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Kauffman v. Trans High Corp.

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

January 13, 2020

MERLIN KAUFFMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
TRANS HIGH CORPORATION, and HIGH TIMES HOLDING CORPORATION, Defendants.

          ORDER

          MARCIA MORALES HOWARD UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         THIS CAUSE is before the Court sua sponte. Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction and therefore have an obligation to inquire into their subject matter jurisdiction. See Kirkland v. Midland Mortgage Co., 243 F.3d 1277, 1279-1280 (11th Cir. 2001); see also Burns v. Windsor Ins. Co., 31 F.3d 1092, 1095 (11th Cir. 1994). This obligation exists regardless of whether the parties have challenged the existence of subject matter jurisdiction. See Univ. of S. Ala. v. Am. Tobacco Co., 168 F.3d 405, 410 (11th Cir. 1999) (“[I]t is well settled that a federal court is obligated to inquire into subject matter jurisdiction sua sponte whenever it may be lacking”). “In a given case, a federal district court must have at least one of three types of subject matter jurisdiction: (1) jurisdiction under a specific statutory grant; (2) federal question jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331; or (3) diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a).” Baltin v. Alaron Trading, Corp., 128 F.3d 1466, 1469 (11th Cir. 1997).

         On January 8, 2020, Plaintiff filed a Complaint (Doc. 1) asserting that the Court has subject matter jurisdiction over this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332 because “the parties are citizens of different states and the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000.” See Complaint ¶ 2. According to the Complaint, Plaintiff Merlin Kauffman “currently resides in Puerto Rico.” Id. ¶ 4. In addition, Plaintiff alleges “[u]pon information and belief, ” that Defendant Trans High Corporation is a New York company with a principal place of business in New York, and Defendant High Times Holding Corporation is a Delaware company with a principal place of business in California. Id. ¶¶ 5-6. Upon review of these allegations, the Court is unable to determine whether it has diversity jurisdiction over this action because Plaintiff has inadequately pled the citizenship of the parties to this case.[1]

         For a court to have diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a), “all plaintiffs must be diverse from all defendants.” Univ. of S. Ala., 168 F.3d at 412. To establish diversity over a natural person, a complaint must include allegations of the person's citizenship, not where he or she resides. See Taylor v. Appleton, 30 F.3d 1365, 1367 (11th Cir. 1994). A natural person's citizenship is determined by his or her “domicile, ” or “the place of his true, fixed, and permanent home and principal establishment . . . to which he has the intention of returning whenever he is absent therefrom.” McCormick v. Aderholt, 293 F.3d 1254, 1257-58 (11th Cir. 2002) (quotation and citation omitted). “Citizenship, not residence, is the key fact that must be alleged in the complaint to establish diversity for a natural person.” Taylor, 30 F.3d at 1367 (emphasis supplied); see also Miss. Band of Choctaw Indians v. Holyfield, 490 U.S. 30, 48 (1989) (“‘[d]omicile' is not necessarily synonymous with ‘residence'”).

         In addition, “[t]he federal diversity jurisdiction statute provides that ‘a corporation shall be deemed to be a citizen of any State by which it has been incorporated and of the State where it has its principal place of business.'” Hertz Corp. v. Friend, 559 U.S. 77, 80 (2010) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 1332(c)(1)) (emphasis removed). Although Plaintiff appears to allege this information as to each Defendant, Plaintiff does so only “[u]pon information and belief.” See Complaint ¶¶ 5-6. Allegations premised only on “information and belief, ” are plainly insufficient to establish the citizenship of Defendants as necessary to invoke this Court's subject matter jurisdiction. See, e.g., Payne v. Ivy, No. 6:18-cv-3-Orl-18KRS, 2018 WL 1155987, at *1 (M.D. Fla. Jan. 22, 2018) (“Allegations made ‘upon information and belief' are not sufficient to support jurisdictional allegations, however.”); Matos-Cruz v. JetBlue Airways Corp., No. 6:17-cv-380-Orl-37TBS, 2017 WL 3268956, at *2 (M.D. Fla. Aug. 1, 2017) (“Courts have held that allegations concerning a party's citizenship based only ‘on information and belief' are insufficient.”); Principle Solutions LLC v. Feed.ing BV, No. 13-C-223, 2013 WL 2458630, at *2 (E.D. Wis. June 5, 2013).

         In accordance with this authority, further clarification is required from Plaintiff to establish the Court's subject matter jurisdiction over this action. First, Plaintiff must specify his citizenship, rather than merely his residence. In addition, Plaintiff must affirmatively allege the citizenship of Defendants based on personal knowledge of, not mere information and belief about, their states of incorporation and principal places of business. See Wilkins v. Stapleton, No. 6:17-cv-1342-Orl-37GJK, 2017 WL 11219132, at *1 (M.D. Fla. Aug. 1, 2017). Without these additional clarifications, the allegations presently before the Court are insufficient to invoke the Court's subject matter jurisdiction over this action.[2] Accordingly, it is

          ORDERED:

         Plaintiff shall have up to and including January 27, 2020, to provide the Court with sufficient information so that it can determine whether it has diversity jurisdiction over this action.

         DONE AND ORDERED

---------

Notes:

[1] The failure to adequately allege diversity jurisdiction in this case is certainly not unique. See Wilkins v. Stapleton, No. 6:17-cv-1342-Orl-37GJK, 2017 WL 11219132, at *1 (M.D. Fla. Aug. 1, 2017) (“Diversity jurisdiction appears to create the biggest pleading challenge for the Bar.”). But, as aptly stated in Wilkins, the all-to-common “failure to demonstrate even a passing familiarity with the jurisdictional requirements of the federal courts results in a waste of judicial resources that cannot continue.” Id. Indeed,

[t]he U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida is one of the busiest district courts in the country and its limited resources are precious. Time spent screening cases for jurisdictional defects, issuing orders directing repair of deficiencies, then rescreening the amended filings and responses to show cause orders is time that could and should be devoted to the substantive work of the Court.

Id. at *1 n.4. As such, before filing any future pleadings in federal court, counsel is strongly encouraged to review the applicable authority on federal subject matter jurisdiction. See id. at *1-2 (bulleting several “hints” on how to ...


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