Arnold Padgett v. CIGNA Corp., No. 07-00200, 2008 WL 639165 (D. Haw. Mar. 6, 2008)
ACT I: THE TALK STORY
Aloha, bruddahs and aunties. In other words, ho brah. This is the story of one huhu kane in Hawai’i named Arnold, who had a big pilikia. You see, Arnold’s employer purchased long-term disability insurance for its employees. When Arnold became infected with Hepatitis C in his opu, he filed an insurance claim stating that he suffered from advanced liver disease, and was fully disabled.
Arnold’s manini insurer made him undergo a psychiatric evaluation to see if Arnold wasa lolo, or perhaps pupule. After the exam, the insurer said “Nah,” and denied Arnold disability benefits. As you can imagine, Arnold was plenny huhu. So, wiki wiki, Arnold hired a moke attorney, who filed a lawsuit in state court against the insurer, saying nuff already, and demanding plenny kala. Arnold’s attorney, who was very akamai, made sure that Arnold’s claim for damages did not exceed $75,000. The manini insurer shouted, “Gon Fonit!” and removed the lawsuit to federal court.
Because Arnold was a kama’aina, and the defendants were malihini, there was diversity of citizenship among the parties. When Arnold filed a motion to remand, the insurer gave Arnold the stink eye, claiming that Arnold satisfied the amount in controversy because, if Arnold’s disability benefits were awarded, he would be entitled to $2,631.04 per month for 11 years, or more than $200,000.
SHORT INTERMISSION: HULA NOHO
E koko mai! For your musical pleasure, the CAFA Law Blog staff presents a nohea mele from the haole Nitty Gritty Dirt Band:
♪ ♪ ♫ ♪ ♫ “Let’s Talk Dirty in Hawai’ian” ♪ ♪ ♫ ♪ ♫
“I packed my bags and bought myself a ticket
For the land of the tall palm tree
Aloha old Milwaukee, hello Waikiki
I just stepped down from the airplane
When I thought I heard her say
Waka waka nuka nuka, waka waka nuka nuka
Would you like a lei? Eh?
Let’s talk dirty in Hawai’ian
Whisper in my ear
Kicka pooka maka wah wahini
Are the words I long to hear
Lay your coca nuta on ma tiki
What the hecka mooka mooka dear
Let’s talk dirty in Hawai’ian
Say the words I long to hear.”
Hana hou, you say? Nah! It’s pau. Now, back to our story. . . . !
ACT II: GEEV’UM ARNOLD!
After CAFA, the burden of establishing subject matter jurisdiction in the Ninth Circuit remains, as it was before CAFA, on the proponent of federal jurisdiction. See Abrego Abrego v. The Dow Chem. Co., 443 F.3d 676, 685 (9th Cir. 2006). (Editors’ Note: See the CAFA Law Blog analysis of Abrego posted on May 25, 2006).
As you akamai readers may recall, Abrego, “passed” on the issue of the level of proof required when a CAFA plaintiff alleges damages less than the jurisdictional amount. The Abrego Court concluded that this scenario presented “more difficult problems” for which the Court found “no binding precedent in [the Ninth Circuit],” and for which the Court reached “no resolution.” Id. at 683 n.8.
In Lowdermilk v. U.S. Bank National Association, 479 F.3d 994 (9th Cir. 2007), the Ninth Circuit turned to the question reserved in Abrego: What proof must the defendant adduce to contradict a CAFA plaintiff’s claim that her damages are less than the jurisdictional amount? Id. at 998. (Editors’ Note: See the CAFA Law Blog analysis of Lowdermilk posted on July 30, 2007). The Lowdermilk court concluded that, under CAFA, when the plaintiff alleges that the amount in controversy is less than the jurisdictional threshold, the party seeking removal must prove to a “legal certainty” that CAFA’s jurisdictional amount is met. Id. at 999. Thus, when the CAFA plaintiff has pled an amount in controversy less than $5 million, the party seeking removal must prove with legal certainty that CAFA’s jurisdictional amount is met. Id. at 1000.
What about a single plaintiff case, such as Arnold’s?
In light of Lowdermilk, does the “legal certainty” standard apply only in the CAFA context? Once more, the Ninth Circuit reserved that question, concluding that this important issue was left “for another day and another court.” See Guglielmino v. McKee Foods Corp., 506 F.3d 696, 699 n. 3 (9th Cir. 2007). (Editors’ Note: See the CAFA Law Blog analysis of Guglielmo posted on November 6, 2007).
In deferring on this issue, Guglielmino left open an important CAFA distinction that may affect the level of proof standard. Significantly, Guglielmino acknowledged that CAFA does not have a one-year limitation on removal that otherwise applies to the removal of cases based on diversity jurisdiction. Id. The Ninth Circuit astutely observed that “the one-year removal period presents a significant potential for ‘games-manship’ in that a plaintiff can wait until the removal period has closed and then amend their complaint to seek higher damages.” Id. Unfortunately, once more the Ninth Circuit evaded the issue, concluding that, “whether CAFA’s elimination of the closure period is a sufficient distinguishing characteristic of those causes of action to justify a different burden of proof, “ is a question “that we leave for another day and another court.” Id.
As you recall, Arnold stated in his single-plaintiff action that his damages did not exceed $75,000. The insurer argued that Lowdermilk controlled. Faced with this res nova issue, the district court did exactly as prior courts had done. Instead of deciding whether the insurer’s burden of proof was by a “legal certainty” or by a “preponderance of the evidence,” the court concluded that, under either evidentiary standard, the insurer offered only speculation as to the amount in controversy, and did not meet its burden of proof. Padgett, 2008 WL 639165, at *7. Arnold, therefore, survived the insurer’s challenge as to the level of proof required in a single plaintiff case after CAFA. As the Hawai’ians say, the district court’s decision left a significant puka in CAFA jurisprudence.
To the defendant insurer, the district court’s decision was lolo and kapakahi. To Arnold, it was nani. For the time being, the Hawai’ian district court’s hana is done. The answer is left to future courts, to be reported in future posts. From the CAFA Law Blog ohana to yours, a hui hou!
A hui hou Until we meet again
Akamai Smart, sharp, someone who can figure out what is going on
Aloha Love, welcome, hello, farewell
Aunty Aunt, all elderly females are considered aunties in Hawai’ian, a sign of respect
Bodda You Are you bothered by this?
Brah Your friend or buddy
E komo mai Welcome!
Geev’um Give it to them, go for it
Gon Fonit What you say when you hit your thumb
Hana Hou Encore, dot it again, repeat or replay
Ho Brah Prelude to describing something amazing, i.e., an event or thing
Howzit Local for Aloha or how are you?
Hula noho Singing chant
Kama-aina Local person; born and raised in Hawai’i or having lived in the islands long enough to be a local
Kane Male, boy or man
Kapakahi Lop sided, crooked, sideways
Lolo Dummy, crazy
Manini Stingy, small
Moke Extremely large local, a very tough guy
Nah No way!
Nuff Already Enough already, stop
Pau Done, finished, complete
Pilikia Trouble of any kind, problem
Plenny Plenty, alot, big amount
Puka Hole, in something
Stink Eye Mean, hard or dirty look
Talk Story Gabfest, gossip, shoot the breeze
Wahine Female, girl or woman
Wiki wiki Quickly