United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
Honorable Richard A. Jones, United States District Judge.
matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff Miranda
Thomas' Motion to Remand. Dkt. # 19. Defendants American
Family Mutual Insurance Company, American Family Insurance
Company (collectively, “AF”), and AFNI, Inc.
(“AFNI”) oppose the Motion. Dkt. ## 23, 26. For
the reasons that follow, the Court GRANTS
filed this putative class action against Defendants, alleging
violations of the Washington Consumer Protection Act, in King
County Superior Court. Dkt. # 1. Plaintiff alleges that
Defendants committed “unfair and deceptive acts”
while collecting on a debt Plaintiff incurred following a
motor vehicle collision with one of AF's insureds.
Plaintiff's Complaint alleges damages less than $5
million. Defendants removed the case to this Court under the
Class Action Fairness Act of 2005, 28 U.S.C. §
1332(d)(2) (“CAFA”). Dkt. # 1. Plaintiff then
filed this Motion for Remand. Dkt. # 19.
jurisdiction is strictly construed in favor of remand, and
any doubt as to the right of removal must be resolved in
favor of remand. Harris v. Bankers Life & Cas.
Co., 425 F.3d 689, 698 (9th Cir. 2005). The party
seeking a federal forum has the burden of establishing that
federal jurisdiction is proper. Abrego Abrego v. Dow
Chem. Co., 443 F.3d 676, 682-83 (9th Cir. 2006). The
removing party must carry this burden not only at the time of
removal, but also in opposition to a motion for remand.
See Moore-Thomas v. Alaska Airlines, Inc., 553 F.3d
1241, 1244 (9th Cir. 2009).
to CAFA, federal courts have jurisdiction over certain class
actions, defined in § 1332(d)(1), if the class has more
than 100 members, the parties are minimally diverse, and the
amount in controversy exceeds $5 million. 28 U.S.C. §
1332(d)(2); Dart Cherokee Basin Operating Co., LLC v.
Owens, 135 S.Ct. 547, 552, 190 L.Ed.2d 495 (2014).
“'[A] defendant's notice of removal need
include only a plausible allegation that the amount in
controversy exceeds the jurisdictional threshold, ' and
need not contain evidentiary submissions.” Ibarra
v. Manheim Investments, Inc., 775 F.3d 1193, 1197 (9th
Cir. 2015) (quoting Dart, 135 S.Ct. at 554.)
determining the amount in controversy, courts first look to
the complaint. Ibarra, 775 F.3d at 1197.
“Where . . . damages are unstated in a complaint, or,
in the defendant's view are understated, the defendant
seeking removal bears the burden to show by a preponderance
of the evidence that the aggregate amount in controversy
exceeds $5 million when federal jurisdiction is
challenged.” Id. This burden remains the same
even if the plaintiffs “affirmatively contend in that
complaint that damages do not exceed $5 million.”
Rodriguez v. AT & T Mobility Services LLC, 728
F.3d 975, 981 (9th Cir. 2013). When plaintiffs affirmatively
state that the amount in controversy does not exceed $5
million, a defendant must show that the “estimate of
damages in controversy is a reasonable one.”
Ibarra, 775 F.3d 1197. Where a defendant's
assertion of the amount in controversy is contested by the
plaintiffs, both sides submit proof and the Court must
decide, by a preponderance of the evidence, whether the
amount-in-controversy requirement has been satisfied.
Dart, 135 S.Ct. at 554.
parties do not dispute whether this putative class action
meets the other requirements of § 1332(d).
Plaintiff's Complaint alleges damages less than $5
million, thus, Defendants have the burden to establish, by a
preponderance of the evidence, that the amount in controversy
exceeds the jurisdictional threshold of $5 million. Plaintiff
argues that Defendants have not met that burden, and that
removal was improper.
make several assertions regarding the amount of damages in
controversy in this claim. First, Defendants asserted in
their notice of removal that Plaintiff's allegations put
at least $10.2 million in dispute. Dkt. # 1. They based this
estimate on Plaintiff's class definition. The Class is
defined as follows:
Washington motorists who were in automobile accidents with
American Family Mutual Insurance Company insureds, and who,
during the period from February 15, 2013 to February 15,
2017, 1) received an initial letter from AFNI, on behalf of
American Family Mutual Insurance Company and/or American
Family Insurance Company, seeking reimbursement for damage
resulting from the accident; and 2) after payment of the
claimed amount, received a second letter from AFNI seeking
reimbursement for additional or different damage resulting
from the same accident.
1 Ex. 1. Defendants determined that AF referred more than 2,
400 matters to AFNI involving potential subrogation claims
against motorists residing in Washington State during the
period at issue. According to their calculations, the total
value of these claims was over $10.2 million. Dkt. # 2.
Defendants provided a declaration, but no data or other
evidence in support of these assertions. Dkt. # 2.
acknowledge that they did not know at the time of removal how
many of these subrogation matters involved a Washington
motorist that received more than one letter from AFNI seeking
reimbursement for damages resulting from the same accident,
but AFNI maintains in its Response that the proffered number
is an accurate estimate of the damages at issue. AFNI argues
that the estimated $10.2 million includes all of the
potential plaintiffs, and that once actual, statutory and
treble damages, as well as attorneys' fees are taken into
account for “even a fraction of the group”, the
$5 million threshold would be met. Dkt. # 23. Dkt. # 1 ¶
11. AFNI provides ...