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Inez Coates v. Nationwide Insurance Co.

September 14, 2012

INEZ COATES
v.
NATIONWIDE INSURANCE CO.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Baylson, J.

MEMORANDUM RE: MOTION TO REMAND

I. Introduction

Presently before the Court in this dispute over underinsured motorist benefits is a Motion to Remand filed by Plaintiff Inez Coates ("Plaintiff"). For the reasons that follow, the Court will GRANT Plaintiff's Motion and remand the case to the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania.

II. Factual and Procedural Background

Plaintiff originally filed her Complaint in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County. She sued Defendant Nationwide Insurance Company*fn1 ("Nationwide") for breach of fiduciary duty to pay underinsured motorist ("UIM") benefits in accordance with the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Responsibility Law, 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 1731(c) (Count I), breach of contract/breach of good faith and fair dealing (Count II), bad faith insurance practices in violation of 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 8371 (Count III), and breach of statutory and contractual duty to supply UIM benefits, again in accordance with the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Responsibility Law, 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 1731.

Plaintiff alleges that she was involved in a car accident on March 9, 2009, in which David Tomarchio, a non-party to this action, hit her car, causing it to turn over and skid upside-down for twenty-feet. (Compl. ¶¶ 4-10). Plaintiff, who avers she was in no way responsible for the collision, had to be removed from her vehicle with the "jaws of life." (Id.¶¶ 10-11). Plaintiff suffered severe and permanent injuries and disabilities, which she details at length in her Complaint, and underwent five surgical procedures. (Id. ¶¶ 12-17). Mr. Tomarchio's insurance policy provided only $100,000 in coverage, which Plaintiff's expenses exceeded. (Id. ¶¶ 20-21). Plaintiff has motor vehicle insurance provided by Nationwide, which included UIM benefits in an amount unspecified in the Complaint. (Id. ¶¶ 18-19). Plaintiff accordingly submitted her bills to Nationwide. (Id. ¶ 21). Nationwide, however, failed or refused to provide Plaintiff any benefits. (Id.).

Relevant to the Motion at hand, Plaintiff's Complaint filed in the Court of Common Pleas contained a cover sheet on which Plaintiff checked a box indicating that the amount in controversy was "$50,000 or less." The case was designated for compulsory arbitration where the total amount of damages recoverable is capped at $50,000, pursuant to 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 7361.*fn2 Each count of Plaintiff's Complaint contains an ad damnum clause specifying the relief sought. For Count I, Plaintiff's breach of fiduciary duty claim, Plaintiff demanded "judgment of Defendant, Nationwide Insurance Company, in an amount not in excess of Fifty Thousand ($50,000) Dollars in addition to all costs and expenses incurred during the courseof this litigation, as well as interest and damages for delay." (Compl. at 8). Each of the other counts recited the following ad damnum clause, which mirrors the first ad damnum clause but adds a reference to punitive and exemplary damages: "Wherefore, Plaintiff, Inez Coates, demands judgment against Defendant, Nationwide, in an amount not in excess of Fifty Thousand ($50,000) Dollars, in addition to interest and damages for delay, as well as all costs, expenses and incidental fees incurred during the course of this litigation, including attorney's fees, and punitive or exemplary damages." (Compl. at 10, 12, 13).

Nationwide removed the case to this Court on July 16, 2012. (Notice of Removal, ECF No. 1).In the Notice of Removal, Nationwide made the following representations with respect to the amount in controversy:

The amount in controversy, upon information and belief, is in excess of Seventy Five Thousand Dollars ($75,000) exclusive of interest and costs, in that plaintiff:

(a) alleges in paragraph 21 of her complaint that the tortfeasor was underinsured since he maintained only $100,000 in liability coverage and the value of plaintiff's injuries are in excess of that amount;

(b) alleges in paragraph 17 of her complaint that she has undergone five operations as a result of the March 9, 2009 accident "with a sixth surgery being considered at this time by a vascular surgeon,"and

(c) alleges in her complaint that Nationwide has unreasonably failed to pay her underinsured motorist claim arising out of the accident on March 9, 2009 and as a result Nationwide has violated Pennsylvania's insurance bad faith insurance statute with respect to her claim.

(Notice of Removal ¶ 6(a)-(e)). Nationwide promptly filed a Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6).*fn3 (Motion to Dismiss, ECF No. 4).Although Plaintiff eventually filed a response to the Motion to Dismiss (Response to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, ECF No. 6), she first timely filed the Motion to Remand currently before the Court. Nationwide responded (Response to Motion to Remand, ECF No. 4), and Plaintiff then filed a Reply Brief (Memorandum re First Motion to Remand to State Court, ECF No. 8).

On September 13, 2012, the Court held an unrecorded conference call with counsel for both parties. The Court explained to Plaintiff's counsel that the pleadings were somewhat confusing as to whether Plaintiff sought an amount greater than $50,000. Following the call, with the Court's permission, Plaintiff filed an amendment to her Complaint (ECF No. ...


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