Zahn v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company
ORDER AND REASONS denying 10 Motion to Dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. Signed by Judge Susie Morgan on 10/26/2017. (clc)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA
STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE
ORDER AND REASONS
Before the Court is State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company’s (“State
Farm”) motion to dismiss Plaintiff Michelle Zahn’s claims pursuant to Federal Rules of
Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), 12(b)(6), and 20.1 The motion is opposed.2 For the following
reasons, the motion is DENIED.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
On March 27, 2016, Plaintiff was involved in an automobile accident with Hannah
McAllister.3 At the time of the accident, McAllister was operating her automobile while
under the influence of alcohol.4 Plaintiff was traveling southbound on North Florida
Street when McAllister, who was traveling northbound on North Florida Street, left her
lane of travel, entering Plaintiff’s lane and striking her.5 Nine days after the first accident,
on April 5, 2016, Plaintiff was again involved in a car accident, this time with Nicholas
Smith.6 In this accident, Plaintiff was a passenger in a Ford F-150 that was stopped at a
R. Doc. 10.
R. Doc. 13.
3 R. Doc. 9 at ¶ 4.
4 Id. at ¶ 11.
5 Id. at ¶¶ 9–12.
6 Id. at ¶ 5.
stop sign when Smith “entered the intersection . . . while presented with a red traffic
control signal light and without yielding to vehicles in that intersection.”7 “When Mr.
Smith entered the intersection, he struck a vehicle proceeding through the intersection
from US 190 South Service Road, and pushed that vehicle into the stationary vehicle
As a result of the two accidents, Plaintiff
sustained serious bodily injuries to her body and mind including, without
limitation, spinal injuries with related symptoms in her extremities a closed
head injury; together with past and future mental anguish and physical
suffering; past and future loss of enjoyment of life; past and future expenses
for medical care; permanent disability and impairment; and past and future
loss of income.9
Although Plaintiff settled her claims against McAllister, Smith, and their respective
liability insurers for the aggregate sum of $23,467.60,10 Plaintiff alleges that her “actual
damages for each accident exceed those limits by more than $75,000 each.”11
“With both of the underlying liability claims resolved for the limits of available
coverage,”12 Plaintiff filed suit against her insurance carrier, State Farm, on June 5, 2017,
pursuing the balance of her damage from both accidents as well as exemplary damages.
She submitted this Court has subject matter jurisdiction over her claims pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 1332.13 On August 15, 2017, State Farm filed the instant motion to dismiss
pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), 12(b)(6), and 20.14 In support of its
Id. at ¶¶ 14, 16.
Id. at ¶ 16.
9 Id. at ¶ 18.
10 Id. at ¶ 20. “Specifically, Ms. McAllister had only $15,000 in liability coverage available per claimant. Mr.
Smith had only $30,000 in total liability coverage per occurrence, which was split between numerous
claimants.” Id. Neither McAllister nor Smith are parties to this case.
11 Id. at ¶ 21.
12 Id. at ¶ 1.
13 Id. at ¶ 6.
14 R. Doc. 10.
motion, State Farm argues: (1) Plaintiff’s claims must be severed, (2) Plaintiff failed to
plead facts sufficient to establish she is entitled to exemplary and punitive damages, and
(3) Plaintiff has not alleged facts sufficient to establish the amount in controversy in this
case exceeds $75,000.15
Since filing its motion to dismiss, State Farm has withdrawn its motion with
respect to severability,16 and Plaintiff has admitted that State Farm’s exclusion in its
policy for punitive and exemplary damages require dismissal of those claims.17 Thus, the
only remaining issue before the Court with respect to Defendants’ motion to dismiss is
whether Plaintiff has alleged facts sufficient to support her assertion that her damages
exceed $75,000 in this case by a preponderance of the evidence.
Because the amount in controversy was not apparent from the face of Plaintiff’s
complaint, the Court ordered Plaintiff to file a supplemental memorandum in opposition
to Defendant’s motion to dismiss as it relates to the amount in controversy.18 On October
20, 2017, Plaintiff filed a supplemental memorandum, attaching various medical bills,
diagnoses, and a surgical referral.19
STANDARD OF LAW
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332, the United States district courts possess subject
matter jurisdiction over actions involving citizens of different states when the amount in
controversy exceeds $75,000.20 For a federal court to decline jurisdiction, it must appear
R. Doc. 17 at 5.
17 R. Docs. 13 at 2, 17 at 5.
18 R. Doc. 18.
19 R. Doc. 23.
20 28 U.S.C. § 1332.
to a “legal certainty” that a claim is really for less than the jurisdictional amount.21 The
party asserting federal jurisdiction bears the burden of proof.22 “Lack of subject matter
jurisdiction may be found in any one of three instances: (1) the complaint alone; (2) the
complaint supplemented by undisputed facts evidenced in the record; or (3) the
complaint supplemented by undisputed facts plus the court’s resolution of disputed
facts.”23 When a defendant “challenges the existence of subject matter jurisdiction in fact,
irrespective of the pleadings,” the Court may consider “matters outside the pleadings.”24
“[I]n cases in which a single plaintiff seeks to aggregate two or more of [her] own claims
against a single defendant,” the district court may look to the sum total of each of the
plaintiff’s claims against a particular defendant to determine whether the amount in
controversy is met.25
LAW AND ANALYSIS
Plaintiff brings her claims against State Farm in federal court based on this Court’s
diversity jurisdiction.26 Title 28, section 1332 of the United States Code provides “[t]he
district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions where the matter in
controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75,000, exclusive of interest and costs, and is
between citizens of different States.”27
21 De Aguilar v. Boeing Co., 47 F.3d 1404, 1409 (5th Cir. 1995); see also Home Builders Ass'n of Miss., Inc.
v. City of Madison, 143 F.3d 1006, 1010 (5th Cir. 1998); Edinburgh v. Am. Sec. Ins. Co., No. 10-613, 2010
WL 3923292, at *2 (E.D. La. Sept. 28, 2010).
22 Ramming v. United States, 281 F.3d 158, 161 (5th Cir. 2001).
23 Id. (quoting Barrera–Montenegro v. United States, 74 F.3d 657, 659 (5th Cir. 1996)).
24 Menchaca v. Chrysler Credit Corp., 613 F.2d 507, 511 (5th Cir.1980).
25 Snyder v. Harris, 394 U.S. 332, 335 (1969); Alberty v. Western Surety Co., 249 F.2d 537, 538 (10th Cir.
1957); Nat’l Soc. Of Pub. Accountants, 200 F.2d 897, 898 (5th Cir. 1953) (“That the claims may also be
aggregated to make up the jurisdictional amount in a case such as this is too clear for comment . . . .”).
26 R. Doc. 1. ¶ 6.
27 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1).
It is undisputed that the parties in this case are diverse. Instead, State Farm argues
“Plaintiff’s Original Citation and First Amended Citation are wholly inadequate in
providing this Court and State Farm with allegations or evidence sufficient to determine
the extent of Plaintiff’s injuries, let alone whether either claim can exceed the
jurisdictional minimum.”28 According to State Farm, “Plaintiff must establish that she
sustained $75,000 worth of injuries as a result of the first accident and not attribute any
of those damages to her second accident. While at the same time, Plaintiff must establish
that after the second accident, she incurred $75,000 worth of injuries separate and
distinct from the injuries she allegedly sustained in the first accident.”29
In opposition, Plaintiff contends she may aggregate her claims against State Farm
to meet the requisite the amount in controversy in this case.30 Since filing her compliant,
Plaintiff has provided the Court with several medical bills, diagnoses, and a surgical
referral.31 According to Plaintiff, since the accident, she has incurred over $40,000.00 in
medical bills,32 and she has not yet received bills from several other healthcare
providers.33 Finally, Plaintiff has submitted evidence of her diagnosis, along with a
recommendation from her physician that she undergo “a single-level anterior lumbar
discectomy and interbody fusion.”34
In support of her argument that these injuries establish the requisite amount in
controversy exists in this case, Plaintiff points to Jones v. Harris, a case in which a jury
R. Doc. 10-1 at 4.
R. Doc. 10-1 at 4.
30 R. Doc. 13 at 8–9.
31 R. Doc. 23.
32 Id. at 1.
33 Id. (listing “Southern Pain and Neurological, Lakeview Surgical Specialists, Cypress Pointe Surgical
Hospital, Summit Anesthesia, Inc., Jefferson Ambulatory Surgical Center, and Cypress Pointe Pain
34 Id. at 23.
awarded the plaintiff $500,000.00 in general damages for a lumbar spine injury at L5-S1
following a car accident,35 and Walters v. Shelter Mutual Ins. Co., a case in which a jury
awarded $300,000 to a plaintiff who sustained herniated discs at L4-5 and L5-S1 for which
surgery was recommended but not performed.36
The Court notes it may properly consider these documents to determine whether
jurisdiction exists in this case,37 and that Plaintiff’s damage allegations may be considered
in the aggregate.38 To date, Plaintiff has incurred $43,153.96 in medical bills, with six
healthcare providers yet to bill her for her past medical expenses. Plaintiff also submits
she intends to undergo the recommended back surgery, for which juries in similar cases
have awarded well over the necessary $75,000 amount in controversy. Thus, even
deducting the $23,467.60 Plaintiff received from McAllister and Smith, based on the
evidence Plaintiff submitted with respect to the amount in controversy, the Court finds
Plaintiff has shown the requisite amount is met in this case by a preponderance of the
IT IS ORDERED that the Defendants’ motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction
New Orleans, Louisiana, this 26th day of October, 2017.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
2004-0965 (La. App. 4 Cir. 2005), 896 So.2d 237.
07-257 (La. App. 3d 5/30/07), 958 So. 2d 157.
37 Ramming, 281 F.3d at 161; Menchaca, 613 F.2d at 511.
38 Snyder, 394 U.S. at 335; Alberty, 249 F.2d at 538.
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