Sanchez v. Monumental Life Ins. Co., No. 94-56651

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtO'SCANNLAIN
Citation102 F.3d 398
PartiesRichard M. SANCHEZ, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. MONUMENTAL LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant-Appellee.
Decision Date10 December 1996
Docket NumberNo. 94-56651

Page 398

102 F.3d 398
Richard M. SANCHEZ, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
MONUMENTAL LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant-Appellee.
No. 94-56651.
United States Court of Appeals,
Ninth Circuit.
Argued and Submitted May 8, 1996.
Decided Sept. 11, 1996.
As Amended on Denial of Rehearing
and Rehearing En Banc Dec. 10, 1996.

Page 399

Sharon J. Arkin, Shernoff, Bidart & Darras, Claremont, California, the plaintiff-appellant.

Richard B. Tricker, Radcliff, Brestoff, Frandsen, Tricker & Dongell, Los Angeles, California, for defendant-appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California, Audrey B. Collins, District Judge, Presiding; No. CV-94-01189-ABC.

ORDER

The Opinion filed September 11, 1996, slip op. 11747, and appearing at 95 F.3d 856 (9th Cir.1996), is amended as follows:

1. At slip op. 11762, in the second sentence of the first full paragraph; 95 F.3d at 863, in the second sentence of the first full paragraph, change "That provision provides for treble damages for "[u]nfair or deceptive practices against senior citizens or disabled persons." to "That provision provides for trebling punitive damages for "[u]nfair or deceptive practices against senior citizens or disabled persons."

With this amendment, the panel has voted unanimously to deny the petition for rehearing and to reject the suggestion for rehearing en banc.

The full court has been advised of the suggestion for rehearing en banc and no active judge has requested a vote on whether to rehear the matter en banc. Fed.R.App.P. 35.

The petition for rehearing is DENIED and the suggestion for rehearing en banc is REJECTED.

Before: HALL, O'SCANNLAIN and KLEINFELD, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

O'SCANNLAIN, Circuit Judge:

We must decide the proper test to apply to establish subject matter jurisdiction over a removed diversity case in which the plaintiff's state court complaint fails to specify whether the amount in controversy exceeds $50,000.

I

In March 1989, appellant Richard Sanchez, a welder, filed a claim for "permanent total disability" benefits from Monumental General Insurance Co., the insurance carrier for Sanchez's group policy. 1 The claim was based on an injury which Sanchez allegedly suffered in January 1988. With his claim Sanchez submitted a physician's statement which indicated that any total disability which Sanchez may have suffered as a result of his injury had ended by October 1988. Under the terms of Sanchez's insurance policy,

Page 400

Sanchez was not entitled to benefits for "permanent total disability" unless he was (1) prevented from working in any or all occupations (2) for a continuous period of at least twelve months. Because Sanchez's claim failed to satisfy this standard, Monumental sent him a letter on March 31, 1989, informing him that "no benefits would be payable." 2

In early August 1989, Sanchez submitted a second claim for benefits to Monumental. In this second claim, he stated that his total permanent disability had commenced on November 16, 1988. However, the attending physicians' statement attached to this second claim stated that Sanchez could be expected to return to work by August 28, 1989. Accordingly, on October 20, 1989, Monumental sent Sanchez another letter notifying him that his condition did not qualify as a "total permanent disability," and that no benefits would be payable. Monumental did, however, invite Sanchez to submit additional medical information if it became available.

Sanchez apparently did not contact Monumental again until September 21, 1992, some three years later, at which time he forwarded to Monumental a copy of an award of Social Security disability benefits which he had received in July 1992. The Social Security award letter notified Sanchez that he was entitled to receive Social Security benefits as of September 30, 1990. Based on this award, Sanchez again demanded benefits from Monumental. In October 1992, Monumental wrote to Sanchez's attorney and requested that Sanchez forward to Monumental copies of the medical records which Sanchez had submitted to the Social Security Administration in support of his claim. When Sanchez did not respond, Monumental sent another letter in January 1993 and again requested the records.

Sanchez admits that he never responded to these letters. Instead, in December 1993 he filed suit against Monumental in California state court. In his complaint, he alleged state law causes of action for (1) breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, (2) breach of contract, and (3) a violation of California Business and Professions Code § 17200 et seq. (West 1987 & Supp.1996) (proscribing unfair competition). Sanchez's complaint did not specify a particular amount of damages, but merely sought damages "in an amount to be determined according to proof at the time of trial." Monumental timely removed the case on the grounds of diversity jurisdiction. Once in federal court, Sanchez filed a motion to remand the case to state court. He argued that the amount in controversy did not exceed $50,000, and that the court therefore lacked diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. 3 The district court denied Sanchez's motion in April 1994. 4 Sanchez did not attempt an interlocutory appeal.

The district court subsequently granted summary judgment to Monumental on each of the three causes of action in Sanchez's complaint. The court concluded that each claim had accrued by October 20, 1989, the date on which Monumental sent Sanchez its second letter denying his request for benefits. Based on that accrual date, the court concluded that each claim was barred by the applicable statute of limitations. Sanchez timely appealed.

II

Sanchez argues that we must vacate the district court's judgment and order the case remanded to state court because the amount in controversy does not exceed $50,000. Citing Gaus v. Miles, Inc., 980 F.2d 564 (9th Cir.1992) (per curiam), he argues that Monumental has the burden of proof on this issue, and claims that under Gaus Monumental must prove "to a legal certainty" that the amount in controversy exceeds $50,000. Sanchez also asserts that Monumental cannot

Page 401

meet this burden of proof, because his complaint does not allege a specific amount of damages.

Relying on Grubbs v. General Elec. Credit Corp., 405 U.S. 699, 92 S.Ct. 1344, 31 L.Ed.2d 612 (1972), and Sorosky v. Burroughs Corp., 826 F.2d 794 (9th Cir.1987), Monumental responds that Sanchez has misstated the issue on appeal. Monumental points out that in Grubbs, the Supreme Court held that

where after removal a case is tried on the merits without objection and the federal court enters judgment, the issue in subsequent proceedings on appeal is not whether the case was properly removed, but whether the federal district court would have had original jurisdiction of the case had it been filed in that court.

Grubbs, 405 U.S. at 702, 92 S.Ct. at 1347 (emphasis added). Monumental also correctly points out that in Sorosky, we held that the Grubbs rule applies in cases in which a plaintiff has "not preserved his objection to removal because he failed to seek an interlocutory appeal of the district court's order denying his motion to remand." Sorosky, 826 F.2d at 798. Because Sanchez did not seek an interlocutory appeal of the denial of his remand motion, Monumental correctly asserts that Grubbs applies here.

Monumental goes on, however, to assert that because this appeal is controlled by Grubbs, Monumental does not have the burden of proof in this appeal on the amount in controversy. Monumental's argument appears to be premised on our observation in Gaus that

[i]n diversity cases, where the amount in controversy is in doubt, the Supreme Court has drawn a sharp distinction between original jurisdiction and removal jurisdiction: [I]n cases brought in the federal court ... [i]t must appear to a legal certainty that the [plaintiff's] claim is really for less than the jurisdictional amount to justify dismissal.... A different situation is presented in the case of a suit instituted in a state court and thence removed. There is a strong presumption that the plaintiff has not claimed a large amount in order to confer jurisdiction on a federal court or that the parties have colluded to that end.

Gaus, 980 F.2d at 566 (quoting St. Paul Mercury Indem. Co. v. Red Cab Co., 303 U.S. 283, 288-90, 58 S.Ct. 586, 590-91, 82 L.Ed. 845 (1938)) (emphasis added). Although it is not entirely clear from Monumental's brief, it appears that Monumental has combined the above quotations from Grubbs and Gaus, and has concluded that because the issue in this appeal is whether the district court would have had original jurisdiction of the case "had it been filed in that court," Grubbs, 405 U.S. at 702, 92 S.Ct. at 1347, "[i]t must appear to a legal certainty that [Sanchez's] claim is really for less than the jurisdictional amount to justify dismissal." Gaus, 980 F.2d at 566.

For a variety of reasons, we conclude that Sanchez and Monumental have each misstated the appropriate standard. As an initial matter, the "legal certainty" standard to which Sanchez refers (and to which Monumental apparently refers) is simply inapplicable in this case. The genesis for the "legal certainty" test was the Supreme Court's opinion in St. Paul Mercury, 303 U.S. at 288-90, 58 S.Ct. at 590-91. In St. Paul Mercury, the plaintiffs filed suit in state court alleging that the defendant had failed to fulfill certain contractual obligations. The plaintiffs' complaint alleged $4,000 in damages, which exceeded the $3,000 amount then required for the exercise of diversity jurisdiction. After the defendant removed the case, the plaintiffs filed an amended complaint which again sought $4,000 in damages. However, the plaintiffs also attached an exhibit to the complaint which showed that the actual loss was only $1,380.89. The district court entered judgment for the plaintiffs in the amount of...

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984 cases
  • Mattel, Inc. v. Bryant, No. CV 04-9059 NM (RNBX).
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    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Central District of California
    • March 4, 2005
    ...party has the burden of establishing by a preponderance of the evidence that removal was proper. See Sanchez v. Monumental Life Ins. Co., 102 F.3d 398, 403-04 (9th In its Motion to Remand, Mattel argues: (1) that Bryant was precluded from removing this action without any "new evidence"; tha......
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    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Southern District of California)
    • August 24, 2011
    ...See McNutt v. Gen. Motors Acceptance Corp., 298 U.S. 178, 189, 56 S.Ct. 780, 80 L.Ed. 1135 (1936); Sanchez v. Monumental Life Ins. Co., 102 F.3d 398, 403–04 (9th Cir.1996). If it appears to a legal certainty that the claim is actually for less than the requisite jurisdictional amount, the C......
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