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Edelman v. Croonquist

October 20, 2009

EDELMAN, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CROONQUIST, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Lois H. Goodman United States Magistrate Judge

OPINION ON MOTION FOR REMAND

This matter is before the Court by way of Plaintiffs' motion to remand this case to state court, based on Plaintiffs' assertion that the Court does not have diversity jurisdiction because Defendant and Plaintiff Ruth Zafrin are both residents of New York. [Docket Entry No. 6]. Defendant has opposed the motion, arguing that she is domiciled in the State of California. Defendant additionally argues that Plaintiff Ruth Zafrin was fraudulently joined as a party in this case to destroy diversity. The Court has considered the motion pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 78, after referral by the District Court [Docket Entry No. 32]. For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies Plaintiffs' motion to remand.

I. RELEVANT FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY*fn1

On or about March 19, 2009, Neil and Shelley Edelman ("the Edelmans") filed a complaint in the Monmouth County Superior Court against Sunda Croonquist ("Defendant"), alleging that as a comedian, she made false and slanderous statements in live performances and posted a number of similarly damaging comments about them on her website, including information regarding their names, their activities and where they reside. Defendant is married to Plaintiff Shelley Edelman's brother. The Complaint asserted that the Edelmans were New Jersey residents while Defendant "maintains an address" in New York.

On April 24, 2009, Defendant removed the action to this Court, alleging diversity of citizenship. On that same date, Defendant moved to dismiss the complaint based on insufficient process, insufficient service of process and failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.*fn2 [Docket Entry Nos. 1, 2]. Defendant stated in her removal and motion to dismiss that she maintained residences in New York and California. [Docket Entry No. 1-1, ¶4, 2-2 ¶7].

Thereafter, the Edelmans, together with Ms. Edelman's mother, Ruth Zafrin (collectively "Plaintiffs"), filed an Amended Complaint, a cross motion to remand, and opposition to Defendant's motion to dismiss. [Docket Entry Nos. 5, 6 and 7]. With the addition of Ms. Zafrin, Plaintiffs allege that there is no diversity and the case should be remanded to state court, given that "[b]oth Defendant and Plaintiff Zafrin are residents of New York." [Docket Entry No. 6-3 at page 6].

On June 1, 2009, Defendant filed opposition to the motion to remand, along with her Declaration that she is domiciled in California, not New York. [Docket Entry Nos. 10 and 11]. Moreover, Defendant argues in her opposition that Plaintiff Zafrin joined this action solely to defeat diversity. [Docket Entry Nos. 10 ¶4; Docket Entry No. 11 at page 2].

In their reply, Plaintiffs reassert that Defendant is domiciled in New York. [Docket Entry Nos. 16 to 19]. Plaintiffs further request that in the event that the Court is inclined to deny the remand, it should instead allow discovery and a hearing regarding Defendant's domicile. [Docket Entry No. 16 at page 10]. Based upon the uncontested factual assertions of the parties, and as set forth below, the Court finds that there is no need for discovery on the issues raised by the motion or for an evidentiary hearing.

In her Declaration, Defendant asserts unequivocally that she "own[s] a place of business in California, an actor's studio know as Film Actors Shop, located at 10835 Santa Monica Blvd." [Docket Entry 10 ¶6]. She further declares that she is "employed by the Laugh Factory located at 8001 Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood." Id. Plaintiffs do not contest these assertions.

Defendant further declares that she votes in California, pays California income tax and maintains a California driver's license. [Docket Entry No. 10 ¶6]. Moreover, there is no dispute that Defendant's children have always attended school in California or that Defendant and her family have exclusively worshiped at a synagogue located in California for the past ten years. [Docket Entry No. 10 ¶6]. Similarly, there seems to be no dispute that Defendant maintains a residence in California. Id.

The parties also agree that Defendant has numerous contacts with the State of New York. For example, they all agree that Defendant maintains a New York residence, although they disagree with regard to the impact this residence has on the question of domicile. [Docket Entry Nos. 1-1, ¶4, 2-2 ¶7; 10 ¶7, 16 page 4, 17 ¶14, 18 ¶¶2-3, 18-2]. In addition, there appears to be no dispute that Defendant maintains a telephone number with a New York exchange and that she periodically performs in New York. Plaintiffs contend that Defendant has told audiences during her performances that she lives in New York, and that she informed Plaintiff Neil Edelman that she maintains the New York residence because she believes that New York is her home. Further, Defendant's dentist and her lawyer (who is also her husband) practice in New York. [Docket Entry Nos. 16 pages 3, 5, 6, 18 ¶3, 19-2, 19-5, 19-6].

II. DISCUSSION

A. Subject Matter Jurisdiction and Removal

"Federal courts are not courts of general jurisdiction and may only hear cases which are before them under the authority of Article III of the Constitution or under statutes enacted by Congress under that Article." Hines v. Irvington Counseling Center, 933 F. Supp. 382, 387 (D.N.J. 1996) (citations omitted). Title 28 U.S.C. 1332 provides district courts with subject matter jurisdiction over cases when the amount in controversy exceeds the "sum or value" of $75,000 and no plaintiff and defendant are citizens of the same state. Id.; Hines, supra, 933 F. Supp. at 387; see Wisconsin Dept. of Corrections v. Schacht, 524 U.S. 381, 388 (1998). "As a general rule, the jurisdictional amount is determined from the good faith ...


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