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Techno-Tm, LLC v. Fireaway

February 20, 2013

TECHNO-TM, LLC, PLAINTIFF,
v.
FIREAWAY, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Cedarbaum, J.

OPINION AND ORDER

Techno-TM LLC ("Techno-TM") brings this breach of contract action against Fireaway, Inc. ("Fireaway"). The sole basis for federal jurisdiction is diversity of citizenship. For the reasons that follow, Techno-TM's complaint is dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

BACKGROUND

Techno-TM filed its complaint on May 24, 2012, and asserted jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). As relevant here, Section 1332(a) authorizes jurisdiction over civil actions between "citizens of different States" and "citizens of a State and citizens or subjects of a foreign state." Diversity jurisdiction requires that "all adverse parties to a litigation are completely diverse in their citizenships." Herrick Co., Inc. v. SCS Commc'ns, Inc., 251 F.3d 315, 322 (2d Cir. 2001).

On July 13, 2012, Fireaway filed a motion to dismiss the complaint on the ground that Techno-TM had failed to plead sufficient facts to establish subject matter jurisdiction. On July 17, 2012, the parties appeared for an initial pretrial conference, and Techno-TM was directed to submit information on the citizenship of its members. Because Techno-TM is a limited liability company, its citizenship for diversity purposes is the citizenship of its members. See Handelsman v. Bedford Vill. Assocs. Ltd. P'ship, 213 F.3d 48, 52-53 (2d Cir. 2000). Each member's citizenship is determined as of the time this action was commenced on May 24, 2012. Linardos v. Fortuna, 157 F.3d 945, 947 (2d Cir. 1998).

Following the conference, on July 20, 2012, Techno-TM submitted a letter naming its four members as Maryann Huhs, Roy Huhs, Jr., John Huhs, and Michael Huhs. The letter represented that Maryann, Roy, and John resided and made their homes in the State of Washington, and Michael in Illinois, both at the time of the letter and at the time the action was brought.

Meanwhile, on July 16, 2012, Techno-TM, along with several other entities and Maryann and Roy Huhs individually, were sued in Washington State court. On July 30, 2012, just ten days after Techno-TM wrote to this court, the defendants in the Washington action filed a notice of removal to federal court in the Western District of Washington on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. Belikov v. Huhs, No. 12 Civ. 1286 (TSZ) (W.D. Wash. 2012). The notice of removal stated: "Defendants Maryann Huhs and Roy E. Huhs, Jr. are U.S. citizens who resided in Costa Rica through February 2012, and have not established a state of permanent residence in the United States. They own property and currently are domiciled in Washington, but are registered to vote in Nevada and are principals of companies whose principal places of business are in Nevada."

After counsel for Fireaway submitted a letter highlighting the inconsistent statements about Maryann and Roy Huhs' citizenship, the parties appeared at a second conference on August 9, 2012. The parties were ordered to exchange initial disclosures and inform me when the issue of citizenship had been resolved by the Washington District Court. Several days later, on August 15, 2012, the defendants in the Washington action amended their notice of removal to abandon their claim of jurisdiction based on diversity of citizenship and to assert federal question jurisdiction instead. The court in Washington remanded the case to state court for lack of federal question jurisdiction, and thus the issue of the citizenship of Maryann and Roy Huhs was not decided.

Techno-TM has now submitted affidavits by Maryann and Roy Huhs in support of its position that both were citizens of Washington when this action was filed on May 24, 2012.

DISCUSSION

"[I]rrespective of how the parties conduct their case, the courts have an independent obligation to ensure that federal jurisdiction is not extended beyond its proper limits." Wight v. BankAmerica Corp., 219 F.3d 79, 90 (2d Cir. 2000). In this case, there is no dispute that John Huhs and Michael Huhs are citizens of Washington and Illinois, respectively, and that Fireaway is a citizen of Delaware and Minnesota. Whether federal jurisdiction exists hinges on the citizenship of Maryann and Roy Huhs. Techno-TM, as the party invoking federal jurisdiction, bears the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that subject matter jurisdiction exists. Aurecchione v. Schoolman Transp. Sys. Inc., 426 F.3d 635, 638 (2d Cir. 2005).

Citizenship is measured by domicile, which is the place a person has "his true fixed home and principal establishment, and to which, whenever he is absent, he has the intention of returning." Linardos, 157 F.3d at 948 (internal quotations omitted). To change domicile, a party must have both a residence in a new domicile and an intention to remain there. Id.

United States citizens domiciled abroad "are neither citizens of any state of the United States nor citizens or subjects of a foreign state, so that § 1332(a) does not provide that the courts have jurisdiction over a suit to which such persons are parties." Herrick, 251 F. 3d at 322 (internal quotations omitted). Thus, if Maryann and Roy Huhs had not established a new domicile in a state of the United States by May 24, 2012 after returning from Costa Rica, there is no diversity jurisdiction in this action.

In determining domicile and thus citizenship, courts may consider evidence, such as affidavits, of the facts on which jurisdiction rests. Gualandi v. Adams, 385 F.3d 236, 244 (2d Cir. 2004) (citing Kamen v. Am. Tel. & Tel. Co., 791 F.2d 1006, 1011 (2d Cir. 1986)). Where there is evidence of multiple residences, a court "should focus on the party's intent," ascertained by examining "the entire course of a person's conduct in order to draw the necessary inferences as to the relevant intent." Gutierrez v. Fox, 966 F. Supp. 214, 217 (S.D.N.Y. 1997) (internal quotations omitted). To determine citizenship, courts consider factors including voting registration, employment, current residence, location of real ...


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