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Quintana v. Yost

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

August 11, 2018


          Linda J Rios Michael G. Solon Rios Law Firm Albuquerque, New Mexico Attorneys for the Plaintiff

          Jeffrey E. Jones Law Office of Jeffrey E. Jones Santa Fe, New Mexico Attorney for Defendant Andrew C. Yost

          David W. Peterson Keleher & McLeod, P.A. Albuquerque, New Mexico Attorney for Defendant American Alternative Insurance Corporation


         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on the Plaintiff's Motion to Remand, filed September 28, 2017 (Doc. 18)(“Motion”). The Court held a hearing on June 7, 2018. The primary issue is whether 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)'s amount-in-controversy requirement is met when it exceeds $75, 000.00 at the time of removal, but dips below $75, 000.00 after removal, because the parties stipulated to Defendant American Alternative Insurance Corporation's dismissal, and because the sole insurance policy at issue now is limited to $50, 000.00. The Court concludes that it must calculate the amount in controversy at the time of removal. Accordingly, the insurance policy's $50, 000.00 limit does not extinguish the Court's jurisdiction. The Court therefore denies the Motion. Although the Court concludes that the amount-in-controversy requirement is met, there is insufficient evidence to conclude that the parties are diverse. Accordingly, the Court orders Defendant Andrew C. Yost to show cause within ten calendar days why the Court should not remand the case.


         The Court takes the facts from Plaintiff Victor Quintana's Complaint for Personal Injuries and Damages, D-101-CV-2017-00158, filed January 18, 2017 (First Judicial District, County of Santa Fe, State of New Mexico), filed in federal court July 5, 2017 (Doc. 1-1)(“Complaint”) and from Defendant American Alternative Insurance Corporation's Notice of Removal, filed July 5, 2017 (Doc. 1)(“Notice of Removal”). The Court provides these facts for background. It does not adopt them as the truth, and it recognizes that the facts are largely Quintana's version of events.

         On March 4, 2014, Yost crashed a 1999 Volkswagen into the rear end of the 2008 Dodge that Quintana was driving. See Complaint ¶¶ 10-11, at 3. As a result of the crash, Quintana was injured, and the Dodge “sustained heavy and disabling damage.” Complaint ¶ 15, at 4. See Id. ¶ 14, at 3. Armano Beltran d/b/a Santa Fe Tow owns the Dodge, but Quintana was lawfully operating it when Yost crashed into the car. See Complaint ¶ 10, at 3. American Alternative insures the Dodge. See Complaint ¶ 10, at 3.

         Quintana lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. See Complaint ¶ 1, at 1. Yost “has lived in Minnesota for over two years” and intends to remain there. Notice of Removal ¶ 17, at 4. See Notice of Removal ¶ 16, at 4. American Alternative is domiciled in Delaware. See Notice of Removal ¶ 19, at 4. Its principle place of business “is not in New Mexico.” Notice of Removal ¶ 19, at 4.


         Quintana sues Yost asserting negligence and negligence per se. See Complaint ¶¶ 12- 28, at 3-5. According to Quintana, he suffered damages in the form of “severe and permanent physical injuries, past and future medical expenses, loss of life's enjoyment, loss of household services, past and future lost wages, lost earning capacity, past and future emotional and physical pain and suffering.” Complaint ¶ 28, at 5. Quintana also sues American Alternative for underinsured motorist benefits contending that the injuries Yost caused exceed Yost's insurance policy's bodily injury liability coverage. See Complaint ¶¶ 37-42, at 7-8. Finally, Quintana alleges that Yost's conduct warrants punitive damages. See Complaint ¶¶ 29-36, at 6-7. Thus, Quintana seeks compensatory and punitive damages, attorney's fees, all pre- and post-judgment interest, and any other relief the Court deems proper. See Complaint at 8.

         American Alternative removes under 28 U.S.C. § 1441 and asserts that the Court has original jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). See Notice of Removal at 1. It contends that there is complete diversity, because Quintana is a New Mexico resident, whereas Yost and American Alternative are not. See Notice of Removal ¶¶ 14-19, 21, at 3-5. It asserts that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000.00, because Quintana “denies that he is seeking damages less than $75, 000.00 against both Yost and American Alternative, ” and because Quintana seeks punitive damages. Notice of Removal ¶ 23, at 5 (citing Requests for Admission Nos. 4-5, at 3-4, filed July 5, 2017 (Doc. 1-2)(“Requests for Admission”)). See Notice of Removal ¶ 26, at 6. After American Alternative filed its Notice of Removal, the parties stipulated to American Alternative's dismissal without prejudice. See Amended Stipulation of Dismissal of Defendant American Alternative Insurance Corporation at 1, filed September 19, 2017 (Doc. 15)(“Stipulation”).

         1. The Motion.

         Quintana moves to remand to state court. See Motion at 1. He contends that Yost's vehicle insurance coverage for bodily injury is limited to $50, 000.00. See Motion ¶ 4, at 1. Yost argues, accordingly, that, because he does not seek to recover from Yost personally, and because American Alternative is no longer a defendant, the amount in controversy is necessarily less than $75, 000.00. See Motion ¶¶ 9-11, at 2.

         2. The Response.

         Yost responds. See Response to Motion For Remand, filed October 12, 2017 (Doc. 22)(“Response”). He contends that the Court may still exercise subject-matter jurisdiction, because Quintana refused to stipulate, at the time of removal, that he sought less than $75, 000.00. See Response at 2-3. Yost also asserts that, on the basis of the pre-litigation settlement demand, the amount in controversy at the time of removal is at least $90, 000.00, because: (i) Quintana's medical expenses equal $15, 466.38; (ii) the Court has reasoned, in another case, that personal injury cases customarily settle for three times the medical expenses; and (iii) punitive damages are often calculated to equal the settlement amount. See Response at 5 (citing Aranda v. Foamex Int'l, 884 F.Supp.2d 1186, 1207 (D.N.M. 2012)(Browning, J.)). He argues that Quintana's willingness to now stipulate to a $50, 000.00 cap is irrelevant, because the amount in controversy is determined at the time of removal. See Response at 3 (citing Pfeiffer v. Hartford Fire Ins. Co., 929 F.2d 1484, 1488 (10th Cir. 1991)); Response at 4 (“Once jurisdiction attaches, ‘events subsequently defeating it by reducing the amount in controversy are unavailing.'”)(quoting Miera v. Dairyland Ins. Co., 143 F.3d 1337, 1340 (10th Cir. 1998)). Yost requests, accordingly, that the Court deny the Motion. See Response at 6.

         3. The Reply.

         Quintana replies. See Plaintiff's Reply in Support of Motion to Remand at 1, filed October 23, 2017 (Doc. 23)(“Reply”). Quintana argues that it is “legally certain” that he cannot recover more than $75, 000.00, because of the $50, 000.00 policy limit. Reply at 1 (citing McPhail v. Deere & Co., 529 F.3d 947, 955 (10th Cir. 2008)). He ...

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