Lapaglia v. Transamerica Cas. Ins. Co.

Decision Date04 January 2016
Docket NumberNo. 3:15–cv–0616 (JAM),3:15–cv–0616 (JAM)
Citation155 F.Supp.3d 153
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Connecticut
Parties John Angelo Lapaglia, Plaintiff, v. Transamerica Casualty Insurance Company, Defendant.

John Angelo Lapaglia, Hamden, CT, pro se.

ORDER OF DISMISSAL FOR LACK OF SUBJECT MATTER JURISDICTION

Jeffrey Alker Meyer, United States District Judge

Plaintiff is a citizen of Connecticut, and he has filed this diversity action pro se and in forma pauperis alleging a breach of a travel insurance contract by defendant, a Pennsylvania insurance company. I will dismiss this action, because I conclude that plaintiff has not plausibly alleged facts or otherwise adduced evidence to satisfy the minimum amount in controversy of $75,000 that is required for this Court's diversity jurisdiction.

Background

Plaintiff's initial complaint requested damages for some quantity in excess of $10,000 arising from detailed facts that are described below. Doc. # 1. The Court entered an order to show cause for plaintiff to establish by means of affidavit or other documentary evidence that his claim was for more than $75,000 as required to sustain diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Doc. # 8. In response, plaintiff filed an amended complaint alleging $110,000 or more in damages. Doc. # 9.

According to the amended complaint, plaintiff spent $65 in April 2013 to purchase a “Travelex” travel insurance policy that was allegedly underwritten by defendant Transamerica Casualty Insurance Company. The next day, plaintiff bought a plane ticket and paid for lodgings in London. On May 4, 2013, plaintiff flew to London, but upon arrival there was “stopped, refused entry into the nation of the United Kingdom, and detained by the United Kingdom Border Agency.’ Doc. # 9 at 4. Plaintiff was thereafter detained for five days, and during this time “was interrogated and tortured while imprisoned, and ... did not get much sleep.” Ibid . His laptop computer and business suits were also damaged during his detainment.

At some point, plaintiff flew back to the United States but upon arrival in New York he was interrogated and tortured for many hours by two “American Police State Agents” who “wanted [him] to confess, and write a written confession, for crimes [he] did not commit.” Id . at 5. Plaintiff was “incredibly tired and worn-out from ... detainment and torture” and so he immediately went to an airport motel where he stayed for nine days. Ibid.

After this ordeal, plaintiff submitted a travel insurance claim for the costs of his trip to London, for replacement of his damaged laptop computer, and for his motel stay after returning to the United States. These claims were denied.

Plaintiff further alleges that he has “been unable to afford to travel to the glorious and eternal nation of the ‘Democratic People's Republic Of Korea’, and obtain employment as a full-time working ‘Propagandist’ or more specifically, a ‘Public Relations Propagandist’, under the supreme leadership of the Dear Leader Kim Jong–Un.” Ibid . According to plaintiff, if defendant had paid his insurance claim, then he would have had funds to travel to North Korea where he “would have earned, at a very conservative estimate, at the bare minimum dollar amount of: ‘$100,000 (One–Hundred Thousand United States Dollars).’ Id. at 11.

Plaintiff identifies eight exhibits to his complaint that corroborate his expenses for the cost of his flight to London (about $469), for lodging in London (about $52), for replacement of his laptop (about $1,740), and for compensation for his New York motel stay (about $1,612). There is no documentation for plaintiff's claim of a lost employment opportunity in North Korea.

Discussion

Federal diversity jurisdiction requires an amount in controversy of at least $75,000. See 28 U.S.C. 1332(a). Ordinarily, this amount is measured as of the time that a complaint is filed, see Hall v. Earth Link Network, Inc., 396 F.3d 500, 506 (2d Cir.2005), and it is established by the face of the complaint and the dollar amount actually claimed. See Horton v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 367 U.S. 348, 353, 81 S.Ct. 1570, 6 L.Ed.2d 890 (1961) ; Scherer v. Equitable Life Assurance Soc'y of U.S., 347 F.3d 394, 397 (2d Cir.2003).

In recent years, the Supreme Court has made clear that a federal court complaint must do more than allege facts that might remotely or conceivably allow for a plaintiff to prevail; instead, a complaint must allege facts in a non-conclusory manner that plausibly establish grounds for relief. See, e.g., Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) ; Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). Of course, the allegations of a pro se plaintiff's complaint must be read liberally to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest, but the Second Circuit has held that even a pro se complaint must ultimately meet this threshold “plausibility” requirement—that is, to allege facts that state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face. See Fowlkes v. Ironworkers Local 40, 790 F.3d 378, 387 (2d Cir.2015).

Moreover, although the plausibility requirement is most commonly applied in the context of evaluating whether a complaint substantively states a claim for relief, there is little reason to suppose that it should not equally govern the evaluation of factual allegations that support federal subject matter jurisdiction, such as to evaluate facts alleged concerning an amount in controversy for purposes of federal diversity jurisdiction. And so the Second Circuit has implicitly concluded in at least one unpublished decision. See Wood v. Maguire Automotive, LLC, 508 Fed.Appx. 65, 65 (2d Cir.2013) (affirming dismissal of complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction where plaintiff's “allegation in her complaint of $75,000 in controversy is conclusory and not entitled to a presumption of truth”) (citing Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 681, 129 S.Ct. 1937 ).

Some commentators contend that the plausibility requirement should not apply when evaluating fact-based jurisdictional allegations. See Jacob J. Taber, Silly Jurist, Twiqbal's for Claims: Pleading Jurisdiction After Twombly and Iqbal, 89 N.Y.U. L.Rev. 1867 (2014) ; James E. von der Heydt, Ripple Effects: The Unintended Change to Jurisdictional Pleading Standards After Iqbal, 60 Clev. St. L.Rev. 799 (2012) ; but see S.I. Strong, Jurisdictional Discovery in United States Federal Courts, 67 Wash. & Lee L.Rev. 489, 569–575 (2010) (advocating extension of the plausibility standard to include jurisdictional facts alleged in a complaint).

I am not persuaded. Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure imposes dual requirements in very similar terms that a plaintiff set forth the basis both for jurisdiction as well for a substantive claim. Compare Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(1) (requiring “a short and plain statement of the ground for the court's jurisdiction”), with Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2) (requiring “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief”). It would be “highly incongruous to require separate pleading standards for two subsections of the same rule,” especially considering that “the factual nature of the claims surrounding the grounds for jurisdiction are, more often than not, intertwined with the factual allegations showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Haley Paint Co. v. E.I. Dupont De Nemours & Co., 775 F.Supp.2d 790, 798–99 (D.Md.2011).

For cases that are removed from a state court to federal court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction, the Supreme Court has concluded that a defendant's notice of removal must contain “a plausible allegation that the amount in controversy exceeds the jurisdictional threshold.” Dart Cherokee Basin Operating Co., LLC v. Owens, ––– U.S. ––––, 135 S.Ct. 547, 554, 190 L.Ed.2d 495 (2014). If a defendant who seeks to invoke a federal court's jurisdiction must plausibly allege the requisite amount in controversy, I do not see why a plaintiff should not likewise be required to allege facts sufficient to allow for a plausible inference that the amount in controversy meets the jurisdictional threshold.

Nor would application of the plausibility standard be inconsistent with existing precedent that presupposes the authority of a court to permit jurisdictional discovery to test any questionable jurisdictional allegations of a complaint. See Taber, 89 N.Y.U. L.Rev. at 1893–94. The discovery option remains equally available without regard to whether a...

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