisdiction over a case when the parties are diverse in
citizenship and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,
000.00. See Johnson v. Rodrigues, 226 F.3d 1103,
1107 (10th Cir. 2000). The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals has
defined “amount in controversy” as an
“estimate of the amount that will be put at issue in
the course of the litigation.” See McPhail v. Deere
& Co., 529 F.3d 947, 956 (10th Cir. 2008).
plaintiff's complaint, filed in state court, demands
monetary relief of a stated sum, that sum, if asserted in
good faith, is “deemed to be the amount in
controversy.” § 1446(c)(2). When the
plaintiff's initial pleading seeks nonmonetary relief or
does not state the amount in controversy, the defendant's
notice of removal may do so. § 1446(c)(2)(A). “[A]
defendant's notice of removal need include only a
plausible allegation that the amount in controversy exceeds
the jurisdictional threshold. Evidence establishing the
amount is required by §1446(c)(2)(B) only when the
plaintiff contests, or the court, questions the
defendant's allegation.” Dart Cherokee Basin
Operating Co., LLC v. Owen, 135 S.Ct. 547, 554 (2014).
Thus, “when a defendant seeks federal-court
adjudication, the defendant's amount-in-controversy
allegation should be accepted when not contested by the
plaintiff or questioned by the court.” Dart
Cherokee, 135 S.Ct. at 553.
defendant's allegation regarding the amount in
controversy is contested, Section 1446(c)(2)(B) provides that
“removal of the action is proper on the basis of an
amount in controversy asserted” by the defendant
“if the district court finds, by the preponderance of
the evidence, that the amount in controversy exceeds”
the jurisdictional minimum. As the Supreme Court has
explained, “[t]his provision . . . clarifies the
procedure in order when a defendant's assertion of the
amount in controversy is challenged. In such a case, both
sides submit proof and the court decides, by a preponderance
of the evidence, whether the amount-in-controversy
requirement has been satisfied.” See Dart
Cherokee, 135 S.Ct. at 554. A defendant seeking removal
can establish jurisdictional facts by a preponderance in a
number of ways:
by contentions, interrogatories or admissions in state court;
by calculation from the complaint's allegations[;] by
reference to the plaintiff's informal estimates or
settlement demands[;] or by introducing evidence, in the form
of affidavits from the defendant's employees or experts,
about how much it would cost to satisfy the plaintiff's
McPhail, 529 F.3d at 954 (quoting Meridian Sec.
Ins. Co. v. Sadowski, 441 F.3d 536, 541-42 (7th Cir.
2006)). If a defendant is able to prove these jurisdictional
facts, the matter should stay in federal court “unless
it is ‘legally certain' that less than $75, 000 is
at stake.” McPhail, 529 F.3d at 954; see
also Hammonds v. Stamps.com, Inc., 844 F.3d 909, 912
(10th Cir. 2016) (“to justify dismissal under this
standard it must appear to a legal certainty that the claim
is really for less than the jurisdictional amount”).
case, the allegations in Plaintiff's complaint did not
provide sufficient information from which to determine the
amount in controversy. Consistent with New Mexico's
pleading rules, Plaintiff's complaint did not specify a
monetary amount for damages. See NMRA 1-008 (stating
that a “complaint shall not contain an allegation for
damages in any specific monetary amount”). Although
Plaintiff alleged that she sustained “serious
injuries” in the automobile accident that necessitated
medical treatment, Plaintiff did not describe the nature of
these bodily injuries or the extent of the medical treatment
she received in her complaint. See Doc. 1-1 at
¶¶ 18-19. Additionally, while Plaintiff sought
damages for past and future medical expenses, past and future
pain and suffering, and lost wages, id. at
¶¶ 19-21, she did not allege any facts from which
to estimate the amount of these damages. Likewise, while
Plaintiff alleged that her damages exceeded the other
driver's policy limits, she did not indicate what the
other driver's policy limits were or the amount of the
settlement she received from the other driver. Id.
at ¶¶ 22-23. Plaintiff also did not set forth the
amount of UM/UIM coverage available under her GEICO insurance
the amount in controversy could not be ascertained based on
the contents of the initial pleading, Defendant was required
in its notice of removal to “show how much is in
controversy through other means.” McPhail, 529
F.3d at 955. Defendant chose to do so by relying on
Plaintiff's initial settlement demand. See id.
at 956 (stating that documents “demonstrat[ing]
plaintiff's own estimation of its claim are a proper
means of supporting the allegations in the notice of
removal”). Defendant specifically alleged that the
amount in controversy was met based on Plaintiff's
initial settlement demand for $145, 000 that she sent to
Defendant in a letter dated July 29, 2016. See Doc.
1-1 (Ex. E).
detailed July 29 letter, Plaintiff supported her $145, 000
demand by: 1) indicating that she has total UM/UIM limits of
300, 000/900, 000 under her policy; 2) providing a thorough
summary of her medical treatment to date; and 3) itemizing
damages in the amount of $25, 013.90 in past medical
expenses, $10, 000 in future medical expenses, past and
future pain and suffering damages for a 27-year period, and
lost wages in the amount of $2, 100. See Doc. 1-1
(Ex. E). With regard to medical issues, the demand letter
detailed Plaintiff's persistent neck, shoulder, and back
pain as a result of the accident. Id. Medical
providers treated this pain with prescription medication and
multiple rounds of physical therapy over a two-year period.
Id. Plaintiff further cited to an increased
frequency of migraine headaches, an ...