Freidrich v. Davis, No. 12-cv-5604 (E.D. Pa. Dec. 16, 2013) [click for opinion]

Plaintiff Carolyn Freidrich brought suit against Defendant Thomas Davis in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, alleging that Davis fell on and broke her arm on a flight from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Munich, Germany. Davis moved to dismiss the suit for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, arguing that Freidrich had failed to establish diversity of citizenship between the parties pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Freidrich alleged that diversity jurisdiction existed because she was a citizen of Ohio and Davis was a citizen of Pennsylvania, while Davis argued that he was domiciled in Germany.

Discussing the standard for diversity jurisdiction, the district court explained that natural persons can only be sued in federal court under the diversity jurisdiction statute if they are either "citizens of a State" under 28U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1) or "citizens or subjects of a foreign state" under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(2). In order to be a "citizen of a State" within the meaning of the diversity statute, a natural person must be both a citizen of the United States and be domiciled within the State. An American citizen domiciled abroad cannot sue or be sued in federal court under the diversity jurisdiction statute because they are neither “citizens of a State,” nor “citizens or subjects of a foreign state.”

According to the district court, a person's domicile is established by physical presence in a state and intent to remain there indefinitely. In determining domicile, a court generally must locate the center of one's business, domestic, social and civic life. Among the evidence a court considers are declarations, place of employment, exercise of political rights, payment of personal taxes, house of residence, place of business, location of brokerage and bank accounts, location of spouse and family, membership in unions and organizations, and driver's license and vehicle registration. The court noted that once acquired, domicile is presumed to continue until it is shown to be changed. Therefore, a party claiming a new domicile bears the burden of producing sufficient evidence to rebut the presumption in favor of the established domicile.

After reviewing the evidence submitted by Davis, the court found that he had successfully rebutted the presumption that he continued to be domiciled in Pennsylvania. Particularly relevant to the court's determination was the fact that Davis had worked and resided in Germany for over fifteen years, owned a home there, owned his own business there, and had a German residency permit and driver's license; whereas he had not owned property, worked, or resided in Pennsylvania since 1996. Although Davis had checked a box on a U.S. absentee ballot request form that indicated an intent to return to the United States, the court found that this was not dispositive and was contradicted by Davis's declared intention to spend the rest of his life in Germany. That Davis could not rule out the possibility of returning to the United States did not negate the establishment of a new domicile in Germany. Therefore, the court found that Davis was "stateless" for purposes of diversity jurisdiction and granted his motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.