Stringer v. Volkswagen Group of America, Inc. et al
Order that plaintiff file a supplementary complaint by 10/22/2015 that cures the defects specified in this order. Signed by Magistrate Judge Katherine P. Nelson on 10/8/2015. (srr)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
VOLKSWAGEN GROUP OF
AMERICA, INC, et al,
Civil Action No. 15-00509-N
This action is before the Court sua sponte on review of the Complaint (Doc. 1).
Upon review, the Court finds the Complaint to be deficient for the following
Subject Matter Jurisdiction
“It is . . . axiomatic that the inferior federal courts are courts of limited
jurisdiction. They are ‘empowered to hear only those cases within the judicial power
of the United States as defined by Article III of the Constitution,’ and which have
been entrusted to them by a jurisdictional grant authorized by Congress.” Univ. of
S. Ala. v. Am. Tobacco Co., 168 F.3d 405, 409 (11th Cir. 1999) (quoting Taylor v.
Appleton, 30 F.3d 1365, 1367 (11th Cir. 1994)). Accordingly, “it is well settled that a
federal court is obligated to inquire into subject matter jurisdiction sua sponte
whenever it may be lacking.” Id. at 410. “[A] court should inquire into whether it
has subject matter jurisdiction at the earliest possible stage in the proceedings.” Id.
The Complaint alleges diversity of citizenship under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a) as
the sole basis for the Court’s subject matter jurisdiction over the claims in this
action.1 Doc. 1 at 3, ¶ 9-10.
When [a defendant removes a case to federal court, it] must allege
facts that, if true, show federal subject matter jurisdiction over [its]
case exists. Taylor v. Appleton, 30 F. 3d 1365, 1367 (11th Cir. 1994).
Those allegations, when federal jurisdiction is invoked based upon
diversity, must include the citizenship of each party, so that the court
is satisfied that no plaintiff is a citizen of the same state as any
defendant. Triggs v. John Crump Toyota, Inc., 154 F. 3d 1284, 1287
(11th Cir. 1998) (“Diversity jurisdiction requires complete diversity;
every plaintiff must be diverse from every defendant.”). Without such
allegations, district courts are constitutionally obligated to dismiss the
action altogether if the plaintiff does not cure the deficiency. Stanley v.
C.I.A., 639 F. 2d 1146, 1159 (5th Cir. Unit B Mar. 1981); see also
DiMaio v. Democratic Nat'l Comm., 520 F. 3d 1299, 1303 (11th Cir.
2008) (“Where dismissal can be based on lack of subject matter
jurisdiction and failure to state a claim, the court should dismiss on
only the jurisdictional grounds.” (internal quotation marks omitted)).
That is, if a complaint's factual allegations do not assure the court it
has subject matter jurisdiction, then the court is without power to do
anything in the case. See Goodman ex rel. Goodman v. Sipos, 259 F. 3d
1327, 1331, n.6 (11th Cir. 2001) (“ ‘[A district] court must dismiss a
case without ever reaching the merits if it concludes that it has no
jurisdiction.’ ” (quoting Capitol Leasing Co. v. FDIC, 999 F. 2d 188, 191
(7th Cir. 1993))); see also Belleri v. United States, 712 F. 3d 543, 547
(11th Cir. 2013) (“We may not consider the merits of [a] complaint
unless and until we are assured of our subject matter jurisdiction.”).
Travaglio v. Am. Exp. Co., 735 F.3d 1266, 1268 (11th Cir. 2013) (footnote omitted).
See also, e.g., Ray v. Bird & Son & Asset Realization Co., Inc., 519 F.2d 1081, 1082
(5th Cir. 1975) (“The burden of pleading diversity of citizenship is upon the party
See FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a)(1) (“A pleading that states a claim for relief must contain a short and plain
statement of the grounds for the court’s jurisdiction…”).
invoking federal jurisdiction . . .” (citing Mas v. Perry, 489 F.2d 1396 (5th Cir.
The Plaintiff, as the party invoking this Court’s jurisdiction, bears the initial
burden of pleading sufficient facts establishing jurisdiction. The Plaintiff properly
allege that § 1332(a)’s requisite amount in controversy is satisfied by claiming that
damages sought are “in excess of $75,000 exclusive of interest and costs.” Doc. 1 at
3, ¶ 10; 21,¶ 108(a). See, e.g., Federated Mut. Ins. Co. v. McKinnon Motors, LLC, 329
F. 3d 805, 807 (11th Cir. 2003) (“In order to invoke a federal court's diversity
jurisdiction, a plaintiff must claim, among other things, that the amount in
controversy exceeds $75,000.” (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1332)). They also properly allege
the citizenships of corporate Defendant Volkswagen Group of America, Inc. (a
citizen of New Jersey and Virginia (see Doc. 1 at 3, ¶ 12)), by alleging the states
under whose laws it was incorporated and where it has its principal places of
business. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(c)(1). However, the Plaintiff failed to properly plead
facts establishing the citizenships of itself and the foreign defendants.
Natural-Person Defendants’ Citizenship
Plaintiff, a natural person, alleges that he is a “resident of the state of
Alabama.” Doc. 1 at 3, ¶ 11. The Eleventh Circuit has repeatedly stressed that
“[c]itizenship, not residence, is the key fact that must be alleged . . . to establish
diversity for a natural person.” Taylor v. Appleton, 30 F. 3d 1365, 1367 (11th Cir.
1994) (emphasis added). See also Travaglio, 735 F. 3d at 1269 (“As we indicated in
“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 prior to
the close of business on September 30, 1981.” Travaglio, 735 F. 3d at 1268 n.1.
remanding this case for jurisdictional findings, the allegations in Travaglio’s
complaint about her citizenship are fatally defective. Residence alone is not
enough.”); Molinos Valle Del Cibao, C. por A. v. Lama, 633 F. 3d 1330, 1342 n.12
(11th Cir. 2011) (“Ordinarily, the complaint must allege the citizenship, not
residence, of the natural defendants.”); Corporate Mgmt. Advisors, Inc. v. Artjen
Complexus, Inc., 561 F. 3d 1294, 1297 (11th Cir. 2009) (“If a party fails to
specifically allege citizenship in their notice of removal, the district court should
allow that party to cure the omission . . . ” (quotation marks omitted)); Beavers v.
A.O. Smith Elec. Prods. Co., 265 F. App’x 772, 778 (11th Cir. 2008) (per curiam)
(“The plaintiffs’ complaint alleges only the residence of the nearly 100 plaintiffs, not
their states of citizenship. Because the plaintiffs have the burden to affirmatively
allege facts demonstrating the existence of jurisdiction and failed to allege the
citizenship of the individual plaintiffs, the district court lacked subject matter
jurisdiction on the face of the complaint.” (internal citation and quotation omitted));
Crist v. Carnival Corp., 410 F. App'x 197, 200 (11th Cir. 2010) (per curiam) (“The
allegation that Crist is a ‘resident’ of Florida is insufficient for diversity jurisdiction
purposes because residency is not the equivalent of citizenship.”).
“Citizenship is equivalent to ‘domicile’ for purposes of diversity jurisdiction.
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.” McCormick v. Aderholt, 293 F. 3d 1254, 1257-58 (11th Cir.
2002) (citations, quotations, and footnote omitted). See also Travaglio, 735 F.3d at
1269 (“ ‘Citizenship is equivalent to “domicile” for purposes of diversity jurisdiction.’
And domicile requires both residence in a state and ‘an intention to remain there
indefinitely . . . ’ ” (quoting McCormick, 293 F. 3d at 1257-58 (internal quotation
marks omitted)) (internal citation omitted)); Mas, 489 F. 2d at 1399 (“For diversity
purposes, citizenship means domicile; mere residence in the State is not
As such, if Plaintiff wishes to adequately plead diversity, he must allege his
own state of citizenship/domicile as a natural person.
Regarding Defendants Volkswagen AG and Audi AG, the Plaintiff alleges
only that each of them is “a corporation created and existing pursuant to the laws of
the nation of Germany.” Doc. 1 at 4, ¶¶ 13, 14. This is not even nominally adequate
for an American corporation, as no allegation is made about each entity’s principal
place of business. Moreover, Plaintiff has made no attempt to explain what the
suffix “AG” means or to plead to the Court how it should be treated for purposes of
Generally, “a corporation shall be deemed to be a citizen of every State and
foreign state by which it has been incorporated and of the State or foreign state
where it has its principal place of business . . . ” 28 U.S.C § 1332 (c)(1). However, a
court should not “assume that [a foreign state] has business entities that enjoy
corporate status as the United States understands it[,]” as “not even the United
Kingdom has a business form that is exactly equal to that of a corporation.” White
Pearl Inversiones S.A. (Uruguay) v. Cemusa, Inc., 647 F. 3d 684, 686 (7th Cir. 2011).
“Deciding whether a business enterprise based in a foreign nation should be treated
as a corporation for the purpose of § 1332 can be difficult. Businesses in other
nations may have attributes that match only a subset of those that in the United
States distinguish a ‘corporation’—a business with indefinite existence, personhood
(the right to contract and litigate in its own name), limited liability for equity
investors, and alienable shares, among other features—from forms such as the
limited liability company, the limited partnership, and the business trust.”
Fellowes, Inc. v. Changzhou Xinrui Fellowes Office Equip. Co., 759 F. 3d 787, 788
(7th Cir. 2014) (Easterbrook, J.) (vacating district court’s judgment and remanding
with instructions to dismiss for want of subject-matter jurisdiction where, on
appeal, the defendant business established under the law of China was found to be
“closer to a limited liability company than to any other business structure in this
nation,” thus defeating diversity where both the plaintiff and a member of the
defendant entity were citizens of Illinois) (internal citation omitted). See also
BouMatic, 759 F.3d at 791 (“Classification of a foreign business entity can be
difficult, because other nations may use subsets of the characteristics that
distinguish corporations from other business entities in the United States.”
(internal citation omitted)).
“In Carden v. Arkoma Assocs., 494 U.S. 185, 195–96, 110 S. Ct. 1015, 1021,
108 L. Ed. 2d 157 (1990), the Supreme Court held that for purposes of diversity of
citizenship, a limited partnership is a citizen of each state in which any of its
partners, limited or general, are citizens. In reaching this holding, the Court noted
the long-standing rule that the citizenship of an artificial, unincorporated entity
generally depends on the citizenship of all the members composing the
organization.” Rolling Greens, 374 F. 3d at 1021. Thus, “the Court in Carden
provided a general rule: every association of a common-law jurisdiction other than a
corporation is to be treated like a partnership. That rule applies without regard to
the corporation-like features or other business realities of the artificial entity.”
Underwriters at Lloyd's, London v. Osting-Schwinn, 613 F. 3d 1079, 1087 (11th Cir.
2010) (internal citation and quotations omitted). Moreover, “[i]f it is hard to
determine whether a business entity from a common-law nation is equivalent to a
‘corporation,’ it can be even harder when the foreign nation follows the civil-law
tradition.” White Pearl Inversiones, 647 F.3d at 686 (“Uruguay has at least three
forms of limited-liability businesses: sociedad anónima (S.A.), sociedad anónima
financiera de inversión (S.A.F.I.), and sociedad responsabilidad limitada (S.R.L.).
White Pearl did not say which kind it is, and its lawyers did not analyze whether
that kind of business organization should be treated as a corporation . . . . They
simply assumed that Uruguay has such a beast as a ‘corporation’ and that White
Pearl is one. The lawyers for Cemusa made the same assumption.”).
As such, if the Plaintiff wishes to adequately plead diversity, he must allege
what kind of entity Defendants Volkswagen AG and Audi AG are—that is, whether
each is a corporate or unincorporated entity. If they are to be treated as
corporations, Plaintiff must allege “every State and foreign state by which [each]
has been incorporated and the State or foreign state where it has its principal
place of business . . . ” § 1332(c)(1). If they are to be treated as unincorporated
entities, Plaintiff must allege the citizenships of each of its members. Rolling
Greens, MHP, L.P. v. Comcast SCH Holdings, L.L.C., 374 F. 3d 1020, 1022 (11th
Cir. 2004) (per curiam).
“Defective allegations of jurisdiction may be amended, upon terms, in the
trial or appellate courts.” 28 U.S.C. § 1653. “[L]eave to amend should be freely
granted when necessary to cure a failure to allege jurisdiction properly.” Majd-Pour
v. Georgiana Cmty. Hosp., Inc., 724 F. 2d 901, 903 n.1 (11th Cir. 1984). As such, the
Plaintiff will be given an opportunity to file a supplementary notice of removal that
properly alleges subject-matter jurisdiction.
Accordingly, Plaintiff is hereby ORDERED to file, no later than Thursday,
October 22, 2015, a supplementary complaint that cures the defects specified in
DONE and ORDERED this the 8th day of October 2015.
/s/ Katherine P. Nelson
KATHERINE P. NELSON
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
In this District, “all [civil] pretrial proceedings” are referred to the Magistrate Judges, inter alia, in
civil cases, including non-dispositive pretrial motions, and may be disposed of by Order. S.D. ALA.
Gen. L.R. 72(a)(2)(S), 72(b). Amendment of pleadings is generally considered a non-dispositive
pretrial matter. See 12 Charles Alan Wright et al., FED. PRAC. & PROC. CIV. § 3068.1 (2d ed. 1997); 32
AM. JUR. 2d Federal Courts § 132.
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