United States District Court, D. Nevada
ORDER REMANDING TO STATE COURT (ECF NO. 7)
P. GORDON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
defendants removed this case to federal court on September
18, 2017. ECF No. 1. The complaint states that plaintiff
Adrian Mendoza has been damaged "in an amount. . . less
than Seventy-Five Thousand Dollars ($75, 000)." ECF No.
1-4 at 5-7. Thus, I ordered the defendants to show cause why
this case should not be remanded to state court because the
amount at issue does not meet this court's jurisdictional
amount. ECF No. 6. Subsequently, plaintiff Adrian Mendoza
moved to remand the case. ECF No. 7. The defendants respond
that I am not bound by the statements in the complaint that
Mendoza's damages are under $75, 000, and they contend
that Mendoza's $100, 000 demand letter reflects the true
value of this case.
courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. Owen Equip.
& Erection Co. v. Kroger, 437 U.S. 365, 374 (1978).
"A federal court is presumed to lack jurisdiction in a
particular case unless the contrary affirmatively
appears." Stock West, Inc. v. Confederated Tribes of
the Colville Res., 873 F.2d 1221, 1225 (9th Cir. 1989).
"Federal jurisdiction must be rejected if there is any
doubt as to the right of removal in the first instance."
Gaus v. Miles, Inc., 980 F.2d 564, 566 (9th Cir.
1992) (citing Libhart v. Santa Monica Dairy Co., 592
F.2d 1062, 1064 (9th Cir. 1979)). Thus, courts "strictly
construe the removal statute against removal
jurisdiction." Id. "The 'strong
presumption' against removal jurisdiction means that the
defendant always has the burden of establishing that removal
is proper." Id. Remand is required if the court
lacks subject matter jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c);
see also Aguon-Schulte v. Guam Election Comm'n,
469 F.3d 1236, 1240 (9th Cir. 2006) ("[R]emand may be
ordered either for lack of subject matter jurisdiction or for
'any defect' in the removal procedure.").
cases where a plaintiffs state court complaint does not
specify a particular amount of damages, the removing
defendant bears the burden of establishing, by a
preponderance of the evidence, that the amount in controversy
exceeds [$75, 000]. Under this burden, the defendant must
provide evidence establishing that it is 'more likely
than not' that the amount in controversy exceeds that
amount." Sanchez v. Monumental Life Ins. Co.,
102 F.3d 398, 404 (9th Cir. 1996). Broad allegations that the
jurisdictional amount is met, "although attempting to
recite some magical incantation, neither overcome[ ] the
strong presumption against removal jurisdiction, nor
satisf[y][the defendant]'s burden of setting forth, in
the removal petition itself, the underlying facts supporting
its assertion that the amount in controversy exceeds $75,
000." Abrego Abrego v. The Dow Chem. Co., 443
F.3d 676, 689 (9th Cir. 2006) (emphasis and quotation
omitted); see also Singer v. State Farm Mut. Auto.
Ins. Co., 116 F.3d 373, 377 (9th Cir. 1997)
("[R]emoval cannot be based simply upon conclusory
allegations where the ad damnum is silent." (internal
quotations and citation omitted)).
a complaint is unclear as to the total amount of damages
sought, but alleges only upper or lower limits or types of
damages, a district court is free in its
preponderance-of-the-evidence analysis to make estimations of
the amount of damages that could be obtained consistent with
the vague wording of the complaint." Elliker v.
Contractors Bonding & Ins. Co.,
3:12-cv-00438-RCJ-WGC, 2013 WL 757621 at *1 (D. Nev. Feb. 27,
2013) (citing Guglielmino v. McKee Foods Corp., 506
F.3d 696, 700-01 (9th Cir. 2007)). In making such analyses,
district courts can make "reasonable deductions,
reasonable inferences, or other reasonable extrapolations
from the pleadings to determine whether it is facially
apparent that a case is removable, " and "may use
their judicial experience and common sense in determining
whether the case stated in a complaint meets federal
jurisdictional requirements." Roe v. Michelin N.
Am., Inc., 613 F.3d 1058, 1061- 1062 (11th
Cir. 2010) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009)
("Determining whether a complaint states a plausible
claim for relief. . . requires the reviewing court to draw on
its judicial experience and common sense.").
there is considerable doubt as to the defendants' right
to remove this case because it appears highly unlikely that
the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000. Mendoza alleges
that he suffered injuries in an automobile accident. ECF No.
1-4. Mendoza has already recovered $15, 000 from the
tortfeasor's insurer. Id. at 4. The defendants
offer no evidence about Mendoza's medical bills or lost
complaint asserts three claims for relief, each seeking
between $15, 000 and $75, 000. The defendants improperly
attempt to lump those together to say that the amount in
controversy must exceed $75, 000. But Mendoza has pleaded
some of those claims in the alternative and, regardless, he
is entitled to only one recovery for his damages. Most
importantly, Mendoza's complaint states that "[t]he
amount in controversy for all three causes of action combined
is less than $75, 000." ECF No. 1-4 at 7.
defendants contend a large punitive damages award is possible
even if the compensatory damage award is small. However,
under that analysis, I would have to hold that every (or
nearly every) insurance bad faith lawsuit seeking
extra-contractual or punitive damages satisfies the $75, 000
jurisdictional threshold. That runs contrary to
well-established law regarding removal. And again, Mendoza
specifically admits in his complaint that, even counting his
punitive damages claim, he seeks less than $75, 000.
defendants attempt to downplay the importance of this
admission by citing to a pre-litigation settlement letter
from Mendoza's counsel that demanded the full policy
limit of $100, 000. "A settlement letter is relevant
evidence of the amount in controversy if it appears to
reflect a reasonable estimate of the plaintiffs claim."
Cohn v. Petsmart, Inc., 281 F.3d 837, 840 (9th Cir.
2002). The defendants offer nothing to suggest that the $100,
000 demand is a reasonable estimate of Mendoza's claim.
And it could be that Mendoza later reexamined his position
and decided that the claim was not worth $100, 000.
Regardless, it does not appear to be a reasonable estimate to
on my judicial, legal, and practical experience and common
sense, I find that the defendants have not met their burden
of establishing by a preponderance of the evidence that the
amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000. Roe, 613
F.3d at 1061-1062; Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. I must
remand this action to state court.
THEREFORE ORDERED the plaintiffs motion to remand
(ECF No. 7) is GRANTED. This case is
remanded to the state court from which it was removed for all
further proceedings. ...