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JEFFREY PRESS, INC. v. HARTFORD CASUALTY INSURANCE COMPANY

July 19, 2004.

JEFFREY PRESS, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
HARTFORD CASUALTY INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: ANITA BRODY, District Judge

EXPLANATION AND ORDER

The plaintiff, Jeffrey Press, Inc., has filed a motion to remand this declaratory judgment action against defendant, Hartford Casualty Insurance Company, back to the Court of Common Pleas of Lehigh County. For the following reasons, plaintiff's motion to remand is denied.

I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

  On June 25, 2003, E.L. Meal Enterprises, Inc. ("Meal Enterprises"), on behalf of itself and others, filed a class action complaint in the Court of Common Pleas of Lehigh County, Pennsylvania against Jeffrey Press, Inc., seeking damages and injunctive relief for alleged violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 ("TCPA"), 47 U.S.C. § 227, and related Federal Communications Commission ("FCC") regulations. The prayer for relief includes, inter alia, requests for (1) certification of the class action; (2) statutory damages awards of $500 dollars to each class member, and (3) treble damages, if applicable, raising the awards of each member up to $1500 dollars. Furthermore, the complaint avers that "[p]laintiff believes that [there are] thousands of Class members." (Meal Compl. at ¶ 22.)

  On April 16, 2004, Jeffrey Press, Inc. [hereinafter "plaintiff"] filed a declaratory judgment action, also in the Court of Common Pleas of Lehigh County, against Hartford Casualty Insurance Company [hereinafter "defendant"]. The complaint alleges that defendant issued a liability insurance policy to plaintiff, which was in effect at the time Meal Enterprises filed its class action against plaintiff. Plaintiff further alleges that, pursuant to the rights and duties of the parties under that policy, defendant must provide a defense and indemnification to plaintiff in the class action brought by Meal Enterprises.

  On May 21, 2004, defendant filed a notice of removal to the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, asserting federal diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. In response, on June 8, 2004, plaintiff filed a motion to remand the matter to Lehigh County. In its motion to remand, plaintiff argues that the federal courts lack subject matter jurisdiction because the amount in controversy requirement has not been met.

  II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

  In evaluating a motion to remand, the burden of establishing the existence of original jurisdiction in the federal courts is on the removing party. See Batoff v. State Farm Ins. Co., 977 F.2d 848, 851 (3d Cir. 1992). This allocation of the burden is consistent with the general proposition that "removal statutes `are to be strictly construed against removal and all doubts should be resolved in favor of remand'" Steel Valley Auth. v. Union Switch & Signal Div., 809 F.2d 1006, 1012 n. 6 (3d Cir. 1987) (quoting Abels v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Co., 770 F.2d 26, 29 (3d Cir. 1985)); USX Corp. v. Adriatic Ins. Co., 345 F.3d 190, 206 n. 12 (3d Cir. 2003) (noting that "we are mindful that courts construe removal statutes strictly with all doubts resolved in favor of remand").

  III. DISCUSSION

  A district court has subject matter jurisdiction over state law claims if there is complete diversity of citizenship between the parties and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000, exclusive of interests and costs. 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Because the parties do not dispute diversity of citizenship,*fn1 the sole issue to be addressed is whether the jurisdictional amount in controversy requirement has been satisfied, and, therefore, whether the federal courts properly have diversity jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332.

  A. Determining the amount in controversy in a declaratory judgment action

  "A district court's determination as to the amount in controversy must be based on the `plaintiff's complaint at the time [the] petition for removal was filed.'" Werwinski v. Ford Motor Co., 286 F.3d 661, 666 (3d Cir. 2002) (quoting Steel Valley Auth., 809 F.2d at 1010). "In actions seeking declaratory judgment . . . the amount in controversy is measured by the value of the object of the litigation." Hunt v. Wash. St. Apple Advertising Comm'n., 432 U.S. 333, 347 (1977); see also 14B Charles A. Wright, A. Miller, & E. Cooper, Federal Practice and Procedure § 3702 (3d ed. 1998) ("It is well-established by numerous judicial decisions by the Supreme Court, the court of appeals, and countless district courts that the amount in controversy for jurisdiction purposes is measured by the direct pecuniary value of the right that the plaintiff seeks to enforce or protect or the value of the object that is the subject matter of the suit."). Specifically, when the complaint is for a declaratory judgment, as opposed to specific monetary relief, the amount in controversy requirement can be satisfied by looking to the underlying suit. See Manze v. State Farm Ins. Co., 817 F.2d 1062 (3d Cir. 1987) (holding that, in a proceeding to compel arbitration, the underlying action can satisfy the requisite jurisdictional amount); see also Jumara v. State Farm Ins. Co., 55 F.3d 873 (3d Cir. 1995) (holding that, in a suit to compel appointment of an arbitrator, the underlying cause of action determines the amount in controversy); see also Miller v. Liberty Mut. Group, 97 F. Supp.2d 672, 675-76 (W.D.Pa. 2000) (noting that, in accordance with Manze and Jumara, the amount in controversy requirement is satisfied in declaratory relief actions by looking to the underlying suit). Although Manze and Jumara arise in the context of arbitration disputes, both cases are useful illustrations of the above propositions.

  In Manze, an insured filed a petition to appoint a neutral arbitrator for purposes of resolving the insured's bad-faith claim against an insurer. The insurer removed the action from Pennsylvania state court, and the insured sought a remand on the ground that the amount in controversy requirement had not been met for purposes of federal jurisdiction. Because the action did not seek monetary damages, the Third Circuit looked to the underlying suit to determine whether the necessary amount in controversy had been met. Manze, 817 F.2d at 1068. Considering the fact that the limit on the insurance policy was $15,000 and that the insured never claimed less than $10,000*fn2 in the underlying suit, the Third Circuit concluded that the motion to remand should be denied because the possible award involved more than the jurisdictional amount. Id.

  In Jumara, the Third Circuit reaffirmed its holding in Manze, recognizing that the amount in controversy in an arbitration suit — or other action not explicitly seeking monetary relief, such as a declaratory judgment — is decided by the underlying cause of action. 55 F.3d at 877; Miller, supra. Specifically, in Jumara, insureds sought $200,000 in benefits in the underlying complaint. Since it could not be said that the possible award recovered by the insureds would be less than $50,000,*fn3 the Third Circuit denied remand, holding that "[i]ndeterminancy of the amount to be recovered is . . . not sufficient to defeat diversity jurisdiction, and so it is immaterial that the Jumaras might eventually recover less than $50,000 from State Farm." Id. Moreover, the Third Circuit explained that in looking at the underlying suit, "the allegations on the face of the complaint control . . . unless it appears `to a ...


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