• April 20, 2012

U.S. District Court Judge Joan Ericksen (D. Minn.) has built a bit of a local reputation for strict adherence to 28 U.S.C. § 1332 and admonishing counsel that fail to plead diversity of citizenship correctly (see, for example, here and here). Recently, Judge Ericksen again called out an attorney that “did not properly allege the citizenships of all the parties.”

In order to determine the merits of a case, a federal court must have subject matter jurisdiction. This typically means either dealing with a federal question under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 or diversity of citizenship under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Unlike other aspects of civil procedure, the prerequisites for diversity of citizenship are relatively simple: complete diversity for the parties involved and an amount in controversy that exceeds $75,000.

Here’s the back story: Marlis and George Palmer brought suit against Wyeth, Inc. Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, and Pfizer, Inc. in U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota for personal injury from products produced by Defendants. The case was transferred by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation to the Eastern District of Arkansas for consolidated and coordinated pretrial hearings. On remand, Judge Ericksen sua sponte analyzed whether the Palmers had subject matter jurisdiction to be in federal court and whether Minnesota was the correct venue.

It turns out that Plaintiffs’ counsel alleged that Marlis Palmer was a “resident” of Oregon and not a citizen of Oregon and completely failed to allege the citizenship of George Palmer. This was not sufficient for Judge Ericksen who pointed out that diversity jurisdiction can only be invoked if the parties are citizens of different states.

Although the Complaint alleges the state of Marlis Palmer’s residence, it is well established that citizenship and residence are not synonymous for purposes of diversity jurisdiction.

Residence is only the factual place of abode while citizenship or domicile means living in a particular locale with the intent to make it a fixed and permanent home. Seeing that Plaintiffs failed to correctly plead citizenship, Judge Ericksen ordered Plaintiffs to file an Amended Complaint within seven days or be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

In her Order, Judge Ericksen also raised another issue: even if diversity of citizenship is correctly plead, should the case be transferred out of Minnesota pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a)? It seems that the Plaintiffs, or at least their attorneys, sought to take advantage of Minnesota’s statutes of limitations for negligence and strict products liability (six-years for negligence and four-years for strict products liability) despite the fact that there is only a tangential connection with the state. Thus, because the Plaintiffs are from Oregon and the corporate defendants are Delaware and New York corporations with principal places of business in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York, the Judge believes it may best serve their interests if the case was transferred.

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