Mabry et al v. Government Employees' Insurance Company
ORDER denying 16 Motion for Reconsideration. Signed by District Judge Debra M. Brown on 7/31/17. (tab)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF MISSISSIPPI
GEVARIUS MABRY; and
CARL L. BANKS
ORDER DENYING RECONSIDERATION
This motor vehicle collision action is before the Court on Government Employee’s
Insurance Company’s motion for reconsideration. Doc. #16.
On September 6, 2016, Carl L. Banks filed a complaint in the Circuit Court of Coahoma
County, Mississippi, against C.W. Moore and Government Employee’s Insurance Company
(“GEICO”). Doc. #2. In his complaint, Banks alleges that, on or about November 21, 2014, he
was a passenger in a vehicle driven by Gevarius Mabry which was involved in a collision with a
vehicle driven by Moore. Id. at ¶ 5. Banks further alleges that Moore was an uninsured motorist
and that, therefore, he was entitled to recover from GEICO under an uninsured motorist policy.
Id. at ¶ 7. The same day, Mabry, in a separate civil action in the Circuit Court of Coahoma
County, filed a virtually identical complaint against Moore and GEICO. Doc. #3.
Both state court complaints allege that “[a]s a direct and proximate result of [the]
collision, Plaintiff was caused to suffer personal injury, pain and suffering, and medical expenses
and may reasonably anticipate incurring future medical expenses and future pain and suffering
and future emotional and mental distress and loss of wage and earning capacity.” Id. at ¶ 8; Doc.
#2 at ¶ 8. Based on these allegations, each complaint seeks a judgment “in the amount of
Seventy Thousand Dollars ($70,000.00) together with prejudgment and post judgment interest
and costs.” Doc. #2 at 4; Doc. #3 at 4. Additionally, both Mabry and Banks allege that they are
citizens of Mississippi, that Moore is a citizen of Mississippi, and that “GEICO is a Maryland
insurance company, licensed and doing business in the State of Mississippi.” Doc. #2 at ¶¶ 1–2;
Doc. #3 at ¶¶ 1–2.
On March 1, 2017, the state court issued an agreed order consolidating Mabry’s action
and Banks’ action. Doc. #5-17. On April 19, 2017, the state court dismissed Moore from the
consolidated action for the plaintiffs’ failure to effect service within 120 days after the filing of
the complaints. Doc. #5-20. The same day Moore was dismissed, GEICO, invoking diversity
jurisdiction, removed the state court case to this Court. Doc. #1.
The notice of removal alleges:
Plaintiffs, at the time their respective actions were commenced, were and are
believed to still be citizens of Coahoma County, Mississippi. GEICO was at the
time this action was commenced, and still is, a corporation organized and existing
under the laws of the State of Maryland. GEICO appears herein, by and through
its attorney, specifically and solely for the purpose of removing this consolidated
action from state court to this court.
Id. at ¶ 7.1
On May 2, 2017, the plaintiffs filed a motion seeking remand based on a lack of the
requisite amount in controversy. Doc. #6. Nine days later, on May 11, 2017, GEICO responded
in opposition to the plaintiffs’ motion. Doc. #10.
In the memorandum accompanying its
On July 14, 2017, this Court, noting that no party had alleged GEICO’s principal place of business, directed
GEICO to show cause why this case should not be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Doc. #13. The
same day, GEICO, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1653, filed an amendment to its notice of removal alleging that “GEICO
was at the time this action was commenced, and still is, a corporation organized and existing under the laws of the
State of Maryland and its principal place of business is 1 GEICO Boulevard, Fredericksburg, Virginia.” Doc. #14 at
response, GEICO argued that the amount in controversy was met because the plaintiffs had
denied requests for admission that the amounts in controversy for the consolidated actions were
and would remain below the amount in controversy threshold. Doc. #11. The plaintiffs did not
On July 20, 2017, this Court entered an order granting the motion to remand. Doc. #15.
In its order, the Court rejected the “Preferred Approach” followed by some federal courts in this
state under which a denial of a request for admission is deemed to satisfy the requisite amount in
controversy. Id. This Court based this decision on two separate rationales: (1) the Preferred
Approach is tantamount to allowing parties to consent to jurisdiction; and (2) under Mississippi
law, a denial of a request for admission may be deemed nothing more than a statement that the
request represents an issue for trial. Id. On July 25, 2017, GEICO, pursuant to Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 59(e), filed a motion for reconsideration of the order of remand.
Standard of Review
Under Fifth Circuit jurisprudence:
A Rule 59(e) motion “calls into question the correctness of a judgment.” This
Court has held that such a motion is not the proper vehicle for rehashing evidence,
legal theories, or arguments that could have been offered or raised before the
entry of judgment. Rather, Rule 59(e) “serve[s] the narrow purpose of allowing a
party to correct manifest errors of law or fact or to present newly discovered
evidence.” Reconsideration of a judgment after its entry is an extraordinary
remedy that should be used sparingly.
Templet v. HydroChem, Inc., 367 F.3d 473, 478–79 (5th Cir. 2004) (alteration in original)
(citations omitted). “A motion to alter or amend the judgment under Rule 59(e) must clearly
establish either a manifest error of law or fact or must present newly discovered evidence and
cannot be used to raise arguments which could, and should, have been made before the judgment
issued.” Schiller v. Physicians Res. Grp. Inc., 342 F.3d 563, 567 (5th Cir. 2003) (internal
quotation marks omitted).
In its motion for reconsideration, GEICO argues that this Court erred in granting remand
because: (1) the Court’s holding runs contrary to holdings of various district courts within the
state; (2) “the plaintiff’s denials ... were unequivocal” and thus should not be read as a statement
that the amount in controversy is an issue for trial; (3) even if the denials could be read as a
statement that the amount in controversy is an issue for trial, such denial would satisfy the
amount in controversy requirement; and (4) the amount in controversy was met because the
plaintiffs pled a variety of damages and alleged that the limit of GEICO’s uninsured motorist
policy was $75,000. See Doc. #17.
A. Previous District Court Decisions
GEICO argues that it is axiomatic that a denial of a request for admission is sufficient to
establish the requisite amount in controversy, pointing to numerous decisions from the United
States District Courts for the Northern and Southern Districts of Mississippi and defining the
word “axiomatic” in a footnote. Doc. #17 at 2. Of course, “it is clear that there is no such thing
as ‘the law of the district.’” Threadgill v. Armstrong World Indus., Inc., 928 F.2d 1366, 1371
(3d Cir. 1991). Rather, “[w]here a second judge believes that a different result may obtain,
independent analysis is appropriate.”
In light of this principle, the application of the
Preferred Approach in this state does not compel adoption of the rule by this Court.
B. Meaning of Denial
GEICO argues that “[b]ecause the plaintiffs’ denials to GEICO’s requests for admissions
were unequivocal (including the one which asked him to admit that the amount in controversy is
not sufficient to invoke federal jurisdiction), there is no evidentiary basis for assuming that it was
denied because of the existence of a genuine issue for trial.” Doc. #17 at 3.
As explained in this Court’s order of remand, Rule 36(a) of the Mississippi Rules of Civil
Procedure provides that a “party who considers that a matter of which an admission has been
requested presents a genuine issue for trial may not, on that ground alone, object to the request;
he may, subject to Rule 37(c), deny the matter or set forth reasons why he cannot admit or deny
it.” The rule does not require a party who wishes to reserve an issue for trial to specifically state
so in its denial.2 Accordingly, when a party denies a request for admission without specifying
why, the denial may be interpreted as either a flat denial, or a statement that the request presents
an issue for trial. Because a court resolving a motion to remand must resolve any ambiguity in
favor of remand,3 a denial of a request for admission must be interpreted in favor of remand – as
a statement that the request presents an issue for trial.
Here, the plaintiffs denied GEICO’s request without explanation. The order of remand,
therefore, properly concluded that these denials should be interpreted as statements that the
amount in controversy is an issue for trial.
C. Sufficiency of Denial
GEICO next argues:
even if it is assumed that the plaintiffs denied GEICO’s requests because there
exists a genuine issue for trial as to whether the plaintiffs are entitled to damages
in excess of $75,000, that inherently means that the amount in controversy has
been met for jurisdictional purposes. In other words, the plaintiffs’ denials would
mean that there exists a genuine controversy to be resolved by a jury as to
To be sure, Mississippi Rule 36(a), like Federal Rule 36(a) requires that an answer “specifically deny” a matter.
Such language, in the federal context, has been interpreted to require only a denial addressed to each request for
admission. See United Coal Cos. v. Powell Constr. Co., 839 F.2d 958 (3d Cir. 1988) (“Where ... issues in dispute
are requested to be admitted, a denial is a perfectly reasonable response. Furthermore, the use of only the word
‘denied’ is often sufficient under the rule.”)
African Methodist Episcopal Church v. Lucien, 756 F.3d 788, 795 (5th Cir. 2014).
whether the amount of their damages exceed $75,000, thus invoking federal
Doc. #17 at 3–4.
A defendant’s preponderance burden on removal, however, requires more than a showing
that “plaintiff could recover more than the jurisdictional amount ....” De Aguilar v. Boeing Co.,
47 F.3d 1404, 1411 (5th Cir. 1995). Rather, the defendant must show that the value of the claims
at issue “more likely than not” exceeds the jurisdictional threshold. Allen v. R & H Oil & Gas
Co., 63 F.3d 1326, 1336 (5th Cir. 1995). Accordingly, a statement that an issue of damages
presents an issue for trial does not, standing alone, satisfy a defendant’s burden of establishing
D. Pleading of Damages and Reference to Policy Limit
Finally, GEICO argues:
What is more, that was coupled with additional evidence taken from the face of
the plaintiffs’ complaint which alleged that GEICO’s uninsured motorist limits
were $100,000 and demanded damages for (1) personal injuries; (2) pain and
suffering; (3) medical expenses; (4) future medical expenses; (5) future pain and
suffering; (6) future emotional and mental distress; and (6) loss of wage earning
capacity. Further to these points, together with the law cited herein, it was
manifest error of law for the Court to treat GEICO’s removal evidence as
tantamount to a stipulation to jurisdiction, and if it [sic] was manifest error of fact
to find that there was undisputed evidence showing the absence of the requisite
amount in controversy.
Doc. #17 at 5.
As an initial matter, when a plaintiff seeks to recover under an insurance policy, “the
amount in controversy is governed by the lesser of the value of the claim under the policy or the
value of the policy limit.” Henderson v. Allstate Fire & Cas. Ins. Co., 154 F.Supp.3d 428, 431
(E.D. La. 2015) (citing Hartford Ins. Grp. v. Lou-Con Inc., 293 F.3d 908, 911 (5th Cir. 2002))
(emphasis added); Chapman v. Essex Ins. Co., No. 1:12-cv-520, 2013 WL 12137884, at *5 (E.D.
Tex. Apr. 4, 2013) (“The policy itself is unhelpful in this instance because the value of the
underlying claim, not the policy limit, determines the amount in controversy.”). Therefore,
where a “[d]efendant alleges no facts to establish the value of [a] plaintiff’s claim,” the amount
in controversy requirement has not been met. Miri v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., No. 07-6775,
2008 WL 4758626, at *2 (E.D. La. Oct. 28, 2008).
Here, GEICO has alleged no facts nor introduced any evidence which would establish the
value of the plaintiffs’ claims. While it is true the plaintiffs have requested compensation for
certain injuries, there is simply no evidence that recovery for these injuries is likely to exceed the
amount in controversy threshold. In sum, this case involves two plaintiffs seeking to recover for
indeterminate injuries sustained in a car accident of indeterminate severity. While the evidence
(the plaintiffs’ denial of GEICO’s requests for admission) suggests that the amount of recovery
in the actions could exceed the jurisdictional threshold, the evidence falls well short of showing
by a preponderance of the evidence that the amount in controversy exceeds the threshold. See,
e.g., Kaiser v. Parker, No. 09-170, 2009 WL 2579086, at *3–4 (M.D. La. Aug. 20, 2009)
(remanding case where plaintiff sought wide array of expenses because defendant did not
introduce evidence showing nature of injuries).
For these reasons, GEICO has failed to show any error in this Court’s order of remand.
Accordingly, the motion for reconsideration  is DENIED.
SO ORDERED, this 31st day of July, 2017.
/s/Debra M. Brown
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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