United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
LAKE SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Michael Ihekoronye ("Plaintiff") sued Defendant
United Property & Casualty Insurance Company
("Defendant") in the 268th District Court of Fort
Bend County, Texas. Defendant timely removed based on
diversity jurisdiction. Pending before the court is
Plaintiff's Motion for Remand (Docket Entry No. 6). For
the reasons stated below, Plaintiff's Motion for Remand
will be granted, and this action will be remanded to the
268th District Court of Fort Bend County, Texas.
28 U.S.C. § 1441(a) any state court civil action over
which a federal court would have original jurisdiction may be
removed from state to federal court. "The party seeking
to assert federal jurisdiction . . . has the burden of
proving by a preponderance of the evidence that subject
matter jurisdiction exists." New Orleans &
Gulf Coast Railway Co. v. Barrois, 533 F.3d 321, 327
(5th Cir. 2008). Ambiguities or doubts are to be construed
against removal and in favor of remand. Manguno v.
Prudential Property and Casualty Insurance Co., 276
F.3d 720, 723 (5th Cir. 2002).
district courts have original jurisdiction over civil actions
between citizens of different states where the amount in
controversy exceeds $75, 000, exclusive of interest and
costs. 28 U.S.C. § 1332 (a). A state-court plaintiff
seeking to avoid federal jurisdiction may do so by filing a
binding stipulation with the original complaint that limits
recovery to an amount below the jurisdictional threshold.
See. e.g., Mokhtari v. Geovera Specialty Insurance
Co., Civil Action No. H-14-3676, 2015 WL 2089772, at *l
(S.D. Tex. May 4, 2015); Williams v. Companion
Property & Casualty Insurance Co., Civil
Action No. A. H-13-733, 2013 WL 2338227, at *2 (S.D. Tex. May
27, 2013) (citing De Aguilar v. Boeing Co., 47 F.3d
1404, 1411-12 (5th Cir. 1995)); Espinola-E v. Coahoma
Chemical Co., 248 F.3d 1138, 2001 WL 85834, at *2 (5th
Cir. Jan. 19, 2001) (per curiam) (unpublished) (" [A]
binding stipulation that a plaintiff will not accept damages
in excess of the jurisdictional amount defeats diversity
jurisdiction. . . .").
argues that removal was proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)
because the parties are completely diverse and the amount in
controversy exceeds $75, 000. Plaintiff seeks remand based on a
stipulation attached as Exhibit E to the state-court petition
(the "Exhibit E Stipulation"), which states that
"[t]he total sum or value in controversy in this cause
of action does not exceed $75, 000.00 exclusive of interest
and costs" and that "[n]either Plaintiff nor
his/her attorney will accept an amount that exceeds $75,
000.00 exclusive of interest and costs."
argues the Exhibit E Stipulation is invalid because it
contradicts the remedies prayed for in Plaintiff's
Original Complaint. Defendant points to the Original
Complaint's lack of specificity as to the damages sought
and the fact that Plaintiff sent a pre-suit demand letter
valuing the cost of repairs as $61, 383.40 and asking for
$10, 000 in attorney's fees. Defendant also argues that
remand is improper because Plaintiff refused to sign "a
valid, binding stipulation" presented by the Defendant
that would expressly include attorney's fees in the $75,
filed the Exhibit E Stipulation with his Original Petition to
avoid federal jurisdiction by limiting recovery to an amount
below the jurisdictional threshold. District courts in this
Circuit, including this court, have consistently held that
stipulations like the Exhibit E Stipulation are capable of
defeating federal jurisdiction. Plaintiff is bound by the
Exhibit E Stipulation not to accept an award of damages in
excess of $75, 000. Defendant points to no binding authority
that a stipulation is invalid because the Original Petition
does not specify the amount of damages prayed for or a
pre-suit demand letter estimated damages and attorney's
fees near $75, 000. Any vagueness in the Original Petition or
amount estimated in a pre-suit demand letter is irrelevant
because the Exhibit E Stipulation prevents Plaintiff from
recovering in excess of the federal jurisdictional limit.
does Defendant point to any authority holding that documents
like the Exhibit E Stipulation are not binding under Fifth
Circuit precedent unless they expressly include
attorney's fees in the amount capped at $75, 000.
Attorney's fees are part of the total amount in
controversy. St. Paul Reinsurance Co., Ltd. v.
Greenberg, 134 F.3d 1250, 1253 (5th Cir. 1998). The
Exhibit E Stipulation states "the total sum or value in
controversy in this cause of action does not exceed $75,
000." Attorney's fees are necessarily
included in that amount and accordingly would not raise the
amount in controversy above $75, 000.
Conclusions and Order
binding stipulation, filed with Plaintiff's Original
Petition prior to removal, is effective to avoid federal
jurisdiction. Accordingly, Plaintiff's Motion for Remand
(Docket Entry No. 6) is GRED, and this action is REMDED to
the 268th District Court of Fort Bend County, Texas. The
Clerk will promptly deliver a copy of this Memorandum Opinion
and Order to the District Clerk of Fort Bend County, Texas.
Notice of Removal, Docket
Entry No. 1, p. 1; Plaintiff's Original Petition, Exhibit
A to Plaintiff's Motion for Remand and Memorandum in
Support ("Plaintiff's Motion for Remand"),
Docket Entry No. 6-1, p. 1. All page numbers for docket
entries in the record refer to the pagination inserted at the
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