Wiggins v. North American Equitable Life Assur. Co., No. 80-1300

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtBefore WINTER, RUSSELL and PHILLIPS; WINTER
Citation644 F.2d 1014
Docket NumberNo. 80-1300
Decision Date02 April 1981
PartiesAnnie WIGGINS, Appellant, v. NORTH AMERICAN EQUITABLE LIFE ASSURANCE COMPANY, Appellee.

Page 1014

644 F.2d 1014
Annie WIGGINS, Appellant,
v.
NORTH AMERICAN EQUITABLE LIFE ASSURANCE COMPANY, Appellee.
No. 80-1300.
United States Court of Appeals,
Fourth Circuit.
Argued Jan. 5, 1981.
Decided April 2, 1981.

Page 1015

Paul J. Cockrell and Alonzo P. Hairston, Baltimore, Md., for appellant.

Robert B. Levin, Baltimore, Md. (John J. Kenny, Frank, Bernstein, Conaway & Goldman, Baltimore, Md., on brief), for appellee.

Before WINTER, RUSSELL and PHILLIPS, Circuit Judges.

WINTER, Circuit Judge:

This suit on an insurance policy in the face amount of $8000 was instituted in a state court but removed to the district court by the insurer on the ground of diversity of citizenship with the requisite amount in controversy. The district court granted defendant's motion to strike the prayer for punitive damages but then denied plaintiff's motion to remand the case to state court. After trying the merits, non-jury, the district court awarded judgment to the insurer except for the return of premiums. Plaintiff appeals. We reverse and remand the case with instructions to remand it to the state court. In our view the $10,000 jurisdictional amount was clearly never present, even when suit was instituted, and the district court lacked jurisdiction to decide the controversy on the merits.

I.

In January 1969, a certain Eugene F. Smith purchased from defendant, North

Page 1016

American Equitable Life Assurance Company, an Ohio corporation, a life insurance policy in the amount of $8,000 naming plaintiff, Annie Wiggins, his mother, the principal beneficiary. In August 1969, Smith disappeared from his home, and his whereabouts remain unknown. Premiums were paid on the policy by Mrs. Wiggins until October 1977 when, in a proceeding brought by her, the insured was declared by the Circuit Court of Baltimore City to have died on or about the latter part of August 1969, as a result of alcoholism and hepatitis. Plaintiff thereafter made a claim for the death benefit under the policy, but defendant refused to pay (other than a return of the premiums) on the ground that the insured had made material misrepresentations in his application for insurance.

Plaintiff instituted suit against defendant in the Superior Court of Baltimore City. Her declaration averred the purchase of the policy, her timely payment of the premiums, the entry of a decree declaring the insured legally dead and her demand, as beneficiary, "for approximately $9,000" in benefits due under the policy. Plaintiff averred further that the policy was incontestable after it had been in force during the lifetime of the insured for a period of one year. Finally, she averred that in January 1979, defendant twice refused payment of the full policy amount and offered only to refund the premiums paid over a period of eight years in the aggregate amount of $742. The language of the declaration concluded in this fashion:

7. That as a result of the company's refusal to pay the benefits due to Annie Wiggins, she has suffered extreme hardship and has been put through extra expense.

WHEREFORE PLAINTIFF PRAYS:

1. That she be awarded a total of $9,000.00 for compensatory damages.

2. That she be awarded $100,000.00 for punitive damages.

Following service of the declaration, defendant filed a petition for removal in the district court alleging diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332, i. e., that the parties were citizens of different states and that the amount in controversy exceeded the sum or value of $10,000. After the case was removed, defendant moved to dismiss plaintiff's complaint with respect to any claim for punitive damages or in the alternative to strike the prayer for punitive damages. Defendant argued that under Maryland law punitive damages can never be recovered in suits alleging pure breach of contract, and that therefore plaintiff...

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126 practice notes
  • Mehlenbacher v. Akzo Nobel Salt, Inc., No. 94-CV-6343L.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court of Western District of New York
    • 3 Junio 2002
    ...claimed'") (quoting St. Paul Mercury, 303 U.S. at 289, 58 S.Ct. 586) (other quotation omitted); Wiggins v. North American Equitable Life, 644 F.2d 1014, 1017-18 (4th Cir.1981) (where part of the amount in controversy was a prayer for punitive damages that was clearly precluded under applica......
  • Edens v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., No. 87-2677
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • 7 Diciembre 1988
    ...by hate; the purpose being to deliberately and wilfully injure the plaintiff." Wiggins v. North American Equitable Life Assurance Co., 644 F.2d 1014, 1018 n. 2 (4th Cir.1981) (quoting Food Fair Stores, Inc. v. Hevey, 275 Md. 50, 55, 338 A.2d 43, 46 (1975)). Accord Hayseeds, Inc. v. State Fa......
  • Dozier v. Ford Motor Co., No. 82-1270
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • 18 Marzo 1983
    ...in an amount exceeding the statutory threshold in Sec. 1332. 2 See, e.g., Wiggins v. North American Equitable Life Assurance Co., 644 F.2d 1014 (4th Cir.1981); Givens v. W.T. Grant Co., 457 F.2d 612 (2d Cir.), vacated and remanded on other grounds, 409 U.S. 56, 93 S.Ct. 451, 34 L.Ed.2d 266 ......
  • Roberts v. Western-Southern Life Ins. Co., No. 82 C 6789
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court (Northern District of Illinois)
    • 29 Julio 1983
    ...v. American Income Life Insurance Co., 316 So.2d 164 (La. App.1975); Maryland: Wiggins v. North American Equitable Life Assurance Co., 644 F.2d 1014 (4th Cir.1981) (Maryland law) (but noting, id. at 1018 n. 2, that Maryland law allows recovery of punitive damages "where the defendant malici......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
126 cases
  • Mehlenbacher v. Akzo Nobel Salt, Inc., No. 94-CV-6343L.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court of Western District of New York
    • 3 Junio 2002
    ...claimed'") (quoting St. Paul Mercury, 303 U.S. at 289, 58 S.Ct. 586) (other quotation omitted); Wiggins v. North American Equitable Life, 644 F.2d 1014, 1017-18 (4th Cir.1981) (where part of the amount in controversy was a prayer for punitive damages that was clearly precluded under applica......
  • Edens v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., No. 87-2677
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • 7 Diciembre 1988
    ...by hate; the purpose being to deliberately and wilfully injure the plaintiff." Wiggins v. North American Equitable Life Assurance Co., 644 F.2d 1014, 1018 n. 2 (4th Cir.1981) (quoting Food Fair Stores, Inc. v. Hevey, 275 Md. 50, 55, 338 A.2d 43, 46 (1975)). Accord Hayseeds, Inc. v. State Fa......
  • Dozier v. Ford Motor Co., No. 82-1270
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • 18 Marzo 1983
    ...in an amount exceeding the statutory threshold in Sec. 1332. 2 See, e.g., Wiggins v. North American Equitable Life Assurance Co., 644 F.2d 1014 (4th Cir.1981); Givens v. W.T. Grant Co., 457 F.2d 612 (2d Cir.), vacated and remanded on other grounds, 409 U.S. 56, 93 S.Ct. 451, 34 L.Ed.2d 266 ......
  • Roberts v. Western-Southern Life Ins. Co., No. 82 C 6789
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court (Northern District of Illinois)
    • 29 Julio 1983
    ...v. American Income Life Insurance Co., 316 So.2d 164 (La. App.1975); Maryland: Wiggins v. North American Equitable Life Assurance Co., 644 F.2d 1014 (4th Cir.1981) (Maryland law) (but noting, id. at 1018 n. 2, that Maryland law allows recovery of punitive damages "where the defendant malici......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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