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Gomez v. The First Liberty Insurance Corp.

United States District Court, S.D. Florida

November 15, 2019

CHRISTINA GOMEZ and DANIEL GOMEZ, Plaintiffs,
v.
FIRST LIBERTY INSURANCE CORPORATION, Defendant.

          ORDER

          ROY K. ALTMAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court upon a sua sponte review of the record.

         THE LAW

         “A federal court not only has the power but also the obligation at any time to inquire into jurisdiction whenever the possibility that jurisdiction does not exist arises.” Fitzgerald v. Seaboard Sys. R.R., Inc., 760 F.2d 1249, 1251 (11th Cir. 1985) (citations omitted). It is the Court's responsibility to “zealously insure that jurisdiction exists over a case.” Smith v. GTE Corp., 236 F.3d 1292, 1299 (11th Cir. 2001).

         District courts have original jurisdiction over civil actions where the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000, and the suit is between citizens of different states. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). For the amount in controversy requirement, the party invoking federal jurisdiction must show that the amount exceeds $75, 000. See Id. If left unchallenged, a removing defendant, “as specified in § 1446(a)[, ] . . . need include only a plausible allegation that the amount in controversy exceeds the jurisdictional threshold.” Dart Cherokee Basin Operating Co., LLC v. Owens, 574 U.S. 81, 89 (2014). But, once challenged by either the court or the opposing party, “a conclusory allegation that the amount in controversy requirement is satisfied [is] insufficient to sustain jurisdiction.” Morrison v. Allstate Indem. Co., 228 F.3d 1255, 1273 (11th Cir. 2000). “[W]here jurisdiction is based on a claim for indeterminate damages, the . . . party seeking to invoke federal jurisdiction bears the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that the claim on which it is basing jurisdiction meets the jurisdictional minimum.” Federated Mut. Ins. Co. v. McKinnon Motors, LLC, 329 F.3d 805, 807 (11th Cir. 2003); see also Dart Cherokee Basin, 574 U.S. at 88.

         THE FACTS

         The Defendant removed this case to federal court on the basis of a letter the Plaintiffs' counsel composed, in which the Plaintiffs demanded $87, 500 to resolve their claims. See Notice of Removal (the “Notice”) [ECF No. 1]. On November 6, 2019, the Court ordered the Defendant to show cause why that settlement demand satisfied the amount in controversy requirement. See Order to Show Cause (the “OSC”) [ECF No. 3]. Specifically, the Court informed the Defendant that “the Court gives the settlement offer little weight in assessing the amount in controversy” and gave the Defendant a chance to supplement its amount in controversy allegations. See OSC at 2- 3.

         The Defendant responded on November 8, 2019. See Response to Order to Show Cause (the “Response”) [ECF No. 4]. In that Response, the Defendant doubled down. It had properly removed this case, the Defendant insisted, because the “Plaintiffs[] submitted a demand that included attorney's fees and was $12, 500 more than $6, 672.” Resp. at 9. In other words, the Defendant continues to argue, as it did in its Notice of Removal, that (1) the settlement demand satisfies the amount in controversy requirement; and that (2) the attorney's fees the Plaintiffs have accrued thus far somehow push the amount in controversy above $75, 000. See generally Response. Both arguments are unpersuasive.

         ANALYSIS

         I. The Settlement Offer

         Settlement offers “do not automatically establish the amount in controversy.” Lamb v. State Farm Fire Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., No. 3:10-CV-615-J-32-JRK, 2010 WL 6790539, at *2 (M.D. Fla. Nov. 5, 2010). To the contrary, an unadorned settlement offer merely “reflect[s] puffing and posturing, and such a settlement offer is entitled to little weight in measuring the preponderance of the evidence.” Jackson v. Select Portfolio Servicing, Inc., 651 F.Supp.2d 1279, 1281 (S.D. Ala. 2009). Only a settlement offer that provides “specific information to support the plaintiff's claim for damages” constitutes an appropriate indication of the damages in question. Lamb, 2010 WL 6790539, at *2.

         In Lamb, the court concluded that a settlement offer that “fails to explain how [the plaintiff] arrived at her damages calculation” does not “establish that the amount in controversy exceeded $75, 000.” Id. By contrast, in Wilson, this Court determined that a settlement offer that “delineates the extent of [the plaintiff's] injuries, the physicians who have treated her, and the medical care she received from each of those physicians”-and which includes a claim of “$100, 000 in medical expenses and estimates [that] future medical expenses will be over $1 million”-provided sufficient “detail” to surpass the amount in controversy threshold. Wilson v. Target Corp., No. 10-80451-CIV-MARRA, 2010 WL 3632794, at *4 (S.D. Fla. Sept. 14, 2010).

         The settlement demand at issue here is as bare-bones as they come. See Settlement Demand (the “Demand”) [ECF No. 1-4] ...


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