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Cincinnati Insurance Co. v. Heitbrink

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Springfield Division

January 23, 2017

CINCINNATI INSURANCE COMPANY, Plaintiff,
v.
ROBERT HEITBRINK, CONNIE MCELHANEY, individually and as special administrator of THE ESTATE OF WILLIAM MCELHANEY, Defendants.

          OPINION

          SUE E. MYERSCOUGH, U.S. District Judge.

         This cause is before the Court on Plaintiff Cincinnati Insurance Company's Brief in Support of Its Motion for Default Judgment (d/e 25) against Defendant Robert Heitbrink, which the Court construes as a Motion for Default Judgment. Because entry of a default judgment against Mr. Heitbrink might result in inconsistent or contradictory judgments, the Motion is DENIED without prejudice and with leave to refile when the claims involving the remaining defendant have been resolved.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In December 2015, Plaintiff filed a complaint for declaratory judgment (d/e 1) to determine Plaintiff's obligations, if any, under policies of insurance that Plaintiff issued to Mr. Heitbrink. Plaintiff brought the suit against Mr. Heitbrink and Defendant Connie McElhaney, individually and as special administrator of the estate of William McElhaney.

         The dispute concerns Mr. Heitbrink's request for insurance coverage with respect to a lawsuit filed against him by Ms. McElhaney, individually and as special administrator of the estate of William McElhaney. See McElhaney v. Heitbrink, Morgan County Circuit Court, Case No. 2015-L-25 (the “Underlying Lawsuit”). In the Underlying Lawsuit, Ms. McElhaney seeks damages pursuant to the Illinois Wrongful Death Act, the Illinois Survival Statute, and the Illinois Rights of Married Persons Act. Ms. McElhaney alleges that Mr. Heitbrink attacked and assaulted William McElhaney, resulting in Mr. McElhaney's death.

         On April 20, 2016, service of Plaintiff's declaratory judgment action was effectuated on Mr. Heitbrink. See d/e 8. Mr. Heitbrink, who is currently incarcerated, has failed to appear, answer, or otherwise plead to the complaint.

         On August 10, 2016, United States Magistrate Judge Tom Schanzle-Haskins issued an Order of Default of Robert Heitbrink (d/e 19) and directed Plaintiff to file a motion for default judgment within 14 days. On August 24, 2016, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Default Judgment against Mr. Heitbrink.

         On September 28, 2016, this Court denied the motion for default judgment with leave to refile, noting that Plaintiff did not allege its principal place of business or the citizenship (as opposed to the residence) of the Defendants. The Court directed Plaintiff to file an amended complaint properly alleging the citizenship of the parties in this action.

         On October 11, 2016, Plaintiff filed its amended complaint (d/e 22) properly alleging the citizenship of the parties in this action. On October 26, 2016, Ms. McElhaney filed an answer to the amended complaint. On November 7, 2016, Plaintiff filed its Brief in Support of Its Motion for Default Judgment, which the Court is construing as a motion for default judgment.

         II. JURISDICTION

         This Court has subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). Complete diversity exists between the parties. Plaintiff is an Ohio corporation with its principal place of business in Ohio. Am. Compl. ¶ 2 (d/e 22). Mr. Heitbrink is a citizen of Illinois. Id. ¶ 3. Ms. McElhaney is a citizen of South Carolina both individually and as the legal representative of Mr. McElhaney's estate. Id. ¶¶ 4, 5.

         In addition, the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000 exclusive of interest and costs. In a declaratory judgment action, “the amount in controversy is measured by the value of the object of the litigation.” Hunt v. Wash. State Apple Ad. Comm'n, 432 U.S. 333, 347 (1977). The object of the litigation is the pecuniary result that would flow to the plaintiff or the defendant from the court granting the declaratory judgment. America's MoneyLine, Inc. v. Coleman, 360 F.3d 762, 786 (7th Cir. 2004). In this case, the value of the Underlying Lawsuit and the cost of defending the Underlying Lawsuit count toward the jurisdictional amount. See Meridian Sec. Ins. Co. v. Sadowski, 441 F.3d 536, 539-40 (7th Cir. 2006); Midland Mgmt. Co. v. Am. Alt. Ins. Corp., 132 F.Supp.3d 1014, 1020 (N.D. Ill. 2015). In the Underlying Lawsuit, Ms. McElhaney seeks in excess of $50, 000[1] for damages arising out of Mr. McElhaney's death. Moreover, defense costs in the Underlying Lawsuit could easily exceed $25, 000. Therefore, the Court finds the amount-in-controversy requirement satisfied. See Back Doctors Ltd. v. Metro. Property & Cas. Ins. Co., 637 F.3d 827, 830 (7th Cir. 2011) (“unless recovery of an amount exceeding the jurisdictional minimum is legally impossible, the case belongs in federal court”).

         Because the parties are diverse and the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000, this Court has jurisdiction.

         III. ...


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