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Nevels v. Wiggly

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division

May 10, 2017

DARREL CONELL NEVELS, Plaintiff,
v.
PIGGLY WIGGLY, TOMMY NLN (No Last Name), CARL NLN, DEAN NLN, and CINDY NLN, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS United States District Judge.

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Darrel Conell Nevels (“Mr. Nevels”), who is proceeding pro se, initiated this action on January 17, 2017, against Defendant Piggly Wiggly. (Doc. 1). On March 8, 2017, Piggly Wiggly filed a Motion To Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). (Doc. 9). Perceiving jurisdictional problems with Mr. Nevels's lawsuit, on March 31, 2017, the Court entered an Order directing Mr. Nevels to replead his complaint in a method that addressed the Court's jurisdictional and factual plausibility concerns.[1]The Court's Order forewarned Mr. Nevels that, if he failed to replead as ordered, this case would be dismissed without prejudice for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

         On April 14, 2017, Mr. Nevels filed an Amended Complaint, reasserting claims against Piggly Wiggly as well as against “Tommy, Carl, Dean, Cindy, ” and John Doe(s). (Doc. 12). On April 17, 2017, Piggly Wiggly filed a Renewed Motion To Dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1). (Doc. 13, the “Motion”). The deadline for Plaintiff to respond to the Motion has now passed, and Piggly Wiggly's Motion is now under submission. As explained below, the amended complaint fails to establish this Court's jurisdiction, so this action is due to be dismissed without prejudice.

         II. Analysis

         Because federal courts are tribunals of limited jurisdiction, “a federal court has an independent obligation to review its authority to hear a case before it proceeds to the merits.” Mirage Resorts, Inc. v. Quiet Nacelle Corp., 206 F.3d 1398, 1400-01 (11th Cir. 2000).

         Mr. Nevels makes no claim for relief in his amended complaint that the Court can readily decipher as appropriately and plausibly arising under federal law. Merely mentioning a constitutional provision or a federal rule, without providing factual detail that is comprehensible, does not transform his lawsuit into one that plausibly states a federal claim, especially when Mr. Nevels's complaint and amended complaint, at best, implicate claims that arise only under state law. Because Mr. Nevels's complaint lacks any connection to federal substantive law, he cannot rely upon § 1331 (i.e., the federal question statute) as a basis for subject matter jurisdiction.

         Therefore, subject matter jurisdiction, to the extent that it does exist in this dispute, must be based upon 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1) (i.e., the diversity statute). Section 1332(a)(1) bestows this Court with the authority to hear disputes arising under state law when complete diversity of citizenship exists between the adverse parties and the lawsuit meets the amount in controversy threshold. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1) (“The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs, and is between--(1) citizens of different States[.]”).

         When evaluating the existence of diversity jurisdiction, a party's state of citizenship, rather than residency, is the key jurisdictional fact. See Taylor v. Appleton, 30 F.3d 1365, 1367 (11th Cir. 1994) (“Citizenship, not residence, is the key fact that must be alleged in the complaint to establish diversity for a natural person.”); Travaglio v. Am. Exp. Co., 735 F.3d 1266, 1269 (11th Cir. 2013) (“Residence alone is not enough.” (citing Denny v. Pironi, 141 U.S. 121, 123, 11 S.Ct. 966, 35 L.Ed. 657 (1891))).

         In his amended complaint, Mr. Nevels does not specify his state of citizenship, merely stating that he is an “individual private resident of Jefferson [C]ounty.” (Doc. 12 at 1). He also does not specify the full names - much less the states of citizenship - of the newly added Defendants, who are only referenced in the case caption as “Tommy, Carl, Dean, Cindy.” Id.

         Further, Mr. Nevels has added Fictitious Defendants A, B, & C as parties in the body of his amended complaint and has added “John Doe” in the case caption. Generally speaking, fictitious-party pleading is not permitted in federal court. Richardson v. Johnson, 598 F.3d 734, 738 (11th Cir. 2010). The Eleventh Circuit has created a limited exception that is triggered only when the plaintiff's description of the fictitious parties is “so specific as to be ‘at the very worst, surplusage.'” Id. (citing Dean v. Barber, 951 F.2d 1210, 1215-16 (11th Cir. 1992)). Mr. Nevels has failed to provide any description of John Doe or fictitious defendants A, B, and C, and he has failed to list their states of citizenship.

         Mr. Nevels's complaint contains additional jurisdictional deficiencies with respect to his treatment of Piggly Wiggly, as he minimally and inadequately alleges Piggly Wiggly and the “property owner” are “residents of the State of Alabama.” (Doc. 12 at 1). First, if Mr. Nevels is a citizen of the state of Alabama, as he has implied, and he concedes that at least one defendant is a citizen of the state of Alabama, then the lack of diversity would prevent him from relying on § 1332(a)(1), as he and Piggly Wiggly would both be citizens of the same state.

         Second, Mr. Nevels does not clarify whether Piggly Wiggly is organized as a business entity under federal or state law. If Piggly Wiggly is “a corporation chartered pursuant to federal law, ” then “[i]t would not be a citizen of any state for diversity purposes and diversity jurisdiction would not exist unless the corporation's activities were sufficiently ‘localized' in one state.” Loyola Fed. Sav. Bank v. Fickling, 58 F.3d 603, 606 (11th Cir. 1995) (citing Westcap Government Securities, Inc. v. Homestead Air Force Base Federal Credit Union, 697 F.2d 911, 911-12 n.1 (11th Cir. 1983)).[2]

         If, on the other hand, Piggly Wiggly is organized under state law, then “[t]he precise question posed under the terms of the diversity statute is whether such an entity may be considered a ‘citizen' of the State under whose laws it was created.” Carden v. Arkoma Associates, 494 U.S. 185, 187, 110 S.Ct. 1015, 1017, 108 L.Ed.2d 157 (1990). Further, for a non-corporate entity organized under state law, diversity jurisdiction typically “depends on the citizenship of ‘all the members, ' Chapman, 129 U.S., at 682, 9 S.Ct., at 427, ‘the several persons composing such association, ' Great Southern, 177 U.S., at 456, 20 S.Ct., at 693, ‘each of its members, ' Bouligny, 382 U.S., at 146, 86 S.Ct., at 273.” Carden, 494 U.S. at 195-96, 110 S.Ct. at 1021; see also Id. at 195, 110 S.Ct. at ...


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