Wheeler v. Allstate Floridian Indemnity Co., No.: 3:05cv208 (N.D. Fla. April 26, 2006).
Given the high incidence of shark attacks along the Florida Panhandle last summer, Allstate may want to be careful splashing around in the warm waters of the Gulf, given its recent skinned knee — a loss on a remand motion in Florida federal court. The last place the insurance company may want to try this dispute — is it required to pay the full value of a homeowner’s insurance policy when the home has been totally destroyed? — is in a state court before a jury of potentially hostile Floridians. If that wasn’t troublesome enough, according to a Florida statute referred to as the “Value Policy Law,” an insurance company is required to pay the face value of the policy to an insured who has suffered a total loss of any building. Not surprisingly, Allstate attempted to remove the class action to the Northern District of Florida to escape this potential feeding frenzy, but was unable to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that CAFA’s $5 million amount in controversy was satisfied.
District Judge M. Casey Rodgers began by assigning the burden of establishing the amount in controversy to Allstate since the plaintiffs had not claimed a certain amount of damages in their complaint. (
Judge Rodgers was, however, not overly impressed. In concluding Allstate failed to satisfy its burden, he averred that Allstate’s reliance on the complaint’s sketchy damage references, and its own estimations and comparisons was too speculative for his court to find section 1332(d) was satisfied. Judge Rodgers was not persuaded by Allstate’s comparisons to the individual cases, stating that the argument “added little more than uncertainty as to the value of the claims in this case.” Although Judge Rodgers recognized in a footnote that the aggregated claims may well exceed $5 million, he declared “this finding cannot be made on the record before the court applying a preponderance of the evidence standard of proof.” Allstate has been shipped back to Escambia County Circuit Court, and along the beaches of Pensacola, the sharks are circling.