WEST CHESTER UNIVERSITY FOUNDATION v. METLIFE INSURANCE COMPANY OF CONNECTICUT
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER THAT PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO REMAND IS DENIED; ETC.. SIGNED BY HONORABLE C. DARNELL JONES, II ON 2/8/16. 2/9/16 ENTERED AND E-MAILED.(jl, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
WEST CHESTER UNIVERSITY
METLIFE INSURANCE COMPANY,
February 8, 2016
Procedural and Factual Background
Defendant, Metlife Insurance Company of Connecticut (“Metlife”), removed this action
from the Court of Common Pleas of Chester County, Pennsylvania, Docket No. 2015-04471-TT,
on June 29, 2015, (Dkt No. 1) [hereinafter “Rem.”]. Plaintiff, West Chester University
Foundation, filed a Motion to Remand on July 22, 2015 (Dkt No. 5) [hereinafter “Mot.”].
Defendant then filed a Response in Opposition, (Dkt No. 8) [hereinafter “Opp.”], and Plaintiff
filed a Reply in Further Support of the Motion to Remand (Dkt No. 9) [hereinafter “Rep.”].
Plaintiff is a nonprofit corporation that, as part of its charitable purpose and through
fundraising activities, donates resources to prospective contributors. (Compl. ¶ 1, 7.) Defendant
allegedly developed a vanishing premium scheme for flexible premium variable life insurance
policies and advanced the scheme through misleading and false representations. (Compl. ¶ 8-9.)
Plaintiff allegedly relied on such representations in encouraging two of their donors to convert
their donations into premium payments and thus procured Metlife Flexible Premium Variable
Life Insurance policies with the Foundation as the owner and beneficiary of the Policies. (Compl.
¶ 21-22.) Plaintiff alleges that the Policies have not delivered in accordance with Metlife’s
projections, representations, and warranties, or in accordance with the reasonable expectations of
the Foundation. (Compl. ¶ 26.) Therefore, Plaintiff brings suit against Defendant for fraud,
fraudulent inducement, negligent misrepresentation, promissory estoppel, bad faith, and unjust
enrichment. ((Compl. Counts I-VI.)
Upon consideration of the aforementioned filings, the Court will DENY Plaintiff’s
Motion for Remand for the reasons set forth below.
Defendant removed this insurance action for fraud, fraudulent inducement, negligent
misrepresentation, promissory estoppel, bad faith, and unjust enrichment from the state court,
contending that the federal court has subject matter jurisdiction based upon diversity of
citizenship pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. In removal actions, the defendant bears the burden of
demonstrating that the amount in controversy is satisfied. Kaufman v. Allstate New Jersey Ins.
Co., 561 F.3d 144, 151 (3d Cir. 2009) (citing Frederico v. Home Depot, 507 F.3d 188, 193 (3d
Cir. 2007)); accord Brown v. JEVIC, 575 F.3d 322, 326 (3d Cir. 2009) (the removing party
“carries a heavy burden of showing that at all stages of the litigation the case is properly before
the federal court”). Additionally, removal statutes are to be strictly construed, and all doubts are
resolved in favor of remand. Brown, 575 F.3d at 326; Samuel-Bassett v. Kia Motors Am., Inc.,
357 F.3d 392, 396, 403 (3d Cir. 2004); Boyer v. Snap-On Tools Corp., 913 F.2d 108, 111 (3d
The Federal Courts Jurisdiction and Venue Clarification Act of 2011, H.R. 394, P.L.
112–63, standardized how courts evaluate the amount in controversy requirement for removal
actions. This provision, codified at 28 U.S.C. § 1446(c)(2), states that the “sum demanded in
good faith in the initial pleading shall be deemed to be the amount in controversy.” 28 U.S.C. §
1446(c)(2). If the initial pleading seeks “nonmonetary relief” or “the State practice does not
permit demand for a specific sum or permits recovery of damages in excess of the amount
demanded,” then “removal of the action is proper . . . if the district court finds, by a
preponderance of the evidence, that the amount in controversy exceeds [$75,000].” Id. If the
complaint does not expressly state that the amount in controversy is less than the $75,000.00
jurisdictional minimum, the removing defendant bears the burden of proving the jurisdictional
threshold has been met by a preponderance of the evidence. § 1446(c)(2)(A) and (B); Frederico,
507 F.3d at 194; Samuel-Bassett, 357 F.3d at 398. If the defendant fails to meet this burden, the
case will be remanded.
Plaintiff’s initial pleading seeks compensatory damages, punitive damages, attorney’s
fees, interest, costs, “and, specifically, to keep the Policies in force for the life of the insureds
thereunder without the need for additional premium payments.” (Compl. 8.) This Court must
evaluate and aggregate each form of relief sought in order to reach the total amount in
controversy. Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Allapattah Servs., Inc., 545 U.S. 546, 585 (2005).
a. Non-Monetary Relief
Plaintiff seeks non-monetary relief in Count IV of the Complaint. In determining the
proper monetary value of this claim for purposes of the amount in controversy, this Court first
looks to the applicable statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1446.
(c) Requirements; removal based on diversity of citizenship.--(1) A case may not
be removed under subsection (b)(3) on the basis of jurisdiction conferred by
section 1332 more than 1 year after commencement of the action, unless the
district court finds that the plaintiff has acted in bad faith in order to prevent a
defendant from removing the action.
(2) If removal of a civil action is sought on the basis of the jurisdiction
conferred by section 1332(a), the sum demanded in good faith in the initial
pleading shall be deemed to be the amount in controversy, except that—
(A) the notice of removal may assert the amount in controversy if
the initial pleading seeks—
(i) nonmonetary relief; or
(ii) a money judgment, but the State practice either does not
permit demand for a specific sum or permits recovery of
damages in excess of the amount demanded; and
(B) removal of the action is proper on the basis of an amount in
controversy asserted under subparagraph (A) if the district court
finds, by the preponderance of the evidence, that the amount in
controversy exceeds the amount specified in section 1332(a).
Importantly, the Court notes that because Plaintiff seeks non-monetary relief, the statute permits
Defendant to assert the amount in controversy in its notice of removal under § 1446 (c)(2)(A)(i).
As a result, the Court must consider the total amount of premium payments that will be foregone
if such relief is granted. Defendant is permitted to assert the amount in controversy based on this
non-monetary relief, however, the Court still must find the assertion to be true by a
preponderance of the evidence. § 1446 (c)(2)(B).
Defendant asserts that the dollar amount on this non-monetary relief is $95,000. (Rem.
4.) But as Plaintiff points out, such a calculation would require the two insureds to live to 99 and
100 years old. (Mot. 4.) When the total amount of premiums foregone is based on a calculation
using the average life expectancy, this total drops to $46,000. (Mot. 5.) Plaintiff tries to further
lower that number in its Reply by speculating about monies in the investment accounts that could
offset these premiums; such speculation will not be considered. (Rep. 2.) While the Court hopes
for the longevity of the insureds, the use of the average life expectancy is a far more reasonable
calculation for the amount in controversy. Therefore, the Court finds by a preponderance of the
evidence that the non-monetary relief sought totals to $46,000.
b. Compensatory Damages
The first three counts of Plaintiff’s complaint allege that Plaintiff made premium
payments from charitable contributions based on fraud, fraud in the inducement, and negligent
misrepresentation and therefore Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages as a result. (Compl. 5-7.)
The compensatory damages would include return of past premium payments amounting to
approximately $11,000. (Rep. 3.) Plaintiff argues in its Reply that this amount should be used
instead of the calculation based on the non-monetary relief sought, but the law requires that the
amount sought for each count of the complaint be aggregated. Allapattah, 545 U.S. at 585 (“[I]n
determining whether the amount-in-controversy requirement has been satisfied, a single plaintiff
may aggregate two or more claims against a single defendant, even if the claims are unrelated.”).
Therefore, the compensatory damages amount of $11,000 must be added to the non-monetary
amount of $46,000, which brings the amount in controversy to $57,000.
c. Attorney’s Fees
Defendant argues here that attorney’s fees ought to be aggregated with punitive and
compensatory damages to reach the amount in controversy. (Rem. 4; Opp. 7.) “[W]hen state law
provides for the recovery of attorneys' fees by a successful plaintiff, those fees must be
considered in calculating the jurisdictional amount in controversy.” Prof'l Cleaning & Innovative
Bldg. Servs., Inc. v. Kennedy Funding, Inc., 245 F. App'x 161, 163 n.2 (3d Cir. 2007); see also
Suber v. Chrysler Corp., 104 F.3d 578, 585 (3d Cir.1997) (“Moreover, in calculating the amount
in controversy, we must consider potential attorney's fees.”). “It is undisputed that punitive
damages and attorneys' fees are available under 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 8371 and there is no
cap on the amount that can be recovered.” Minissale v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 988 F. Supp.
2d 472, 476 (E.D. Pa. 2013). Therefore, under longstanding Supreme Court precedent, attorney’s
fees must be considered as part of the total amount in controversy. Missouri State Life Ins. Co. v.
Jones, 290 U.S. 199, 202 (1933) (“The amount so demanded became part of the matter put in
controversy by the complaint, and not mere ‘costs' excluded from the reckoning by the
jurisdictional and removal statutes.”). Given the difficulty in anticipating the potential
expenditure of attorney’s fees in any given case, however, the Court will simply keep in mind the
inclusion of attorney’s fees without speculation as to an exact dollar amount.
d. Punitive Damages
Defendant relies heavily on Plaintiff’s demand for punitive damages under 42 Pa. C.S. §
8371 in its initial pleading. “When punitive damages are recoverable, as they are here, they are
properly considered in determining whether the claim reaches the jurisdictional threshold.”
Ripley v. Brethren Mut. Ins. Co., 69 F. Supp. 3d 503, 509 (E.D. Pa. 2014) (citing Packard v.
Provident Nat'l Bank, 994 F.2d 1039, 1046 (3d Cir.1993)). Claims for punitive damages may be
aggregated with claims for compensatory damages, provided the claims for punitive damages are
not “patently frivolous and without foundation.” Huber v. Taylor, 532 F.3d 237, 244 (3d Cir.
2008). Punitive damage claims are per se “‘patently frivolous and without foundation’ ” if they
are unavailable as a matter of state substantive law. Golden ex rel. Golden v. Golden, 382 F.3d
348, 355 (3d Cir. 2004). Under 42 Pa. C.S. § 8371, the court may “award punitive damages
against the insurer.” As a result, punitive damages are available under state law and thus
considered part of the amount in controversy.
The Third Circuit has held that “if appropriately made . . . a request for punitive damages
will generally satisfy the amount in controversy requirement because it cannot be stated to a
legal certainty that the value of the plaintiff's claim is below the statutory minimum.” Golden,
382 F.3d at 355 (3d Cir. 2004). Although in Golden it was the plaintiff seeking federal
jurisdiction and in cases where the defendant seeks removal the defendant must prove the
potential exposure to punitive damages, it is nonetheless clear why the maxim exists. Morgan v.
Gay, 471 F.3d 469, 475 (3d Cir. 2006). Once compensatory damages are somewhere in the
neighborhood of $75,000, it is challenging to find that the amount in controversy does not
exceed $75,000 considering that even a relatively low punitive damage award would certainly
Defendant argues that, even assuming the $23,000 amount claimed by Plaintiff in its
Motion, many courts have found that such an amount can satisfy the amount in controversy
where punitive damages are claimed. (Opp. 7-8.) In its Reply, Plaintiff then adjusts its
calculations to reach an amount in controversy of $11,000 and therefore asserts a punitive
damages award would have to be unconstitutional in order to reach the amount in controversy.
(Rep. 3-4.) Plaintiff’s $11,000 estimate, however, is based solely on calculating compensatory
damages seeking to recover the value of past premiums already paid. As previously addressed,
this amount must be aggregated with the other forms of relief sought, not considered
independently. See supra III(b). Therefore, Defendant has demonstrated by a preponderance of
the evidence that the amount in controversy is satisfied by the punitive damages. See, e.g.,
Minissale, 988 F. Supp. 2d at 477 (“Since Plaintiffs are able to recover, in addition to the
$55,315 estimate for consequential damages, punitive damages and attorney's fees, and
Pennsylvania law does not cap those damages, it is more likely than not that Plaintiffs can
recover more than $75,000.”).
At this point in the calculation, Defendant need only show that it is more likely than not
that $18,000 dollars in punitive damages is in controversy in order to reach the $75,000
jurisdictional threshold. Morgan v. Gay, 471 F.3d 469, 474 (3d Cir. 2006). Unlike in Gay where
the defendants alleged the plaintiff would seek millions of dollars in punitive damages without
any support, here Defendant has provided relevant cases where plaintiffs are awarded punitive
damages in excess of a 3:1 ratio of punitive damages to compensatory damages. (Opp. 8.)
Further, Plaintiff’s argument that damages would be unconstitutional if the compensatory
damages are only $11,000 is unfounded. (Rep. 3.) While the Supreme Court has established due
process limits on awards of punitive damages, a punitive damage award under Section 8371 in
excess of the jurisdictional amount in controversy can still satisfy the “single-digit” ratio rule,
even with only $11,000 in compensatory damages. Willow Inn, Inc. v. Pub. Serv. Mut. Ins. Co.,
399 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2005) (citing State Farm Auto. Ins. Co. v. Campbell, 538 U.S. 408);
(Opp. 6-7.) Based on this Court’s calculation of the compensatory damages at issue, however, it
is not necessary to hypothesize about such an award; with compensatory damages at $57,000,
even just a 1:1 ratio of punitive to compensatory damages will exceed the amount in controversy.
The Third Circuit has made clear that all doubts must be resolved in favor of remanding
previously removed cases to state court. This Court heeds that advice and considers all motions
for remand through such a lens. Here, however, Defendant has convinced this Court by a
preponderance of the evidence that the amount in controversy is in excess of $75,000. Once this
Court considers the monetary value of Plaintiff’s claim for non-monetary relief, the
compensatory relief sought, attorney’s fees sought, and punitive damages sought, it is more
likely than not that the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000; therefore, the Motion for
Remand must be DENIED.
An appropriate Order follows.
BY THE COURT:
/s/ C. Darnell Jones, II
C. DARNELL JONES, II
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