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Wilson v. GEICO Indemnity Co.

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

July 26, 2018

ANNA WILSON, Plaintiffs,
v.
GEICO INDEMNITY COMPANY, Defendant.

          ORDER

          RICHARD A. JONES UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion to Remand and Motion to Stay Briefing on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment ("Motion to Stay"). Dkt. ## 7, 14. Both motions are opposed. Dkt. ## 12, 18. Having considered the submissions of the parties, the relevant portions of the record, and the applicable law, the Court finds that oral argument is unnecessary. For the reasons that follow, Plaintiffs Motion to Remand is DENIED. Dkt. # 7. Plaintiffs Motion to Stay Briefing on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED as moot. Dkt. # 14.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On January 23, 2018, Plaintiff Anna Wilson filed this action in King County Superior Court against Defendant Geico Indemnity Company. Dkt. # 1. Plaintiffs Complaint alleges that Defendant is in breach of contract by failing to pay claims made under personal injury protection ("PIP") benefits under an automobile insurance contract. Dkt. #1-1. Plaintiffs Complaint seeks damages for breach of contract, breach of the duty to act in good faith, as well as claims under Washington's Insurance Fair Conduct Act, RCW 48.30.015 ("IFCA") and Consumer Protection Act, RCW 19.86.090 ("CPA"). Id. Defendant then filed a Notice of Removal on February 12, 2018. Dkt. # 1. Defendant filed its Answer on February 28, 2018, but did include any counterclaims. Dkt. # 6.

         II. DISCUSSION

         On March 1, 2018, Plaintiff filed a Motion to Remand this matter to Snohomish County Superior Court. Dkt. # 7. In this Motion, Plaintiff also requested attorney's fees. Id. at 4-5. Defendant opposes. Dkt. # 12.

         A. The Court Denies Plaintiffs Motion to Remand

         Plaintiff has moved to remand this action to state court, arguing that Defendant has not adequately established that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000. Defendant opposes on multiple grounds.[1]For the reasons stated below, this Court DENIES Plaintiffs Motion to Remand.

         Removal is proper where the district court would have original jurisdiction over the state court action. See 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). Diversity jurisdiction under § 1332(a) grants original jurisdiction to a district court when there is both complete diversity of citizenship and an amount-in-controversy exceeding $75, 000. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). The party seeking the federal forum bears the burden of establishing that federal jurisdiction is met. Rodriguez v. AT&T Mobility Servs. LLC, 728 F.3d 975, 978 (9th Cir. 2013). Federal courts "strictly construe the removal statute against removal jurisdiction." Gaus v. Miles, 980 F.2d 564, 566 (9th Cir. 1992).

         As there is no dispute that complete diversity exists between the parties, Plaintiff seeks remand on the basis that the amount-in-controversy requirement is not satisfied. Where the amount in controversy is not clear from plaintiffs complaint, the burden is on the defendant to establish that the amount-in-controversy meets the jurisdictional threshold by a preponderance of the evidence. Sanchez v. Monumental Life Ins. Co., 102 F.3d 398, 403-04 (9th Cir. 1996). However, in this Circuit, this standard applies only if the state court complaint does not specify the amount sought as damages; if the complaint filed in state court alleges damages in excess of the required federal jurisdictional amount, remand is warranted only if it appears to a "legal certainty" that the claim is actually for less than the jurisdictional minimum. Abrego Abrego v. The Dow Chem. Co., 443 F.3d 676, 683 n.8 (9th Cir. 2006). Although defendants may not merely rely upon their own conclusory statements to establish the amount in controversy, they may use the complaint as evidence, provided that the complaint is "made in good faith," and the plaintiff's recovery of the claim is a legal possibility. Singer v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 116 F.3d 373, 375 (9th Cir. 1997) (internal quotations omitted). Beyond the allegations in the pleadings, the defendant may also present and the Court may consider any additional "summary-judgement-type evidence relevant to the amount in controversy at the time of removal." Kroske v. U.S. Bank Corp., 432 F.3d 976, 980 (9th Cir. 2005), as amended on denial ofreh'g and reh'g en banc (Feb. 13, 2006).

         Both parties agree that, as a baseline, Plaintiff requests actual damages under the policy of $37, 783.74. Dkt. ## 1-1, 7, 12. In the Complaint, Plaintiff also specifically requests treble damages under the IFCA and the CPA. See Dkt. # 1-1 at 9, ¶ 4.2 ("By its conduct, GEICO is liable to plaintiff for enhanced damages including, without limitation, treble damages as authorized by RCW 48.30.015 and RCW 19.86.090 and for her reasonable attorneys' fees and costs incurred in the prosecution in this action."). The IFCA "creates a private cause of action to a first-party claimant who has been unreasonably denied insurance coverage and provides for treble damages and an attorney fee award." Rain v. Ameriprise Auto & Home Ins. Agency, Inc., No. C14-5088RJB, 2014 WL 1047244, at *3 (W.D. Wash. Mar. 18, 2014); see also RCW 48.30.015(2). As Defendant notes, should the Court apply the Plaintiffs request for treble damages under IFCA to the Plaintiffs requested relief of $37, 783.74, this alone would raise the amount in controversy to $113, 351.22, well above the $75, 000 threshold. Dkt. # 2 at 2. The CPA also permits a treble damage award not to exceed $25, 000. RCW 19.86.090.

         Plaintiff argues that the prospect of receiving exemplary damages is too speculative to satisfy defendant's burden of establishing jurisdiction. Dkt. # 7 at 3-4. The Court disagrees. When plaintiffs request treble damages under the IFCA, as Plaintiff has here, this Court trebles the amount alleged to determine the amount in controversy. See, e.g., Nw. Ry Museum v. Indian Harbor Ins. Co., No. C17-1060JLR, 2017 WL 4466619, at *3 (W.D. Wash. Oct. 5, 2017) (denying remand when Plaintiff requested treble damages under IFCA and estimated damages under insurance policy were at a minimum of $25, 000); Lim v. Nat'l Gen, Ins. Co., No. C15-0383RSL, 2015 WL 12025326, at *2 (W.D. Wash. Apr. 30, 2015) (denying remand when plaintiff requested treble damages and actual damages of $50, 000.00); Egal v. Geico General Ins. Co., No. C14-1964RSM, 2015 WL 1632950, at *4 (W.D. Wash. Apr. 13, 2015) (applying the plaintiffs request for treble damages to the plaintiffs requested relief of policy limits of $50, 000 and holding that the amount in controversy exceeded $150, 000); Rain, 2014 WL 1047244, at *3 (denying remand when plaintiffs requested treble damages and defendants showed that plaintiffs' damages would be at least $41, 000.00 before trebling); see also Trujillo v. Allstate Ins. Co., No. C09-1056RSL, 2009 WL 2843348, at *1 (W.D. Wash. Aug. 31, 2009) ("In this case, plaintiffs have explicitly alleged that their damages exceed $31, 000, and they have sought trebling of their damages [under IFCA and CPA]. Those amounts alone exceed $90, 000 and exceed the jurisdictional threshold."). Plaintiffs direct request for an award of treble damages is sufficient to place this enhanced amount of money damages in controversy.[2]

         Defendant has met its present burden and established that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000. Accordingly, this Court has jurisdiction over this matter, and Plaintiffs Motion to Remand is DENIED.

         1. Plaintiffs Request for ...


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