Interpreting An Insurance Policy When The Policy Establishes Limits

Here is a case that is seen frequently.  It will be interesting to see if this is what all Federal Courts faced with this situation decide.  This opinion is from the Northern District of Texas, Dallas Division, and is styled, Sharon Wihlenmaier v. Allstate Indemnity Company.

Plaintiff filed her Original Petition in State District Court against Allstate alleging that Allstate improperly denied her uninsured/underinsured motorist benefits (UIM) arising out of a vehicle accident.  The Original Petition states that Plaintiff seeks monetary relief over $200,000.00 but not more than $1,000,000.00.  Allstate’s policy limits for UIM benefits in the policy at issue are $30,000.00.  Allstate timely removed the case from the State Court to this Federal Court and Plaintiff filed her Motion to Remand.

Stating the law, the Court said that pursuant to 28 U.S.C., Section 1441(a), it has jurisdiction over the matter if the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000.00 and the parties are diverse.  Here, Allstate is a citizen of another state, so diversity exists.  The next issue to decide is whether the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000.00.

Citing 5th Circuit case law, “If there is one situation where the amount of a claim can be determined with legal certainty, it is in a case when a claim is asserted on an insurance policy limiting liability.”  In cases to recover payments under an insurance policy, the amount in controversy is governed by the lessor of the value of the claim under the policy or the value of the policy limit.

In this case, although Plaintiff pleaded “that she seeks monetary relief over $200,000.00 but not more than $1,000,000.00, Plaintiff explains that this is a suit to recover UIM benefits only under Allstate’s policy, which are limited to $30,000.00.  Moreover, Plaintiff has brought only one claim against Allstate – for breach of contract – and is not seeking any statutory fees or exemplary damages that would suggest that the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000.00.  Accordingly, the fact that Plaintiff sought “over $200,000.00 but not more than $1,000,000.00” in her Original Petition does nothing to establish the amount in controversy, and Plaintiff has now shown to a legal certainty that the amount she can recover is below the jurisdictional amount because she cannot recover more than the insurance policy limits.  Consequently, the Motion to Remand is Granted.

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