Rodriguez-Diaz et al v. Perez-Rodriguez et al
OPINION and ORDER denying 179 Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction. Signed by Judge Daniel R. Dominguez on 8/10/2017. (JM)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF PUERTO RICO
María Rodríguez-Díaz, et als.,
Civil No. 14-1651 (DRD)
OPINION AND ORDER
(“Plaintiff”) filed a Second Amended Complaint seeking damages for
the death of her son, Angel Luis Fernández-Rodríguez, allegedly caused
by Defendant Jean Andrés Pérez Rodríguez’s (“Defendant”) negligence
on September 27, 2013. Plaintiff, as the sole member of her son’s
estate, filed a survivorship claim to recover for her son’s pain and
suffering prior to his death. See Docket No. 159, ¶23. Pending before
the Court is Defendants’ Jean Andrés Pérez Rodríguez, Marcel PerezRodriguez,
“Defendants”) Motion to Dismiss for
Lack of Jurisdiction
Survivorship Cause of Action (Docket No. 179) wherein Defendants
contend the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s
survivorship claim because diversity jurisdiction does not exist
between Plaintiffs and Defendants.
In Puerto Rico, the survivorship of tort actions is governed by
article 1802 of Puerto Rico Civil Code. See 31 LPRA §2081. Courts
have further established two scenarios where a plaintiff can claim
damages for wrongful death: 1) the “personal action of the original
victim of the accident for the damages that the same suffered”, and
2) the “action which corresponds exclusively and by own right to the
predecessor caused them”. Vda. de Delgado v. Boston Ins., Co., 101
D.P.R. 598, 1 P.R. Offic. Trans. 823, 825 (1973) (citing Caéz v. U.S.
Casualty Co., 80 P.R. R. 729, 736); see also Cason v. Puerto Rico
Elec. Power Authority, 770 F. 3d 971, 974-975 (1st Cir. 2014); CruzGascot v. HIMA-San Pablo Hosp. Bayamon, 728 F. Supp. 2d 14 (D.P.R.
2010). The former is what is known as a “survivorship action.”
While federal courts are of limited jurisdiction, diversity
jurisdiction has become one of the most commonly used mechanisms to
access the federal court system. Advocates of diversity jurisdiction
must overcome the following obstacles in order to litigate in the
diversity of citizenship between the parties; and (ii) establishing
that the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000, exclusive interests
and costs.” See Rodríguez-Rivera v. Wal-Mart Puerto Rico, Inc., 2015
WL 3490169, at *2 (D.P.R. 2015); see also 28 U.S.C. §1332.
In the case at bar, the issue is not the amount in controversy,
rather the complete diversity of citizenship between Defendants. See
generally, Bautista Cayman Asset company v. The Ferrer Group, Inc.,
2016 WL 1642630 (D.P.R. 2016); Flores v. Wyndham Grand Resort, 873
F. Supp. 2d 444 (D.P.R. 2012) for recent cases wherein the district
court has addressed complete diversity between the parties.
Bautista court, for example explained that “[c]omplete diversity
exists only when ‘no plaintiff is a citizen of the same state as any
defendant.’” See Bautista, 2016 WL at *2 (citing Diaz-Rodríguez v.
Pep Boys Corp., 410 F.3d 56, 58 (1st Cir. 2005) (internal citations
omitted). Likewise, courts must abide by the diversity requirements
codified in 28 U.S.C. §1332.
Both Plaintiff and Defendants mention Arias Rosado v. Gonzalez
Tirado, 111 F. Supp. 2d 96 (D.P.R. 2000) in their respective motions.
Plaintiffs argue that Plaintiff brought the survivorship cause of
action on her own behalf and as the sole heir of her son’s estate.
In bringing the action on her own behalf, she therefore retains her
California citizenship and should not be considered a representative
of the legal estate for the purposes of §1332(c)(2). They also
criticize Defendants attempts to allege that all members of the estate
must claim the survivorship cause of action. They contend that this
is not necessary since the sole heir of the deceased’s estate is
Court agrees with
Defendants contentions regarding
incorrect assumptions made by the district court in Arias. Defendants
contest that the Arias court failed by: 1) incorrectly applying Puerto
Rico Supreme Court precedent; 2) failing to understand the distinction
between a wrongful death action and a survivorship claim; and 3)
mistakenly relying on a Seventh Circuit interpretation of Louisiana
survivorship action is one brought under the first scenario of a 1802
tortious claim, and thus not every wrongful death is eligible to be
criticized the Arias court for ignoring the citizenship of each absent
heir. The decision has also been critiqued for suggesting that “an
heir's favorable judgment disposes of the survivorship claim and
benefits all of the absent heirs.” See Cruz-Gascot, 728 F. Supp.2d
at 27-28; see also Jiménez v. Rodríguez-Pagán, 597 F.3d 18 (1st Cir.
interpretation of how Puerto Rico law concludes that not all heirs
have to be before a Court). We also agree with Defendant’s position
that the Arias court, and by extension the Plaintiffs’ allegations,
exclude certain key notions of Puerto Rico succession law.
“[s]uccession is the transmission of the rights and obligations of a
deceased person to his heirs.” See 31 LPRA §2081. Case law further
provides that the heirs of the deceased are tasked with keeping the
legal position of the deceased intact. See Ex parte Feliciano Suarez,
117 D.P.R. 402, 17 P.R. Office Trans. 488,500 (1986). Here, both
parties agree that María Rodríguez-Díaz is the sole member of the
estate of Angel Luis Fernández-Rodríguez. As such, she is considered
“a continuation of the juridical personality of the deceased.” Vda.
de Delgado, 101 D.P.R. at 828. Therefore, while she is domiciled in
California, for all effects and purposes she retains the citizenship
of her son, that is to say Puerto Rico, and not the other way around.
Notwithstanding the above-mentioned, the Court will exercise its
§1367(a), a court may exercise supplemental jurisdiction “over all
other claims that are so related to claims in the action within such
controversy under Article III of the United States Constitution. Such
joinder or intervention of additional parties.” Several claims can
be grouped under the same claim “when ‘the state and federal claims
considered without regard to their federal or state character, a
plaintiff's claims ... would ordinarily be ... [tried] in one judicial
proceeding, then ... there is power in federal courts to hear the
whole.’” See Iravedra v. Municipality of Guaynabo, 2017 WL 1208405
at *2 (D.P.R. 2017) (citing United Mine Workers of Am. V. Gibbs, 383
U.S. 715, 725 (1966)). Finally, 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c) enumerates the
four exceptions wherein a court may decline to exercise supplemental
jurisdiction over a claim. Here, the claim made by Defendants does
not fall into any of these exceptions and denying jurisdiction would
not be in “the interests of fairness, judicial economy, convenience,
and comity” since all the federal claims remain. See Desjardins v.
Willard, 777 F. 3d 43, 45 (1st Cir. 2015); Exxon Mobil Corp. v.
Allapattah Services, Inc., 545 U.S. 546 (2005).
Survivorship Cause of Action (Docket No. 179).1
IT IS SO ORDERED.
In San Juan, Puerto Rico, this 10th day of August, 2017.
/s/ DANIEL R. DOMÍNGUEZ
DANIEL R. DOMÍNGUEZ
U.S. District Judge
While the Court notes that claims regarding damages for the pain
and suffering of the deceased in this case prior to his death
are of nominal amount since the deceased was unconscious from
the time of the accident until his death, which suggests he
suffered minimally if at all, we are still choosing to exercise
jurisdiction over the case at bar at this early time, subject to
a Rule 50 dismissal request at the end of Plaintiff’s case. See
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