Freidrich v. Davis, No. 14-1031 (3d Cir. Sept. 22, 2014) [click for opinion]

In 2010, Plaintiff and Defendant were passengers on a U.S. Airways flight from Philadelphia to Munich, Germany. Defendant, while waiting to use the lavatory, fell onto Plaintiff and broke her arm. After suffering the injury, Plaintiff filed suit against Defendant in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Plaintiff brought the suit based on diversity jurisdiction according to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). She argued that diversity existed since she was an Ohio citizen and Defendant was a Pennsylvania citizen. Defendant disagreed and filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, claiming that there was no diversity since he was domiciled in Germany, not Pennsylvania.

The district court held an evidentiary hearing to ascertain more facts about Defendant’s domicile. Defendant, although still an American citizen, moved from Pennsylvania to Germany in 1996 and continuously resided there except for a brief six-month period when he returned to Pennsylvania for work. Among the court’s other findings were that Defendant filed German tax returns using a German tax address, started his own German consulting corporation with exclusively German customers, and voted by absentee ballot in U.S. national elections. He checked a box on his voter Registration and Ballot Request form reading “I am a U.S. citizen residing out of the U.S., and I intend to return,” but testified at his deposition that he intends to remain in Germany for the rest of his life.

Considering all of these facts, the district court decided that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction and granted Defendant’s motion to dismiss. For the purposes of diversity jurisdiction, Defendant was deemed to be domiciled in Germany, making him essentially “stateless” since he is an American citizen domiciled abroad. Plaintiff subsequently appealed the decision to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Third Circuit affirmed the decision, dismissing the dispute for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. For purposes of diversity jurisdiction, “citizenship is synonymous with domicile.” Domicile is an individual’s “true, fixed and permanent home and place of habitation. It is the place to which, whenever he is absent, he has the intention of returning.” The court further cited Supreme Court doctrine implying that an American citizen not domiciled in a particular state is essentially “stateless” under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). These individuals cannot litigate in federal court based on diversity jurisdiction since they are not “citizens of a State,” or “citizens or subjects of a foreign state.”

The court affirmed the district court’s factual finding that Defendant was an American citizen domiciled in Germany. Plaintiff argued that once Defendant was domiciled in Pennsylvania, his domicile “is presumed to continue until it is shown to have been changed.” She also pointed to Defendant’s Registration and Ballot Request Form, arguing that the presumption of continued domicile remained since Defendant expressed his intentions to someday return to the U.S. The court disagreed, holding that Defendant showed enough evidence to shift the presumption back to Plaintiff, who failed to meet her burden to prove domicile. Plaintiff’s entire reliance on the Registration and Ballot Request Form was not enough to satisfy the preponderance of the evidence standard. Defendant filed tax returns listing his address in Germany and his home, business, and family were all located in Germany. Considering the facts as a whole, the court ultimately found Defendant’s domicile was Germany, not Pennsylvania.

Due to Defendant being an American citizen domiciled in Germany, the court granted Defendant’s motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

Adam Pascarella of the New York office contributed to this summary.