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Houchens v. Government Employees Insurance Co.

United States District Court, Sixth Circuit

October 21, 2013

ANITA HOUCHENS, ET AL., Plaintiffs,
v.
GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

CHARLES R. SIMPSON III, Senior District Judge.

This case is before the Court on a motion to remand filed by the Plaintiffs, Anita Houchens ("Houchens") and Jordan Sanders ("Sanders") (collectively "Plaintiffs"), against the Defendant, Government Employees Insurance Company ("GEICO") (DN 8). For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant the motion to remand.

BACKGROUND

The following facts are undisputed. On July 28, 2011, Plaintiffs Houchens and Sanders were injured in a motor vehicle accident. Shortly after the accident, Plaintiffs received medical treatment for back injuries at Dixie Chiropractic Office ("Dixie"). Because Plaintiffs were both insured by GEICO, Dixie forwarded Plaintiffs' medical bills to GEICO so that it could consider their claim for no-fault reparation benefits under Kentucky's Motor Vehicle Reparations Act ("MVRA"). After conducting an Independent Medical Review ("IMR") of the reasonableness and necessity of the medical treatment provided by Dixie, GEICO refused to pay Dixie for approximately half of Plaintiffs' total medical expenses.

On January 14, 2013, Plaintiffs filed suit against GEICO in Jefferson County Circuit Court, seeking certification of a class action. In their Complaint, Plaintiffs assert that GEICO illegally denied their claims for reparation benefits based solely on the results of an IMR. According to Plaintiffs, the MVRA does not permit insurers to deny reparation benefits solely on the basis of an IMR, but instead requires that they petition the court for an Independent Medical Examination ("IME") pursuant to KY. REV. STAT. § 304.39-270. As relief, Plaintiffs have requested: 1) an injunction and accompanying declaration requiring GEICO to conduct an IME when contesting a claim for reparation benefits; 2) compensatory damages for GEICO's denial of Plaintiffs' claims for reparation benefits; and 3) an award of statutory attorney's fees under KY. REV. STAT. § 304.39-220(1).

On March 10, 2013, GEICO removed the case to this Court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act ("CAFA"). On April 4, 2013, Plaintiffs moved to remand the action to Jefferson County Circuit Court, claiming that GEICO had failed to satisfy CAFA's amount-in-controversy requirement. Having considered the parties' briefs and being otherwise sufficiently advised, the Court will now address Plaintiffs' Motion to Remand.

STANDARD

Under CAFA, federal district courts have original jurisdiction over any class action in which 1) any plaintiff is a citizen of a state different from any defendant; 2) the proposed plaintiff class (or classes) contain(s) at least 100 members in the aggregate; and 3) the amount in controversy exceeds five million dollars. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(2); id. § 1332(d)(5)(B). As the party invoking federal jurisdiction, the defendant bears the burden of establishing these jurisdictional prerequisites by a preponderance of the evidence. Smith v. Nationwide Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co., 505 F.3d 401, 404-05 (6th Cir. 2007) (quoting Brown v. Jackson Hewitt, Inc., No. 1:06-cv-2632, 2007 WL 642011, at *2 (N.D. Ohio Feb. 27, 2007)).

When the plaintiff's complaint does not specify the amount of damages sought to be recovered, the burden rests with the defendant to produce other evidence establishing that the amount-in-controversy requirement has been satisfied. Gafford v. Gen. Elec. Co., 997 F.2d 150, 158 (6th Cir. 1993) (holding that where plaintiff's complaint seeks recovery of an unspecified amount of damages, the burden is on defendant to prove the threshold jurisdictional amount by a preponderance of the evidence). However, this burden is "a moderate burden that... does not place upon the defendant the daunting burden imposed by the legal certainty test, to research, state, and prove the plaintiff's claim for damages." McCraw v. Lyons, 863 F.Supp. 430, 434 (W.D. Ky. 1994) (citing Gafford, 997 F.2d at 159). Rather, the defense is entitled to rely on a "fair reading" of the allegations set forth in the complaint, see Hayes v. Equitable Energy Res. Co., 266 F.3d 560, 573 (6th Cir. 2001), meaning that the amount in controversy may be established by drawing reasonable inferences based on the nature and extent of the damages requested in the complaint. See Agri-Power, Inc. v. Majestic JC, LLC, No. 5:13-CV-00046-TBR, 2013 WL 3280244, at *3 (W.D. Ky. June 27, 2013) (evaluating the amount in controversy by looking to the nature and extent of the compensatory and punitive damages requested by plaintiffs); Shupe v. Asplundh Corp., No. 5:12-CV-286-KKC, 2013 WL 647504, at *2 (E.D. Ky. Feb. 21, 2013) (same); J.T. Carneal v. Travelers Cas. Ins. of America, No. 5:12-CV-00174, 2013 WL 85148, at *2 (W.D. Ky. Jan. 7, 2013) (same).

DISCUSSION

Plaintiffs do not dispute that their proposed class includes greater than one hundred persons and that minimal diversity exists among the parties. Thus, Plaintiffs' only argument in support of remand is that GEICO has failed to satisfy its burden of establishing that the amount in controversy more likely than not exceeds five million dollars. For the reasons set forth below, the Court agrees with Plaintiffs and will therefore grant their Motion to Remand.

Because Plaintiffs' Complaint does not specify the amount of damages they seek to recover, [1] GEICO bears the burden of establishing that the amount in controversy more likely than not exceeds five million dollars. Gafford v. Gen. Elec. Co., 997 F.2d 150, 158 (6th Cir. 1993) (holding that where plaintiff's complaint seeks recovery of an unspecified amount of damages, the burden is on defendant to prove the threshold jurisdictional amount by a preponderance of the evidence). GEICO argues that the amount in controversy exceeds five million dollars because: 1) Plaintiffs have requested injunctive and declaratory relief requiring GEICO to conduct expensive IMEs in lieu of the comparatively cheaper IMRs when contesting claims for reparation benefits; 2) Plaintiffs have requested compensatory damages for GEICO's past denial of Plaintiffs' claims for reparation benefits; and 3) Plaintiffs have requested statutory attorney's fees under the MVRA. After calculating the amount in controversy with respect to each of these claims, the Court concludes that GEICO has failed to satisfy its burden of establishing that the amount in controversy will exceed five million dollars.

i. Injunctive and Declaratory Relief

With respect to Plaintiffs' injunctive and declaratory relief, the Court must assess the amount in controversy by looking to "the value of the object of the litigation." Northup Props., Inc. v. Chesapeake Appalachia, LLC, 567 F.3d 767, 770 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting Hunt v. Wash. State Apple Adver. Comm'n, 432 U.S. 333, 347 (1977)). GEICO argues that, when viewed from its perspective, the value of the object of the litigation equals the costs that it would incur in complying with Plaintiffs' injunctive and declaratory relief. Although the Sixth Circuit has not yet decided whether the value of the object of the litigation should be "view[ed]... from the perspective of the plaintiff or the defendant, " Northup Props., Inc. v. Chesapeake Appalachia, LLC, 567 F.3d 767, 770 (6th Cir. 2009) (citing Everett v. Verizon Wireless, Inc., 460 F.3d 818, 829 (6th Cir. 2006)), the court stated in Smith v. Nationwide Property & Cas. Ins. Co., 505 F.3d 401 (6th Cir. 2007), that "[i]t is generally agreed... that the amount in controversy should be determined from the perspective of the plaintiff, with a focus on the economic value of the rights he seeks to protect, " Smith, 505 F.3d at 405 (quoting Woodmen of the World/Omaha Woodmen Life Ins. Soc. v. Scarbro, 129 Fed.Appx. ...


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