Boyd v. Gomez et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER denying 8 MOTION to Remand. Signed by Chief Judge William Keith Watkins on 3/12/2014. (wcl, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
WILBERT BOYD, as Personal
Representative of the Estate of
CORNELL BOYD, deceased,
MICAH ANGEL GOMEZ and
STATE FARM MUTUAL
CASE NO. 3:13-CV-873-WKW
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Defendant Micah Angel Gomez removed this action from the Circuit Court of
Macon County, Alabama, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332(a), 1441, and 1446(b), with
the consent of Defendant State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. Before the
court is Plaintiff’s motion to remand (Doc. # 8), which Defendants oppose (Docs.
# 16–17). The sole issue presented by the notice of removal and the motion to remand
is whether Mr. Gomez was domiciled in Alabama or Florida for purposes of
§ 1332(a)’s complete-diversity requirement. Based upon the arguments of counsel,
the relevant law, and the record as a whole, the court finds that Mr. Gomez was at all
relevant times a citizen of Florida. As a result of this finding, there is complete
diversity of citizenship, and Plaintiff’s motion to remand is due to be denied.1
I. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Federal courts have a strict duty to exercise the jurisdiction conferred on them
by Congress. Quackenbush v. Allstate Ins. Co., 517 U.S. 706, 716 (1996). At the
same time, “[f]ederal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction.” Burns v. Windsor Ins.
Co., 31 F.3d 1092, 1095 (11th Cir. 1994). Hence, in actions removed from state court
to federal court, federal courts strictly construe removal statutes, resolve all doubts in
favor of remand, and place the burden of establishing federal jurisdiction on the
defendant. Miedema v. Maytag Corp., 450 F.3d 1322, 1328–30 (11th Cir. 2006).
This action arises out of a motor vehicle collision occurring between Plaintiff’s
decedent, Cornell Boyd, and Defendant Micah Angel Gomez on May 11, 2013, in
Macon County, Alabama. The Complaint alleges that Mr. Gomez’s “negligent and/or
wanton conduct was a proximate cause of Plaintiff’s decedent’s injuries and damages
resulting in his death.” (Compl. ¶ 6.)
Plaintiff filed an untimely reply brief, requesting jurisdictional discovery on the issue of Mr.
Gomez’s domicile. (Doc. # 20.) Whether to permit jurisdictional discovery when subject matter
jurisdiction is in dispute is a matter within the district court’s sound discretion. See Eaton v.
Dorchester Dev., Inc., 692 F.2d 727, 729 (11th Cir. 1982) (“[F]ederal courts have the power to
order, at their discretion, the discovery of facts necessary to ascertain their competency to
entertain the merits.”). Plaintiff’s request is denied, as there is an adequate factual basis for
ascertaining Mr. Gomez’s domicile.
Plaintiff filed this action in the Circuit Court of Macon County, Alabama, on
October 30, 2013. Seeking compensatory and punitive damages in unspecified
amounts, Plaintiff brings claims against Mr. Gomez under the Alabama Wrongful
Death Act and for negligence, wantonness, and violations of the rules of the road.
(Compl. ¶¶ 11–27.) Plaintiff also asserts a claim against Defendant State Farm
Mutual Automobile Insurance Company (“State Farm”), the decedent’s automobile
insurer, asserting that State Farm failed to pay for Plaintiff’s decedent’s “bodily
injuries and damages” under the policy’s uninsured/underinsured motorist provisions.2
(Compl. ¶¶ 31–33.)
Mr. Gomez, with the consent of State Farm, removed this action to the United
States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama on December 2, 2013, on the
basis of diversity jurisdiction. Mr. Gomez asserts that there is complete diversity of
parties and that the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000, exclusive of interest and
costs. The parties agree that Plaintiff’s decedent is an Alabama citizen, see 28 U.S.C.
§ 1332(c)(2),3 and that State Farm is a citizen of Illinois.4 However, the parties
By stipulation, a third defendant was dismissed prior to removal.
When the party is the legal representative of the decedent’s estate, the relevant citizenship is
that of the decedent, not the legal representative. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(c)(2) (“[T]he legal
representative of the estate of a decedent shall be deemed to be a citizen only of the same State
as the decedent.”).
A corporation’s citizenship derives from its state of incorporation and principal place of
business. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(c)(1). State Farm was incorporated in Illinois, where it also has
its principal place of business. (See State Farm’s Answer.)
disagree whether Mr. Gomez is a Florida or an Alabama citizen for purposes of
diversity jurisdiction.5 See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1). Mr. Gomez attests that “[s]ince
January 2012, at all times, [he] ha[s] been and [is] a permanent resident of the State
of Florida,” and, therefore, complete diversity exists. (Gomez’s Aff. 1 (Nov. 2013);
see also Gomez’s Aff. 2 (Jan. 2014) (attesting that since his move to Florida in 2012,
Mr. Gomez has been “a resident and citizen of the State of Florida”).) He further
attests that he has “no plans to change [his] permanent residence from the State of
Florida” and that he has “not lived in nor had a residence in Alabama since 2011, well
before this lawsuit was filed.” (Gomez’s Aff. 1 (Nov. 2013).) Mr. Gomez contends,
therefore, that there is complete diversity of the parties.
In his motion to remand, Plaintiff does not dispute that the jurisdictional amount
in controversy is met.6 He argues, however, that Mr. Gomez is an Alabama citizen,
who although attending a master’s degree program at Florida State University
(“FSU”) when this action was commenced and removed, retained his Alabama
domicile. Plaintiff argues, therefore, that there is not complete diversity of the parties.
The record contains the following evidence bearing on Mr. Gomez’s domicile.
Mr. Gomez’s “hometown” is Enterprise, Alabama. He graduated from Faulkner
As discussed in Part III of this opinion, the relevant dates for assessing diversity jurisdiction in
a removed case are the dates of the commencement and removal of the action; however, postremoval events may play a limited role in the analysis when an individual’s domicile is at issue.
The preponderance of the evidence demonstrates that the amount in controversy is met.
University in Montgomery, Alabama, in 2011. After graduating from college, he
“made the decision to move to Florida.” (Gomez’s Aff. 1 (Jan. 2014).) He applied
to the master’s degree program in information technology at FSU. He did not “apply
to any other schools because [his] primary intent was to live in Florida.” (Gomez’s
Aff. 1 (Jan. 2014).) He was accepted at FSU, and in January 2012, when he was
twenty-five years old, Mr. Gomez moved to Tallahassee, Florida, to earn his master’s
Mr. Gomez has maintained a residence in Florida since moving to Tallahassee
in January 2012 and has supported himself financially through his service with the
Army National Guard. He has paid for his schooling at FSU and for his food, lodging,
and health insurance with Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Florida. Mr. Gomez’s record of
military processing reflects Florida as his state of residence.7 Additionally, Mr.
Gomez has been registered to vote in the State of Florida since October 3, 2012.
Mr. Gomez obtained his master’s degree in December 2013. Since that time,
he has continued to live in Florida, where he maintains his personal belongings. He
currently has financial accounts with both USAA and Wells Fargo and a documented
Florida address with both entities. Mr. Gomez also has applied for and interviewed
for permanent employment with a company located in Tallahassee, Florida. Mr.
The Record of Military Processing is undated, but appears to have been issued at some point
after March 1, 2013.
Gomez attests that, “[a]lthough his hometown is in Alabama, he does not intend to
return to Alabama.” (Gomez’s Aff. 2 (Jan. 2014).)
Notwithstanding Mr. Gomez’s move to Tallahassee in January 2012 to attend
FSU, he kept his Alabama driver’s license until January 6, 2014, before relinquishing
it for a Florida one. He attests that he did not get a Florida driver’s license “earlier
simply because [his] previous [Alabama] license had not yet expired, and [he] did not
have sufficient funds to justify paying the fee.” (Gomez’s Aff. (Jan. 2014).) Also, on
May 11, 2013, the date of the collision that took the life of Plaintiff’s decedent, the
Alabama Uniform Traffic Crash Report documents an Enterprise, Alabama home
address for Mr. Gomez, not a Florida address. Finally, Mr. Gomez was listed as an
additional insured on his father’s automobile insurance policy for the policy period
January 20, 2013, to June 8, 2013, and that policy gives an Enterprise, Alabama
address for Mr. Gomez.
The Law on Removal in Diversity Cases
A defendant may remove to federal court a civil action brought in state court
where the federal court has original jurisdiction over the action based upon diversity
jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). Diversity jurisdiction exists when complete
diversity of citizenship exists between the adverse parties and the amount in
controversy exceeds $75,000. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). “Complete diversity requires
that no defendant in a diversity action be a citizen of the same state as any plaintiff.”
MacGinnitie v. Hobbs Group, LLC, 420 F.3d 1234, 1239 (11th Cir. 2005) (per
curiam). “A party removing a case to federal court based on diversity of citizenship
bears the burden of establishing the citizenship of the parties.” Rolling Greens MHP,
L.P. v. Comcast SCH Holdings, LLC., 374 F.3d 1020, 1022 (11th Cir. 2004).
The Law on Domicile
An individual is a citizen of the state in which he or she is domiciled.
McCormick v. Aderholt, 293 F.3d 1254, 1257 (11th Cir. 2002). “A person’s domicile
is the place of his true, fixed, and permanent home and principal establishment, and
to which he has the intention of returning whenever he is absent therefrom.”
Id. at 1257–58 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). For a person’s
domicile to change, “[a] concurrent showing of (1) physical presence at the new
location with (2) an intention to remain there indefinitely” is required. Id. at 1258
(citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Objective facts relevant to one’s
intent to change his or her domicile include
location of employment; home ownership and ownership of other real
property; location of one’s household furnishings; registration and title
to one’s automobiles; driver’s licensing; voter registration; payment for
utilities; banking; acquiring a telephone number and listing it; receiving
mail; and establishing membership in local professional, civic, religious,
or social organizations.
Audi Performance & Racing, LLC v. Kasberger, 273 F. Supp. 2d 1220, 1226 (M.D.
Moreover, when a college student’s domicile is at issue, courts have recognized
that additional principles come into play. The general rule is that “[a] college student
retains the domicile of his parents when he goes off to college, absent a showing of
the child’s change of domicile.” Hamilton v. Accu-Tek, 13 F. Supp. 2d 366, 369
(E.D.N.Y. 1998) (citing Scoggins v. Pollock, 727 F.2d 1025, 1028 (11th Cir. 1984)).
Hence, the analysis must “begin[ ] with the assumption that an out-of-state college
student lacks the intention to remain as a scholar indefinitely, away from his or her
permanent home.” Id. Another relevant factor is whether the student receives
“continuing aid and support” from his or her parents. Id. at 370 (citing Mitchell v.
Mackey, 915 F. Supp. 388, 391 (M.D. Ga. 1996) (deeming the parental-support factor
as “determinative”)). Continuing parental aid and support “bolster the assumption
against a change in domicile.” Id. However, “no single factor is conclusive; instead,
a ‘totality of evidence’ approach is necessary.” Audi Performance & Racing, LLC,
273 F. Supp. 2d at 1226.
The Law on When Complete Diversity Must Exist
“In order for a case to be removable on the ground of diversity, diversity must
exist at the time the state action is commenced.”8 Roecker v. United States, 379 F.2d
400, 407 (5th Cir. 1967) (citing Jackson v. Allen, 132 U.S. 27 (1889)); see also
MacGinnitie, 420 F.3d at 1239 (holding in a removal case that “[c]itizenship for
diversity purposes is determined at the time the suit is filed”), abrogated on other
grounds by Hertz Corp. v. Friend, 559 U.S. 77 (2010). Also, “[d]iversity jurisdiction
has to exist at the time of removal.” Bujanowski v. Koconte, 359 F. App’x 112, 113
(11th Cir. 2009) (citing Behlen v. Merrill Lynch, 311 F.3d 1087, 1095 (11th Cir.
2002)); see also Stevens v. Nichols, 130 U.S. 230, 231 (1889) (“The case was not
removable from the state court, unless . . . at the commencement of the action, as well
as when the removal was asked, [the defendants] were citizens of some other State
than the one of which the plaintiff was, at those respective dates, a citizen.”); Goff v.
Michelin Tire Corp., 837 F. Supp. 1143, 1144 (M.D. Ala. 1993) (“In order for
defendants to be able to remove this case to federal court based on diversity, diversity
must have existed at both the time the complaint was originally filed and at the time
of removal.”). However, when an individual’s domicile is at issue, events that post-
In Bonner v. City of Prichard, 661 F.2d 1206, 1209 (11th Cir. 1981) (en banc), the Eleventh
Circuit adopted as binding precedent all decisions of the former Fifth Circuit handed down
before October 1, 1981.
date the removal “may bear on the sincerity of [that individual’s] professed intention
to remain but are not part of the primary calculus.” Garcia Perez v. Santaella, 364
F.3d 348, 350, 354 (1st Cir. 2004) (discussing the relevance of post-suit events for
purposes of assessing an individual’s domicile in a case originally filed in federal
court pursuant to § 1332).
The issue is whether Mr. Gomez has shown that he changed his domicile from
Alabama to Florida prior to Plaintiff’s filing of this lawsuit on October 30, 2013, and
the lawsuit’s removal on December 2, 2013. Applying the foregoing principles, the
court finds that Mr. Gomez has satisfied his burden of demonstrating that during the
relevant times, he was physically present in Florida and intended to remain in Florida
indefinitely. By the time this action commenced on October 30, Mr. Gomez had
enrolled in a graduate-degree program at FSU, had moved to Tallahassee, Florida, to
attend FSU, and had lived in Tallahassee for approximately twenty-three months.
Plaintiff does not seriously dispute that these facts show Mr. Gomez’s physical
presence in Florida. Rather, Plaintiff argues that Mr. Gomez cannot show an intent
to remain in Florida indefinitely based upon the principle that a student retains the
domicile of his parents. This argument is not supported by the evidence, however.
The evidence establishes that Mr. Gomez purposefully limited his graduateschool application to FSU because he wanted to take up residency in Florida.
Additionally, after his acceptance and move to Tallahassee, Mr. Gomez purchased
health insurance with Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Florida and registered to vote in
Florida. Moreover, unlike many college students, Mr. Gomez exercised financial
independence. He went to FSU as a twenty-five-year-old adult to earn a graduate
degree, while at the same time serving as a second lieutenant in the Army National
Guard. The income he earned from his military service allowed him to pay for his
food, rent, health insurance, and tuition.
Furthermore, in an affidavit signed on November 29, 2013 (three days prior to
the removal of this action), Mr. Gomez attests that he has “no plans to change [his]
permanent residence from the State of Florida.” (Gomez’s Aff. 1 (Nov. 2013).) His
expressed intention finds ample support in his actions. Namely, since graduating with
his master’s degree from FSU in December 2013, he has maintained his residence in
Florida and has interviewed for a permanent job with a company located in
Tallahassee. He also has obtained a Florida driver’s license and has a checking
account with a bank in Tallahassee. Although these actions post-date the key dates
for assessing diversity of citizenship in a removed action and, thus, “are not part of the
primary calculus,” they are “indicative of the sincerity of [Mr. Gomez’s] intent to
remain in Florida.” Garcia Perez, 364 F.3d at 350, 354.
With that said, Plaintiff has marshaled some evidence of a contrary intent to
change domicile. Plaintiff presents evidence that Mr. Gomez had an Alabama driver’s
license when this action was commenced and removed, and that, while Mr. Gomez
was a student at FSU, his car was insured under his father’s automobile insurance
policy, which listed an Alabama address for Mr. Gomez. Notwithstanding these facts,
the court finds that based upon the evidence in its totality, Mr. Gomez has overcome
the presumption that a college student retains the domicile of his parents, has shown
that he moved to Florida for more than the purpose of his studies at FSU, and has
demonstrated a change of domicile from Alabama to Florida.
In sum, Mr. Gomez has demonstrated that he was domiciled in Florida both at
the time this action was commenced and at the time of removal; therefore, Mr. Gomez
is a citizen of Florida for purposes of the diversity-of-jurisdiction analysis. Because
Plaintiff’s decedent is a citizen of Alabama, State Farm is a citizen of Illinois, and Mr.
Gomez is a citizen of Florida, there is complete diversity of citizenship. Accordingly,
Plaintiff’s motion to remand is due to be denied.
For the foregoing reasons, it is ORDERED that Plaintiff’s motion to remand
(Doc. # 8) is DENIED.
DONE this 12th day of March, 2014.
/s/ W. Keith Watkins
CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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