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Brooks v. Sears, Roebuck And Co.

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Orlando Division

July 24, 2018

THOMAS H. BROOKS, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
SEARS, ROEBUCK AND CO., Defendant.

          ORDER

          ROY B. DALTON JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This cause comes before the Court for review of U.S. Magistrate Judge Daniel C. Irick's Report, recommending that the Court remand this case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. (Doc. 15 (“R&R”).) Defendant objects. (Doc. 19.) On de novo review, the Court finds that the R&R is due to be adopted and this case remanded.

         I. Procedural History

         Plaintiff initiated this premise liability action in state court. (Doc. 2 (“Complaint”).) Purporting to invoke the Court's diversity jurisdiction, Defendant removed the action here. (Doc. 1 (“Notice”).) On sua sponte review, Magistrate Judge Irick found that Defendant failed to establish the requirements for diversity jurisdiction and directed Defendant to show cause why this cause should not be remanded for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. (Doc. 7 (“Show Cause Order”).) Specifically, Magistrate Judge Irick found deficient Defendant's: (1) allegation concerning Plaintiff's citizenship, which improperly relied on the Complaint's residency allegation; and (2) sole reliance on Plaintiff's $135, 000 settlement proposal (“Settlement Proposal”) to establish that the amount in controversy exceeded the jurisdictional threshold. (Id. at 2-3.)

         In response, Defendant chose not to submit additional evidence to support the existence of subject matter jurisdiction; instead, it stood on the strength of the allegations in its Notice and the Settlement Proposal. (See Doc. 10.) With respect to the complete diversity requirement, Defendant argued that Plaintiff's residence is prima facie evidence that Plaintiff is a Florida domiciliary and therefore he is a Florida citizen. (Id. at 7-8.) As for the amount in controversy requirement, Defendant argued that the Show Cause Order failed to appreciate the distinction between the Settlement Proposal, which courts have held to satisfy the amount in controversy, and informal settlement demands. (Id. at 4-6.)

         Finding Defendant's arguments unpersuasive, Magistrate Judge Irick issued his R&R concluding that Defendant had failed to carry its burden of proving the existence of complete diversity or the requisite amount in controversy. (See Doc. 15, pp. 7-9.) Defendant objected (Doc. 19), and the matter is now ripe.

         II. Legal Standards

         When a party objects to a magistrate judge's findings, the district court must “make a de novo determination of those portions of the report . . . to which objection is made.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). The district court “may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge.” Id. The district court must consider the record and factual issues based on the record independent of the magistrate judge's report. Ernest S. ex rel. Jeffrey S. v. State Bd. of Educ., 896 F.2d 507, 513 (11th Cir. 1990).

         III. Analysis

         Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. To guard against unwarranted expansion of this jurisdiction in diversity cases, the parties must be completely diverse and the amount in controversy must exceed $75, 000. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). In the removal context, the defendant bears the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that jurisdiction exists. Williams v. Best Buy Co., 269 F.3d 1316, 1319 (11th Cir. 2001).

         A. Diversity of Citizenship.

         Defendant argues that the R&R erroneously concluded that it did not sufficiently allege complete diversity. (Doc. 19, pp. 9-10.) Reiterating its position that residency is prima facie evidence of domicile, which equates to citizenship, Defendant submits the Notice sufficiently alleged Plaintiff's Florida citizenship. (Id. at 10.) Defendant is wrong. Residence alone is insufficient to demonstrate a person's citizenship for purposes of diversity jurisdiction. Travaglio v. Am. Express Co., 735 F.3d 1266, 1269 (11th Cir. 2013); see also Taylor v. Appleton, 30 F.3d 1365, 1367 (11th Cir. 1994) (“Citizenship, not residence, is the key fact that must be alleged in the complaint to establish diversity for a natural person.”). As Defendant provided no other evidence to support Plaintiff's citizenship, it has failed to establish complete diversity.

         Although Defendant disingenuously suggests that Plaintiff's refusal to respond to its discovery requests prevented it from suppling additional information (Doc. 19, p. 4 n.1), the Court finds this argument unavailing. Defendant, not Plaintiff, bears the burden of establishing the parties' citizenship. See Rolling Greens MHP, L.P. v. Comast SCH Holdings LLC, 374 F.3d 1020, 1022 (11th Cir. 2004). Surely public records exist that could have supported Defendant's domicile contention, had it cared to search. See, e.g., Akkan v. Nationstar Mortg. LLC, No. 1:16-cv-1999-WSD-LTW, 2016 WL 11260335, at *1 (N.D.Ga. Nov. 16, 2016) (setting forth the factors a court considers in making a domicile determination including, property records, voter registration, employment records, and vehicle registration).

         B. Amount ...


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