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State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. v. Meeks

United States District Court, D. South Dakota. Western Division.

March 11, 2014

STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE COMPANY, Plaintiff,
v.
JEREMY MEEKS and KARA RANK, Administrator of the Estate of Austin Janis, Deceased, Defendants.

ORDER

JEFFREY L. VIKEN, Chief District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

This matter is before the court pursuant to a motion to remand filed by State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company ("State Farm"). (Docket 6). State Farm moves to remand the case to the Fourth Judicial Circuit Court, Butte County, South Dakota, after defendants Jeremy Meeks and Kara Rank, as Administrator of the Estate of Austin Janis, (collectively "defendants") removed it to federal court. (Docket 1). State Farm also moves for an award of its costs and expenses incurred in filing the motion. (Docket 6).

FACTS

On January 15, 2012, Austin Janis was involved in a two-vehicle accident on U.S. Highway 385 in Colorado. At the time of the accident, Austin Janis was driving a vehicle owned by Jeremy Meeks, who was a passenger in the vehicle. The other vehicle involved in the accident was driven by Sarah Churchwell. Ms. Churchwell's vehicle crossed the centerline of the highway and collided with Mr. Janis' vehicle. Mr. Janis died as a result of injuries he sustained in the accident.

Mr. Meeks' vehicle was insured by State Farm under a policy which provides underinsured motor vehicle coverage with limits of $50, 000 for each person and $100, 000 for each accident. Ms. Churchwell's vehicle was also insured by State Farm with liability limits of $100, 000 for each person and $300, 000 for each accident. State Farm determined Ms. Churchwell's negligence was the legal cause of the accident and tendered the $100, 000 liability limit to the Estate of Mr. Janis.

Kara Rank, the Administrator of the Estate of Mr. Janis, subsequently made a claim for underinsured motor vehicle coverage under the policy of Mr. Meeks. State Farm filed a declaratory judgment action, alleging Ms. Rank was not entitled to recover any amount of damages under the underinsured motor vehicle coverage because the $50, 000 limits would be required to be reduced by the sum of $100, 000 which was previously tendered under Ms. Churchwell's insurance policy.

State Farm joined Mr. Meeks in the declaratory judgment action pursuant to SDCL § 21-24-7, which requires all persons "be made parties who have or claim any interest which would be affected by the declaration." After being served with the summons and complaint, Mr. Meeks filed a counterclaim alleging State Farm's act of naming him as a defendant was "malicious, vexatious, and made in bad faith." (Docket 6-2 at p. 2). Mr. Meeks' counterclaim was eventually dismissed with prejudice. (Docket 6-3).

On March 5, 2013, Ms. Rank was personally served with the summons and complaint. On April 4, 2013, Mr. Meeks filed an amended answer and counterclaim and Ms. Rank filed her original answer and counterclaim. (Docket 6-4). Both Mr. Meeks and Ms. Rank asserted in their counterclaims they are each entitled to recover $50, 000 for damages stemming from the collision. Id.

On April 4, 2013, Mr. Meeks and Ms. Rank filed a notice of removal, asserting this court has diversity jurisdiction. (Docket 1). State Farm then filed a motion to remand this case back to the Fourth Judicial Circuit Court, Butte County, South Dakota. (Docket 6). In support of the motion, State Farm contends the court lacks jurisdiction because defendants' counterclaims cannot be used to calculate the amount in controversy. Id . State Farm also argues defendants' claims cannot be aggregated to satisfy the amount in controversy and asserts Mr. Meeks' amended counterclaim is improper. Id . The defendants oppose the motion. (Docket 8).

DISCUSSION

Generally, a civil case brought in state court can be removed by a defendant to federal court if the case could have been brought in federal court originally. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). Under 28 U.S.C. § 1332, this court has original jurisdiction of civil matters where the parties have completely diverse citizenship and the amount in controversy is greater than $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). The determination about whether a federal court has removal jurisdiction is made on the basis of the record at the time of removal. Lexecon Inc. v. Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach , 523 U.S. 26, 43 (1998) ("Removal is permissible only where original jurisdiction exists at the time of removal or at the time of the entry of final judgment."). The party invoking federal diversity jurisdiction has the burden of establishing the amount in controversy meets the jurisdictional minimum. See Cent. Iowa Power Coop. v. Midwest Indep. Transmission Sys. Operator, Inc. , 561 F.3d 904, 912 (8th Cir. 2009); Bell v. Hershey Co. , 557 F.3d 953, 956 (8th Cir. 2009). All doubts as to the existence of federal jurisdiction are to be resolved in favor of remand. Cent. Iowa Power Coop. , 561 F.3d at 912 (citing Dahl v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. , 478 F.3d 965, 968 (8th Cir. 2007)); Bates v. Mo. & N. Ark. R.R. Co. , 548 F.3d 634, 638 (8th Cir. 2008) (citations omitted).

If federal jurisdiction is apparent from the face of the complaint, a notice of removal must be filed within thirty days of the date the defendant is served with the summons and complaint. See 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b) (2006). Once a case is removed to federal district court, any motion to remand the matter back to state court must be made within thirty days of the notice of removal. See 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c) (2006).

On March 5, 2013, Ms. Rank was personally served with the summons and complaint. On April 4, 2013, Mr. Meeks filed an amended answer and counterclaim and Ms. Rank filed her original answer and counterclaim. (Docket 6-4). On April 4, 2013, Mr. Meeks and Ms. Rank filed a notice of removal, asserting this court has diversity jurisdiction. (Docket 1). State Farm moved to remand on May 2, 2013. (Docket 6). Both the notice of removal and the motion to ...


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