Seckel v. Travelers Home and Marine Insurance Company
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER re 5 MOTION to Remand to State Court filed by Paul Seckel; for reasons stated within, this court DENIES Mr. Seckels motionto remand. Signed by Judge Karon O Bowdre on 1/29/13. (SAC )
2013 Jan-29 PM 04:38
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
TRAVELERS HOME AND MARINE
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
This matter comes before the court on Plaintiff Paul Seckel’s “Motion to Remand to the
Circuit Court of Etowah County, Alabama.” (Doc. 5). The court issued an order to show cause
why the case should not be remanded for lack of sufficient proof of the jurisdictional amount in
controversy (doc. 4); Defendant Travelers Home and Marine Insurance Co. responded to the
show cause order and motion to remand simultaneously. (doc. 6). For the reasons stated below,
the court will DENY Mr. Seckel’s motion to remand.
Mr. Seckel filed a three count complaint against Travelers and several fictitious parties in
the Circuit Court of Etowah County, Alabama, on November 21, 2012. (Doc. 1-1). In his
complaint, Mr. Seckel seeks compensatory damages, emotional damages, and “such equitable
and monetary damage” as the court deems necessary to compensate him for damages he suffered
as a consequence of an automobile accident in which he was involved with an uninsured
motorist. Id. at 6. On December 21, 2012, Travelers removed the case to this court. (Doc. 1). On
January 3, 2013, this court ordered Travelers to show cause why the case should not be remanded
(doc. 4), and on January 10, 2013 Mr. Seckel filed a motion to remand. (doc. 5).
“[W]here a plaintiff has made an unspecified demand for damages in state court, a
removing defendant must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the amount in
controversy more likely than not exceeds the $, 000 jurisdictional requirement.” Tapscott v.
MS Dealer Service Corp., 77 F.3d 1353, 1357 (11th Cir. 1996), overruled on other grounds,
Cohen v. Office Depot, Inc ., 204 F.3d 1069 (11th Cir. 2000). Because Mr. Seckel has made an
unspecified demand for emotional damages in addition to his monetary claim in his state court
complaint, the Tapscott standard applies here.
Travelers argues that the court should consider a letter Mr. Seckel sent to Travelers as
evidence of a settlement demand that exceeds the requisite amount in controversy. In the letter
Mr. Seckel stated, “I am seeking to be made whole . . . I have no doubt I can win a 6 figure
judgment on this.” (Doc. 1-2, at 2). While settlement demands or offers can be evidence that
unspecified claims for damages meet the amount in controversy requirement, “puffing and
posturing” like that contained in Mr. Seckel’s letter is insufficient to establish the jurisdictional
amount by a preponderance of the evidence. See Taylor v. Piggly Wiggly of Bay Minette, Ala.,
2012 WL 3555576 (S.D. Ala. 2012) (“Settlement offers commonly reflect puffing and posturing,
and such a settlement offer is entitled to little weight in measuring the preponderance of the
In his motion to remand, Mr. Seckel argues that this court does not have jurisdiction over
this case because the amount in controversy is $26,340, and for a federal district court to have
jurisdiction over an action, the amount in controversy must exceed $75,000. 28 U.S.C. §
1332(a). Mr. Seckel is correct that for this court to have jurisdiction the amount in controversy
must exceed $75,000; however, the court considers all claims in calculating the amount in
controversy, not just the actual monetary damages claimed by a plaintiff. Here, Mr. Seckel is not
only claiming $26,340 in compensatory damages but also “such equitable and monetary damage”
as this court sees fit on his intentional infliction of emotional distress and unjust enrichment
claims. (Doc. 1-1, at 6). “Such equitable and monetary damage” could foreseeably total or exceed
$48,660 in unspecified damages.
Although the court questions the merits of Mr. Seckel’s emotional distress claim under
Alabama law, his pleading put those emotional damages at issue and the likelihood of success on
those claims is irrelevant at this point. See Pretka v. Kolter City Plaza II, 608 F.3d 744, 751 (11th
Cir. 2010). (“[T]he plaintiffs' likelihood of success on the merits is largely irrelevant to the
court's jurisdiction because the pertinent question is what is in controversy in the case, not how
much the plaintiffs are ultimately likely to recover.”).
If Mr. Seckel seriously sought less than $75,000 in total damages, he had ample
opportunity to make his demands clear to Travelers and to the court. He could have submitted an
affidavit in support of his motion to remand specifically stating that he does not claim any more
than $74,999.99, even if he did not state such an intention in his state court complaint. See Smith
v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 868 F. Supp. 2d 1333,1335 (N.D. Ala. 2012) (“[P]laintiffs like
[the one in this case], who want to pursue claims against diverse parties in state court seeking
unspecified damages of various kinds, such as punitive damages and emotional distress, must in
their complaint formally and expressly disclaim any entitlement to more than $74,999.99, and
categorically state that plaintiff will never accept more.”).
Although Mr. Seckel only specifically claimed $26,430 in actual damages in his state
court complaint, the unspecified damages he seeks for his alleged emotional distress and unjust
enrichment claims allow the Defendant to meet the amount in controversy requirement. Without
an affidavit from Mr. Seckel stating that he will not claim any more than $74,999.99 from
Travelers in damages, this court has jurisdiction over the case and DENIES Mr. Seckel’s motion
DONE and ORDERED this 29th day of January, 2013.
KARON OWEN BOWDRE
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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