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LAATZ v. UNUM LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY OF AMERICA
May 18, 2005.
ROBERT LAATZ, Plaintiff,
UNUM LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY OF AMERICA, Defendant.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: MILTON SHADUR, Senior District Judge
Unum Life Insurance Company of America ("Unum") has filed a
Notice of Removal ("Notice") to bring this action from the
Circuit Court of Cook County to this District Court, seeking to
invoke the diversity of citizenship jurisdiction prescribed by
28 U.S.C. § 1332.*fn1 Because Unum's counsel has misconceived
the amount-in-controversy concept as applied to this action, this
Court (which has the independent obligation to inquire into
subject matter jurisdiction at the very outset, see Cook v.
Winfrey, 141 F.3d 322, 325 (7th Cir. 1998)) issues this
memorandum order sua sponte to require further input from both
Unum's counsel and counsel for plaintiff Robert Laatz ("Laatz").
Laatz' Complaint does not quantify his claim for disability
benefits Count I's prayer for relief refers only to a requested
judgment "in an amount in excess of $30,000" (the watershed
amount separating the Law Division from the Municipal Department in the Circuit Court of Cook County). Unum's counsel seek to
ratchet that amount up to a figure in excess of the over-$75,000
federal jurisdictional floor by pointing to the Complaint's added
request for relief under 215 ILCS 5/155 ("Section 155"), which
applies to vexatious and unreasonable conduct on the part of an
But that proposed approach misses the key point that all
amounts recoverable under Section 155 are awarded "as part of the
taxable costs in the action," while the over-$75,000
jurisdictional floor in Section 1332(a) must be calculated
"exclusive of interest and costs." And controlling caselaw in
the federal system teaches that "costs" is a term of art that is
given a uniform meaning wherever it is encountered (see, e.g.,
Marek v. Chesny, 473 U.S. 1 (1985)).*fn2 What that then
means is that Section 155 drops out as a factor in the
This Court does not of course have the information required to
evaluate Laatz' claim for disability benefits simpliciter,
without reference to the nonincludable potential Section 155
recovery. But what is plain is that Unum's Notice ¶ 9 assertion
of its good faith belief regarding the amount in controversy may be true in the subjective sense, but it proceeds from a false
premise in the controlling objective sense. Although a sua sponte
remand to the Circuit Court under Section 1447(c) would not be
proper under the circumstances, counsel for each litigant both
Laatz and Unum is ordered to file an appropriate ...
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