United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division
VIRGINIA M. HERNANDEZ COVINGTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
cause comes before the Court pursuant to Plaintiff Christiaan
Webb's Motion to Remand (Doc. # 5), which was filed on
September 26, 2017. Defendant Government Employees Insurance
Company (GEICO) filed a Response in Opposition to the Motion
(Doc. # 10) on October 3, 2017. For the reasons that follow,
the Court grants the Motion and remands this action to state
court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c) because this Court
lacks subject matter jurisdiction.
September 2, 2016, Christiaan Webb, a thirty-year-old man,
was injured when an underinsured motorist, Michael
Housefield, collided with his vehicle. The air bags in
Christiaan's car deployed. David Webb is Christiaan's
father. GEICO issued policy number 4316-88-86-78 to David.
GEICO provided uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage to
Christiaan under the resident relative provision of the
the accident, Christiaan retained counsel and on May 16,
2017, furnished a demand letter to GEICO seeking the payment
of $305, 000.00. (Doc. # 9). The letter explained that, as a
result of the crash, Christiaan sustained permanent hearing
loss, a feeling of fullness in his left ear, and
Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction “TMJ.”
(Id.). GEICO did not pay the amount demanded and, on
August 25, 2017, Christiaan filed a two-count state court
complaint against GEICO. (Doc. # 2).
count one, Christiaan seeks Uninsured Motorist Benefits and,
in count two, Christiaan seeks relief for “violations
of Section 624.155, Florida Statutes, ” which covers
bad faith claims. (Doc. # 2). In the Complaint, Christiaan
remarks with respect to his bad faith claim: “This
claim will ripen upon the resolution of the uninsured
motorist claim that Plaintiff is entitled uninsured motorist
benefits under the GEICO Policy and this claim will be
voluntarily abated until such determination is made.”
(Doc. # 2 at ¶ 19).
September 25, 2017, GEICO removed the case to this Court on
the basis of complete diversity of citizenship. (Doc. # 1).
GEICO is a Maryland Corporation with its principal place of
business in the District of Columbia and Christiaan is a
resident of Hillsborough County, Florida. As to the amount in
controversy, GEICO highlights that the relevant insurance
policy's limits are $250, 000, that Christiaan's May
16, 2017 demand sought $305, 000, and that the Complaint
contains a potential claim for bad faith claims handling.
(Doc. # 9).
filed a Motion to Remand arguing: “this Court should
reject GEICO's assertion that the amount in controversy
requirement is met and remand the case to state court due to
lack of subject matter jurisdiction.” (Doc. # 5 at 2).
jurisdiction is premised upon diversity of citizenship, 28
U.S.C. § 1332(a) requires, among other things, that
“the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of
$75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs.” “If
the jurisdictional amount is not facially apparent from the
complaint, the court should look to the notice of removal and
may require evidence relevant to the amount in controversy at
the time the case was removed.” Williams v. Best
Buy Co., 269 F.3d 1316, 1319 (11th Cir. 2001). Further,
if “damages are unspecified, the removing party bears
the burden of establishing the jurisdictional amount by a
preponderance of the evidence.” Lowery v. Ala.
Power Co., 483 F.3d 1184, 1208 (11th Cir. 2007).
does not make a specified claim for damages. (Doc. # 2 at
¶ 1) (generally alleging damages exceeding $15, 000). In
the Motion to Remand, he indicates that his medical bills
total only $10, 692.27. (Doc. # 5 at 4). He also clarifies
that “while Plaintiff's case is potentially worth
greater than the $75, 000 . . . to assume so based solely by
the evidence in the Complaint would require the Court to
speculate.” (Id. at). And, “by
requesting all benefits [available] under the policy, he is
properly pleading his claims, not specifying the value of the
Court agrees with Christiaan that the amount in controversy
requirement has not been satisfied for the removal of this
case. Upon review, the demand letter, while describing
potentially serious injuries, does not provide a basis for
determining that the amount in controversy likely exceeds the
jurisdictional threshold of $75, 000.00. Christiaan's
demand for $305, 000 reflects mere posturing, rather than a
reasonable assessment of the value of Christiaan's claim.
See Standridge v. Wal-Mart Stores, 945 F.Supp. 252,
256 (N.D.Ga. 1996)(holding that a pre-suit demand letter was
“nothing more than posturing by plaintiff's counsel
for settlement purposes and cannot be considered a reliable
indicator of the damages plaintiff is seeking”).
Court is aware that “district courts are permitted to
make reasonable deductions and reasonable inferences and need
not suspend reality or shelve common sense in determining
whether the face of a complaint establishes the
jurisdictional amount.” Keogh v. Clarke Envtl.
Mosquito Mgmt., Inc., No. 8:12-cv-2874-T-30EAJ, 2013
U.S. Dist. LEXIS 20282, at *4-5 (M.D. Fla. Jan. 17,
2013)(internal citations omitted). But, overall, the record
is devoid of evidence to suggest that Christiaan's
damages from this incident exceed the $75, 000.00 amount in
controversy threshold. The record contains medical records
from two physicians regarding Christiaan's injuries.
First, an April 5, 2017, doctor's note from Dr. George B.
Blake, M.D. P.A. (an ear nose and throat doctor) explains
that Christiaan sustained "mild hearing loss in his left
ear [that] is not going to improve further." (Doc. #
10-1 at 2). But, with respect to TMJ problems and feelings of
fullness in the ear, Dr. Blake recommended taking Advil and
wearing a split to relieve these symptoms. (Id.).
Dr. Robert Chuong, M.D., D.M.D. similarly diagnosed a TMJ
dysfunction and recommended that Christiaan wear a split and
take oral steroids. (Doc. # 10-2 at 1). See Lemann v.
Saaba Cars USA, Inc., No. Civ. A. 03-2941, 2003 WL
22836004, at *2 (E.D. La. Nov. 25, 2003)(remanding car
accident case in which air bags deployed, causing hearing
loss to the plaintiff).
Court recognizes that Christiaan has listed the following
categories of damages in his Complaint: “bodily injury
and resulting pain and suffering, disability, disfigurement,
mental anguish, loss of capacity for the enjoyment of life,
expense of hospitalization, medical and nursing care and
treatment, loss of earnings and loss of ability to earn money
[which are] either permanent or continuing.” (Doc. # 2
at ¶ 16). However, the Court has not been provided with
sufficiently specific information about these broad
categories of damages to find that the amount in controversy
has been met. And, Christiaan has described these ...