United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division
DOLLIE L. WEST, Plaintiff,
CONSTITUTION LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.
ORDER REMANDING CASE FOR LACK OF SUBJECT-MATTER
E. SELF, III, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE
case is before the Court on a discovery dispute arising after
Defendant's removal from the Superior Court of Macon
County, Georgia. Upon a review of the record and for the
following reasons, the Court sua sponte
REMANDS the case for lack of subject-matter
originally filed suit against Defendant in the Superior Court
of Macon County, Georgia, alleging that Defendant failed to
pay her benefits under a $30, 000 “First Diagnosis of
Cancer Insurance” policy that she obtained in November
of 2011. [Doc. 1-1]. Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages of
$30, 000 plus attorney's fees and punitive damages
arising from Defendant's alleged bad faith. [Id.
at p. 4]. Defendant removed the action to this Court on the
basis of diversity jurisdiction. [Doc. 1]. In its Notice of
Removal, Defendant avers that it is a Texas corporation with
its principal place of business in Florida and that Plaintiff
is a citizen of Georgia. [Id. at ¶¶ 4, 5].
Although Plaintiff requests compensatory damages of only $30,
000, Defendant contends that jurisdiction is proper in this
Court “because an award of $30, 000 in compensatory
damages along with an award of punitive damages in an amount
any more than 1.5 times as much as the alleged compensatory
damages would result in total damages in excess of $75, 000,
without accounting for any greater award of punitive damages
or any award of attorney's fees at all.”
[Id. at ¶ 10].
Standard of Review
jurisdiction exists where the parties are citizens of
different states and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,
000, exclusive of interest and costs. 28 U.S.C. §
1331(a)(1). The removing defendant “bears the burden of
proving that federal jurisdiction exists.” Williams
v. Best Buy Co., 269 F.3d 1316, 1319 (11th Cir. 2001).
If the plaintiff does not state a specific amount of damages
in her complaint, removal is proper where it is apparent from
the face of the complaint that the amount in controversy
would exceed $75, 000. Id. But if the amount in
controversy is not apparent from the face of the complaint,
the Court may look to the notice of removal and may request
additional evidence regarding the amount in controversy.
Id. To ascertain whether an action meets the
amount-in-controversy jurisdictional requirement, the Court
may “make ‘reasonable deductions, reasonable
inferences, or other reasonable extrapolations' from the
pleadings” and should use “judicial experience
and common sense, ” rather than “suspend[ing]
reality.” Roe v. Michelin N. Am., Inc., 613
F.3d 1058, 1061-62 (11th Cir. 2010) (quoting Pretka v.
Kolter City Plaza II, Inc., 608 F.3d 744, 754, 770 (11th
federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, they are
obligated to inquire into their own jurisdiction.
University of S. Ala. v. American Tobacco Co., 168
F.3d 405, 409-10 (11th Cir. 1999). “If at any time
before final judgment it appears that the district court
lacks subject matter jurisdiction, ” the Court may
remand the case sua sponte. 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c);
U.S. Bank Nat'l Ass'n v. Smith, 693
Fed.Appx. 827, 829 (11th Cir. 2017) (citing Whole Health
Chiropractic & Wellness, Inc. v. Humana Med. Plan,
Inc., 254 F.3d 1317, 1320-21 (11th Cir. 2001)).
Moreover, removal is generally unfavored; therefore, any
“ambiguities are generally construed against
removal.” Whitt v. Sherman Int'l Corp.,
147 F.3d 1325, 1329 (11th Cir. 1998).
Notice of Removal, Defendant argues that Plaintiff's
demand for punitive damages and attorney's fees is
sufficient to push this case beyond the $75, 000 threshold
and opines that Plaintiff could receive a punitive damages
award 1.5 times the amount of compensatory damages ($30,
000). However, the Georgia statute that governs cases
concerning an insurer's refusal to pay insurance proceeds
limits damages for bad faith to 50 percent of the amount of
actual damages, and plaintiffs are not entitled to punitive
damages under the statute. See Ga. Code Ann. §
33-4-6(a); see also Hall v. Travelers Ins.
Co., 691 F.Supp. 1406, 1409 (N.D.Ga. 1988)
(“[P]laintiff's request for both the  percent
penalty and unspecified punitive damages is at least
redundant.”); Stiegel v. USAA Cas. Ins. Co.,
No. 4:16-CV-346 (CDL), 2017 WL 4393871, at *3 (M.D. Ga. Oct.
3, 2017) (“[T]he court in McCall [v.
Allstate Ins. Co., 310 S.E.2d 513, 516 (Ga. 1984)] held
that an insured could not recover punitive damages . . . on
its insurer's refusal to pay a covered insurance claim
because [Ga. Code Ann. § 33-4-6(a)] limited the
available damages to the amount of the claim, an additional
percentage of that amount for a bad-faith penalty, and
attorney's fees.”). Under the statute,
Plaintiff's damages for bad faith, if any, would amount
to $15, 000 at most. Although this raises the amount in
controversy to $45, 000, it still falls below the statutory
requirement for diversity jurisdiction.
the Court must consider punitive damages when determining the
amount in controversy, the Court must also consider a demand
for attorney's fees contained in the complaint.
Jackson v. American Gen. Fin. Servs., Inc., No.
7:06-cv-19 (HL), 2006 WL 997614, at *2 (M.D. Ga. Apr. 17,
2006). Under the statute governing this case, Plaintiff is
entitled to recover “all reasonable attorney's fees
for the prosecution of the action against the insurer.”
Ga. Code Ann. § 33-4-6(a). The Court previously
determined that actual damages and bad-faith damages would
amount, at most, to $45, 000 in this case. To push this
action over the amount-in-controversy threshold,
Plaintiff's attorney's fees would have to be in
excess of $30, 000. Common sense and the Court's judicial
experience dictate that such an award would be highly
unlikely given the facts and complexity of this case. See
Roe, supra. However, even if it were
theoretically possible that Plaintiff's attorney's
fees could exceed $30, 000, any doubt should be resolved in
favor of remand. See Whitt, supra.
Court finds that the amount in controversy does not meet the
$75, 000 minimum threshold and that the Court does not have
subject-matter jurisdiction over this case. Therefore, the
Court REMANDS this action to the Superior
Court of Macon County, Georgia. The ...