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MILLER v. LIBERTY MUT. GROUP

May 17, 2000

PHYLLIS M. MILLER, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS THE ADMINISTRATRIX OF THE ESTATE OF JAY ELMER MILLER, DECEASED, PLAINTIFF,
V.
LIBERTY MUTUAL GROUP, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: D. Brooks Smith, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiff, Phyllis M. Miller ("Miller"), has filed three motions in this matter: 1) a motion to remand this case to state court; 2) a motion to dismiss the defendant's counterclaim; and 3) a motion to stay relief upon a motion to amend filed by the defendant. I will deny all three motions.

Background

On October 6, 1997, Jay Elmer Miller ("Mr.Miller") was driving a vehicle owned by his employer when he was struck and killed by an oncoming truck. Dkt. no. 1, Ex. A. At the time of the accident, Mr. Miller's employer had a motor vehicle insurance policy that covered the vehicle that Mr. Miller was driving. Id. ¶¶ 7-8. That insurance policy was issued by defendant, Liberty Mutual Group (hereinafter "Liberty Mutual"), id. ¶ 8, and it contained a bodily injury liability limit of $2,000,000.*fn1 As Administratrix of Mr. Miller's estate, plaintiff, Phyllis Miller, filed this action in the Court of Common Pleas of Cambria County, Pennsylvania. In her complaint, she sought declaratory judgment on a number of issues concerning the insurance policy issued by Liberty Mutual. Id. at 7. First, plaintiff sought a determination of whether the insurance policy provided under insured motorist ("UIM") coverage for Mr. Miller's injuries and death. Id. Second, if the policy did require such coverage, she sought a determination of precisely how much UIM coverage was available under the policy. Id. Plaintiff did not ask the Court of Common Pleas to award damages; rather, she asked the court only to work out the rights and responsibilities between the parties.

Soon after Liberty Mutual was served with plaintiff's complaint, it removed the case to federal court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441, 1446(a)-(b). Dkt. no. 1. In its notice of removal, Liberty Mutual claimed that federal jurisdiction over this action was proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. In particular, defendant alleged that there was diversity of citizenship between the parties, dkt. no. 1, ¶ 7, and that the amount in controversy exceeded $75,000. Dkt. no. 1, ¶ 5. Only days after removing this case, Liberty Mutual filed an answer and counterclaim to plaintiff's complaint. Dkt. no. 2.

In response to Liberty Mutual's removal of this action, plaintiff filed a motion to remand the case to the Court of Common Pleas. Dkt. no. 3. In her motion, plaintiff claimed that the case was improperly removed because this court lacks jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). In particular, she alleged that § 1332(a)'s $75,000 amount in controversy requirement is not satisfied because she sought declaratory relief — and not damages — from the defendant. Dkt. no. 3, ¶ 12; Dkt. no. 4, at 10. In addition, the plaintiff argued that Liberty Mutual had denied owing plaintiff any money whatsoever and, therefore, could not claim that this case was valued over $75,000. Dkt. no. 3, ¶ 8.

Motion to Remand

I will first take up plaintiff's motion to remand this case to the Court of Common Pleas of Cambria County. 28 U.S.C. § 1441 provides for the removal of actions from state courts. In relevant part, this provision provides as follows:

(a) . . . any civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction, may be removed by the defendant or the defendants, to the district court of the United States for the district where such action is pending.

28 U.S.C. § 1441(a) (emphasis added). One instance in which the district courts of the United States have "original jurisdiction" is when there is diversity of citizenship between the parties and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000. See id. § 1332(a). Upon a motion to remand, it is the removing party's burden to establish the existence of federal jurisdiction, and all doubts must be resolved in favor of remand. See Batoff v. State Farm Insurance Co., 977 F.2d 848, 851 (3d Cir. 1992).

I have little doubt that the requirements of § 1332(a) have been satisfied in this case. The sole issue raised by plaintiff in her motion is that the $75,000 amount in controversy requirement has not been met.*fn2 But plaintiff's own complaint demonstrates that the amount in controversy in this matter far exceeds § 1332(a)'s jurisdictional floor. For instance, in her complaint, plaintiff alleges the following:

28. The motor vehicle policy issued by Defendant to Decedent's employer and in effect on the date of the incident alleged herein contained bodily injury liability limits of two million dollars ($2,000,000).
29. Plaintiff believes, and therefore avers, that the amounts of available UIM coverage of such policy to indemnify her and/or the Estate of Decedent for the injuries to and death of Decedent is equal to the bodily ...

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