Hodge v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Ins. Co. (Opinion - Leave Granted)Annotate this Case
Linda Hodge filed suit against State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company for first-party no-fault benefits related to injuries she sustained when she was struck by a car insured by State Farm. Hodge’s complaint indicated that the amount in controversy was $25,000, which was within the district court’s jurisdiction. During discovery, State Farm came to believe that Hodge would present at trial proof of damages in excess of the district court’s $25,000 jurisdictional limit. The trial court denied State Farm’s motion in limine to prevent Hodge from presenting evidence of claims exceeding $25,000, and to prevent the jury from awarding damages in excess of $25,000. At trial, Hodge did present proof of injuries exceeding $25,000, and the jury returned a verdict of $85,957. The district court reduced the verdict to the jurisdictional limit of $25,000, and it awarded $1,769 in no-fault interest. State Farm appealed, claiming that the amount in controversy exceeded the district court’s jurisdictional limit and that capping Hodge’s damages at $25,000 could not cure the defect. The circuit court agreed and reversed the district court’s order of judgment. The Court of Appeals affirmed the circuit court’s decision that the district court was divested of jurisdiction when pretrial discovery, counsel’s arguments, and the evidence presented at trial pointed to damages in excess of $25,000. The Supreme Court held "what the jurisprudence of this state has long established:" in its subject-matter jurisdiction inquiry, a district court determines the amount in controversy using the prayer for relief set forth in the plaintiff’s pleadings, calculated exclusive of fees, costs, and interest. Hodge’s complaint prayed for money damages “not in excess of $25,000,” the jurisdictional limit of the district court. Even though her proofs exceeded that amount, the prayer for relief controlled when determining the amount in controversy, and the limit of awardable damages. Because there were no allegations, and therefore no findings, of bad faith in the pleadings, the district court had subject-matter jurisdiction over the plaintiff’s claim.