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Stassens v. Stassens

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

April 17, 2019

TINA M. STASSENS, Plaintiff,


          Derrick K. Watson, United States District Judge.

         On December 31, 2018, Defendants Dennis Stassens and the Stassens Family Limited Partnership (SFLP, and, with Dennis Stassens, “Defendants”) removed this action from the Third Circuit Court for the State of Hawai‘i. Dkt. No. 1. A month later, Plaintiff Tina M. Stassens (Plaintiff) filed a motion to remand. Dkt. No. 11. Because the notice of removal (and accompanying exhibits) failed to state the domicile of all of the partners for SFLP and the declaration Defendants submitted in opposition to the motion to remand failed to correct this deficiency, Defendants have not carried their burden of establishing this Court's subject matter jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. The Court therefore GRANTS the motion to remand to the extent that this action is remanded to the Third Circuit Court. Plaintiff's request for attorney fees and costs is DENIED.


         Defendants' notice of removal, Dkt. No. 1, relies solely on diversity for purposes of this Court's subject matter jurisdiction. Defendants asserted that Dennis Stassens was a citizen of the State of Oregon at the time the complaint was filed. Defendants further asserted that SFLP is an Oregon limited partnership with its principal place of business in Oregon and that has been the case since before the complaint was filed. Defendants also asserted that SFLP's general and limited partners include four individuals, all of whom are citizens of Oregon, citing SFLP's amended annual report.

         Plaintiff spends much of her motion to remand, Dkt. No. 11-1, advancing an inapt argument concerning the Third Circuit Court's purported ability to exercise personal jurisdiction over Defendants. Nonetheless, Plaintiff briefly argues that Defendants have failed to establish diversity jurisdiction and that she is entitled to an award of fees and costs as a result of Defendants' improper removal.

         In opposition, Dkt. No. 17, inter alia, Defendants again assert that SFLP's general and limited partners are citizens of Oregon. On this occasion, Defendants list seven general and limited partners of SFLP, citing a declaration (“the Declaration”) from one of the general partners, Taira Lynn Stassens, and SFLP's amended annual report. Defendants assert that the Oregon citizenship of each of the Defendants is “undisputed.” In reply, Dkt. No. 20, Plaintiff argues, inter alia, that Defendants cannot rely upon the Declaration because, with respect to the partners who are not Taira Lynn Stassens, it constitutes inadmissible hearsay.

         A hearing on the motion to remand was held on April 12, 2019. Dkt. No. 21. Among other things, at the hearing, counsel for Defendants asserted that he should be allowed to submit supplemental declarations concerning the SFLP partners' citizenship, citing Singer v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 116 F.3d 373 (9th Cir. 1997).


         Pursuant to Section 1441(a) of Title 28, any civil action brought in a State court may be removed to federal court by a defendant provided that the federal court would have original jurisdiction over the action. Pursuant to Section 1332(a)(1) of Title 28, this Court has original jurisdiction of all civil actions involving an amount in controversy in excess of $75, 000 and citizens of different States.

         Pursuant to Section 1447(c) of Title 28, a motion to remand on any basis other than a lack of subject matter jurisdiction must be made within 30 days of the notice of removal's filing. “If at any time before final judgment it appears that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the case shall be remanded.” 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). The burden of establishing this Court's subject matter jurisdiction “rests upon the party asserting jurisdiction.” Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994).


         As the Court observed at the April 12, 2019 hearing, the principal issue with respect to the motion to remand is the citizenship of SFLP. In that regard, Defendants acknowledge that SFLP's citizenship is determined based upon the citizenship of each of its partners, both general and limited. See Dkt. No. 17 at 6; see also Carden v. Arkoma Associates, 494 U.S. 185, 195 (1990) (“We adhere to our oft-repeated rule that diversity jurisdiction in a suit by or against the entity depends on the citizenship of all the members….”) (quotation and citation omitted).

         Therefore, the principal issue here is the citizenship of all of SFLP's general and limited partners. The notice of removal helps little in this regard because it only mentions four of SFLP's seven partners. As such, the notice of removal failed to assert the citizenship of all of SFLP's partners.

         Nonetheless, Defendants took another bite at establishing SFLP's citizenship in their opposition to the motion to remand. This bite is equally unavailing, however. Notably, Defendants rely solely on the declaration of one of SFLP's general partners and an annual amended report for SFLP. However, while the Declaration may aid in establishing Taira Lynn Stassens' citizenship, it does nothing to aid in establishing the citizenship of the other six partners. The same is true of the annual amended report to which Taira Lynn Stassens cites in the Declaration as supporting her contentions about the citizenship of the other partners. With respect to the limited partners, the annual amended report is silent. See Dkt. No. 1-3. With respect to the general partners, the annual amended report, while listing them, merely provides a P.O. Box address for each. See id. Although it is arguable whether such an address even demonstrates the general partners' residence, the P.O. Box addresses certainly do not indicate their domicile for purposes of diversity jurisdiction. See Byrd v. QDRO Office, 2014 WL 4715869, at *3 (N.D. Ohio Sep. 22, 2014) (collecting cases and observing that, “[a]t best, a post office box may demonstrate residence in a ...

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