United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
MARTHA S. MUHAMMAD, Plaintiff,
WENDY RICE, et al., Defendants.
G. CORNELIUS, U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
the undersigned are the parties' briefs on the issue of
subject matter jurisdiction. (Docs. 35, 36). For the reasons
discussed below, this district court lacks subject matter
jurisdiction over the plaintiff's claims. Accordingly,
this action is due to be dismissed without prejudice.
S. Muhammad commenced this action individually and as the
administrator of the Estate of Ayatollah Khomeini Muhammad.
(Doc. 1). In those capacities, she asserts claims for
wrongful death, negligent supervision, and loss of consortium
against the defendants, C.R., a minor, and Wendy and Brian
Rice, individually and as next friend of C.R. (Id.).
Federal subject matter jurisdiction is premised on diversity
of citizenship. (Id. at ¶ 2). To that end, the
complaint alleges Martha S. Muhammad (the
“plaintiff”) is a citizen of Georgia
(id. at ¶ 4), Ayatollah Khomeini Muhammad (the
“decedent”) was a citizen of Georgia
(id. at ¶ 5), the defendants are citizens of
Alabama (id. at ¶¶ 6-8), and the amount in
controversy exceeds $75, 000 (id. at ¶ 2). In
their answer, the defendants deny the existence of diversity
jurisdiction on the ground the decedent was not of diverse
citizenship from the defendants. (Doc. 6 at ¶ 2, ¶
5, p. 4). Consistent with the obligation of a district court
to ensure its subject matter jurisdiction at all times, by an
order dated September 11, 2018, the undersigned directed the
Clerk to terminate the parties' pending motions for
summary judgment addressing the merits of the plaintiff's
claims and directed the parties to brief the issue of subject
matter jurisdiction. (Doc. 34). The defendants submitted
their brief on September 24, 2018 (Doc. 35),  and the plaintiff
submitted her brief on September 25, 2018 (Doc. 36).
decedent is the plaintiff's son. (Doc. 36-1 at 5-7). He
was shot and killed in Blount County, Alabama on July 23,
2014. (Id.). Details for a criminal harassment case
to which he pleaded guilty in the District Court of Jefferson
County, Alabama in December 2004 identify 2600 Sweeney Hollow
Road or 428 Plaza Drive, both in Birmingham, Alabama, as his
address at that time and reflect he held an Alabama
driver's license. (Doc. 35-5 at 2). Case details for a
traffic violation to which he pleaded guilty in the Sumiton,
Alabama Municipal Court in August 2012 identify 9600 Bradford
Trafford Road in Warrior, Alabama as his address at that time
and record he held an Alabama driver's license. (Doc.
35-4 at 2). A marriage certificate issued to the decedent and
Wendy Rice by the Probate Court of Jefferson County, Alabama
in April 2013 identifies Birmingham, Alabama as the
decedent's residence. (Doc. 35-3 at 2). Wendy Rice
attests that through December 2013, she and the decedent
resided at a rental property in Oneonta, Blount County,
Alabama. (Doc 35-1 at 3). A traffic citation issued to the
decedent in Alabama by the Jefferson County Sheriff's
Office on June 26, 2014, identifies 2345 7th Place N.W., Apt.
K in Birmingham, AL as his address  and records he held an
Alabama driver's license. (Doc. 35-2 at 2). Wendy Rice
attests that for 7-10 days immediately preceding his death,
the decedent resided with Brandon Shofner in Pinson, Alabama
and it was her understanding the decedent intended to remain
there. (Doc. 35-1 at 3). She also attests that prior to his
death, the decedent had regularly worked for All My Sons
Moving Company in Homewood, Alabama; Eastern Tree Service in
Pinson, Alabama; and Bass Pro Shops in Irondale, Alabama.
(Id. at 2).
plaintiff, by contrast, attests the decedent resided with her
at 2773 Snapfinger Manor in Decatur, Georgia at the time of
his death, had not resided at the Alabama address listed on
his driver's license for at least a year at the time of
his death,  had refused Wendy Rice's attempts to
convince him to return to Alabama in June 2014, and had
traveled to Blount County, Alabama at the time of his death
for a car show. (Doc. 36-1 at 2-3). In further support of her
allegation the decedent was a Georgia citizen at the time of
his death, the plaintiff submits the following evidence: (1)
the decedent's death certificate listing 2773 Snapfinger
Manor, Decatur, Georgia as his residence (id. at
5-7; Doc. 36-4 at 2-4);  (2) letters of administration issued by
the Probate Court of DeKalb County, Georgia, indicating the
decedent's domicile in DeKalb County, Georgia as the
basis of the probate court's jurisdiction (Doc. 36-1 at
(3) a bill for medical treatment the decedent received in
Atlanta, Georgia on July 9, 2014,  identifying his address as
2773 Snapfinger Manor, Decatur, Georgia (id. at 12);
(4) photos of medication the plaintiff attests was prescribed
for the decedent in connection with the foregoing treatment
and that she further attests the decedent filled in DeKalb
County, Georgia (id. at 3, 13-15);  (5) the affidavit
testimony of Alice Goodman that the decedent resided at 2773
Snapfinger Manor in Decatur, Georgia with his mother and was
Goodman's neighbor in July 2014 (Doc. 36-2 at 2); (6)
Brandon Shofner's statement to the Blount County
Sheriff's Office that on the day of his death the
decedent told Shofner there was “nothing here for him,
” “he was going back to Atl. w/ his mother,
” and “he was going to go see [someone] about a
job for money to get home” (Doc. 36-5 at 2); and (7) a
business card for the decedent's personal training
services printed with the 2773 Snapfinger Manor, Decatur,
Georgia address and a phone number with a Georgia area code
(Doc. 36-6 at 2).
matter jurisdiction premised on 28 U.S.C. § 1332
requires every plaintiff to be of diverse citizenship from
every defendant. Triggs v. John Crump Toyota, Inc.,
154 F.3d 1284, 1287 (11th Cir. 1998). Where an estate is a
party, it is the citizenship of the decedent at the time of
his or her death that is relevant for purposes of determining
diversity. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(c)(2); Moore v. N. Am.
Sports, Inc., 623 F.3d 1325, 1327 (11th Cir. 2010).
natural person is a citizen of the state where he is
domiciled, and domicile requires residence in a state and an
intention to remain there indefinitely. Travaglio,
735 F.3d at 1269; see also McCormick v. Aderholt,
293 F.3d 1254, 1257-58 (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 . . . .” (internal quotation marks omitted)).
of a person's domicile requires consideration of a
variety of objective facts, including:
where civil and political rights are exercised, where taxes
are paid, where real and personal property are located, where
driver's and other licenses are obtained, where mail is
received, where telephone numbers are maintained and listed,
where bank accounts are maintained, where places of business
or employment are located, and where memberships in local
professional, civil, religious or social organizations are
Slate v. Shell Oil Co., 444 F.Supp.2d 1210, 1215
(S.D. Ala. 2006). No. one fact is given controlling weight,
but rather, courts look to the totality of the circumstances.
Id. Determination of a person's domicile also
requires consideration of subjective statements of intent.
Id. However, such statements are not dispositive,
id., and in fact, the Eleventh Circuit has noted,
“[c]ourts generally The defendants do not dispute the
plaintiff, who asserts a claim for loss of consortium in her
personal capacity, is a citizen of Georgia. give little
weight to a party's profession of domicile . . . because
these declarations are often self-serving.” Molinos
Valle Del Cibao, C. por A. v. Lama, 633 F.3d 1330, 1342
(11th Cir. 2011); see also Hendry v. Masonite Corp.,
455 F.2d 955, 956 (5th Cir. 1972) (“In determining
one's ‘citizenship' or ‘domicile'
statements of intent are entitled to little weight when in
conflict with facts.”).
courts consider certain presumptions to aid their
determination of a person's domicile. Audi
Performance & Racing, LLC v. Kasberger, 273
F.Supp.2d 1220, 1226 (M.D. Ala. 2003) (noting usefulness of
certain presumptions regarding domicile). There is a
presumption a person's current residence is his or her
domicile. Id.; see also Molinos, 633 F.3d
at 1342 (noting it could be presumed party was domiciled at
current residence until controverted by fact). However,
because domicile has a mental or subjective element, it
“ ‘is not necessarily synonymous with
“residence, ” and one can reside in one place but
be domiciled in another.'” McNeal v.
Workmaster, 2009 WL 4508545, at *2 (M.D. Ala. Nov. 30,
2009) (quoting Miss. Band of Choctaw Indians v.
Holyfield, 490 U.S. 30, 48 (1989)); see also
Molinos, 633 F.3d at 1341-42 (“Domicile is not
synonymous with residence; one may temporarily reside in one
location, yet retain domicile in a previous residence.
Although physically present in the current residence, the
person does not intend to remain in that state
is also a century-old presumption that once a person
establishes a domicile in one state, that remains his
domicile until he satisfies the physical and mental
requirements of domicile in another. See Mitchell v.
United States, 88 U.S. 350, 353 (1874) (“A
domicile once acquired is presumed to continue until it is
shown to have been changed.”); Audi, 273
F.Supp.2d at 1226 (noting requirements to overcome
presumption). “The reason for this presumption is to
solve the problem of locating an individual who has clearly
abandoned his present domicile but either has not arrived at
a new one or has arrived without formulating the intent to
stay.” White v. All Am. Cable & Radio,
Inc., 642 F.Supp. 69, 72 (D.P.R. 1986) (citing 13E Fed.
Prac. & Proc. Juris. § 3612 (3d ed.)); see also
Jones v. Law Firm of Hill and Ponton, 141 F.Supp.2d
1349, 1355 (M.D. Fla. 2001) (noting courts refer to
presumption of continuing domicile because changes in
residence are so common in this country). The party invoking
federal jurisdiction bears the burden of proving facts
supporting its existence by a preponderance of the ...