Sunshine v. Reassure Am. Life Ins. Co., 2:10-cv-01030, 2011 WL 666054 (E.D. Pa. Feb. 22, 2011).

Barry Sunshine, the plaintiff, did not have a bright, pleasant journey through the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Instead of sunshine, his forecast called for clouds and heavy showers. The cause of this inclement weather was Mr. Sunshine’s failure to allege with specificity CAFA’s $5 million aggregate amount in controversy. This defect would prove fatal, as the Eastern District of Pennsylvania dismissed the putative class’ complaint without prejudice.

Mr. Sunshine filed a complaint on behalf of himself and other similarly situated insureds against Reassure American Life Insurance Company (“Reassure”) and Swiss Re Life and Health America, Inc. (“Swiss Re”). The class action complaint alleged that Reassure and Swiss Re prematurely terminated disability benefits owed to Mr. Sunshine and other similarly situated plaintiffs.

In response, the defendant-insurers filed a 12(b)(6) motion, alleging the class action complaint failed to establish the requisite jurisdictional amount in question under CAFA.

The plaintiff had no problem establishing CAFA’s minimal diversity requirement. His  complaint, however, simply stated “. . . the total amount in controversy exceeds $5 million exclusive of interest and cost.” This barebones, legal conclusion was insufficient to establish subject matter jurisdiction without any accompanying jurisdictional facts. The court noted that CAFA does not change the general principle that a plaintiff is the master of his own complaint and must allege sufficient jurisdictional facts to establish subject matter jurisdiction. Mr. Sunshine’s complaint did not meet this threshold, failing to establish either Mr. Sunshine’s actual loss or the actual loss of any putative class members.

The court further noted that at oral argument Mr. Sunshine’s counsel only alleged that premature termination of his disability benefits amounted to approximately $46,000 in damages. This is obviously insufficient to establish §1332(a)’s $75,000 minimum amount in controversy. Moreover, Mr. Sunshine’s counsel did not present jurisdictional facts to establish that the aggregate actual or estimated loss of the putative class would amount to $5 million. Accordingly, the court found that Mr. Sunshine’s complaint lacked jurisdiction under CAFA and granted the defendant-insurers’ motion to dismiss.

The take away from Sunshine is that plaintiffs must allege sufficient jurisdictional facts to support CAFA’s aggregate $5 million dollar amount in controversy. The plaintiffs who fail to do so will, like Mr. Sunshine, face inclement weather in federal court. 

By:  Mark Deethardt