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Baptiste v. Moked

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

July 3, 2018



          Esther Salas, U.S.D.J.

         Dear Parties:

         On December 13, 2017, the Hon. Steven C. Mannion, U.S.M.J., entered a Report and Recommendation recommending that the Undersigned dismiss this case for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. (D.E. No. 17 (the “R&R”)). Pro se Plaintiff Rupert Baptiste timely objected[1] to the R&R (D.E. No. 20), and Defendant Neely Moked opposed Baptiste's objection (D.E. No. 22). For the following reasons, the Court will accept Magistrate Judge Mannion's recommended disposition and dismiss this case for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.

         Procedural History.

         On June 13, 2017, Baptiste brought this action against Moked for “legal malpractice, tortious concealment of evidence, and recklessness” stemming from Moked's alleged representation of Baptiste during Baptiste's divorce proceedings. (See D.E. No. 1 ¶¶ 2-3). In particular, Baptiste alleges that he entered into an unconscionable marital settlement in reliance on false information Moked gave him. (Id. ¶¶ 4, 28).

         Baptiste's Complaint states that the Court “has both personal and subject matter jurisdiction to hear this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1332, 1367.” (Id. ¶ 18). The Complaint does not assert any claims under federal law. (See generally id.). And although the Complaint states that Moked “has offices in the City of New York, State of New York” (id. ¶ 17), it does not identify Moked's citizenship.

         Magistrate Judge Mannion conducted a sua sponte screen of Baptiste's Complaint and issued a Letter Order to Show Cause why this case should not be dismissed for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. (D.E. No. 7). The Letter Order directed Baptiste to file “a certification or affidavit setting forth the citizenship (domicile) of each party at the time the complaint was filed and a brief explaining the basis for jurisdiction.” (Id. at 2).

         In response, Baptiste filed a letter directed primarily to damages. (See D.E. No. 12). He asserts that the “severe financial harm and the emotional distress brought on by [Moked's] recklessness has and will continue to greatly affect [his] financial and emotional well-being.” (Id. at 1). He states: “Given the severity of the long-lasting effects, the award of damages in excess of $75, 000 is highly likely.” (Id.). And he adds: “[E]ven if a litigant attempts to avoid federal jurisdiction by trying to claim it is the state's jurisdiction, the federal court should trump the state court if there is a question to the jurisdiction.” (Id. at 2) (citing Avco Corp. v. Aero Lodge No. 735, 390 U.S. 557 (1968)). Baptiste neither addresses the parties' citizenship nor attaches a certification or affidavit.

         Legal Standard for R&R.

         “When a litigant files an objection to a Report and Recommendation, the district court must make a de novo determination of those portions to which the litigant objects.” Leonard Parness Trucking Corp. v. Omnipoint Commc'ns, Inc., No. 13-4148, 2013 WL 6002900, at *2 (D.N.J. Nov. 12, 2013) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A), Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b), and L. Civ. R. 72.1(c)(2)). The district court may then “accept, reject or modify the recommended disposition . . . .” Weber v. Mcgrogan, No. 14-7340, 2016 WL 3381233, at *2 (D.N.J. June 9, 2016) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3)). The district court may also “receive further evidence or recommit the matter to the Magistrate with instructions.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C); see also L. Civ. R. 72.1(a)(2). “Unlike an Opinion and Order issued by a Magistrate Judge on a non-dispositive matter, an R&R does not have the force of law unless and until the district court enters an order accepting or rejecting it. Ecurie Reve Avec Moi, Inc. v. N.J. Racing Comm., No. 11-4639, 2017 WL 6403001, at *2 (D.N.J. Aug. 11, 2017) (citing United Steelworkers of Am. v. N.J. Zinc Co., Inc., 828 F.2d 1001, 1005 (3d Cir. 1987)).

         Legal Standard for Subject-Matter Jurisdiction.

         “The district courts of the United States . . . are ‘courts of limited jurisdiction.'” Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Allapattah Servs., Inc., 545 U.S. 546, 552 (2005) (quoting Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994)). “They possess only that power authorized by Constitution and statute, which is not to be expanded by judicial decree.” United States v. Merlino, 785 F.3d 79, 82 (3d Cir. 2015) (quoting Kokkonen, 511 U.S. at 377)). Consequently, when a federal court finds that it lacks jurisdiction over an action, “the only function remaining . . . is that of announcing the fact and dismissing the cause.” Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env't, 523 U.S. 83, 94 (1998) (citation omitted); see also Elliott v. Archdiocese of N.Y., 682 F.3d 213, 219 (3d Cir. 2012); Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3).

         There are two traditional bases for subject-matter jurisdiction in federal court: federal question-jurisdiction and diversity jurisdiction. Bais Yaakov of Spring Valley v. Peterson's Nelnet, LLC, No. 11-0011, 2011 WL 1458779, at *1 (D.N.J. Apr. 15, 2011) (citation omitted). Federal-question jurisdiction applies to civil actions “arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Diversity jurisdiction applies to civil actions “where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000 and is between ‘citizens of different States.'” McCann v. Newman Irrevocable Tr., 458 F.3d 281, 286 (3d Cir. 2006) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1)). “The burden of establishing federal jurisdiction rests with the party asserting its existence.” Lincoln Benefit Life Co. v. AEI Life, LLC, 800 F.3d 99, 105 (3d Cir. 2015) (citing DaimlerChrysler Corp. v. Cuno, 547 U.S. 332, 342 n.3 (2006)).

         “The key inquiry in establishing diversity is . . . the ‘citizenship' of each party to the action.” Zambelli Fireworks Mfg. Co., Inc. v. Wood, 592 F.3d 412, 419 (3d Cir. 2010). “A natural person is deemed to be a citizen of the state where he is domiciled.” Id. “The domicile of an individual is his 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.” Vlandis v. Kline, 412 U.S. 441, 454 (1973). “In determining an individual's domicile, a court considers several factors, including ‘declarations, exercise of political rights, payment of personal taxes, house of residence, and place of business.'” McCann, 458 F.3d at 286 (quoting Krasnov v. Dinan, 465 F.2d 1298, 1301 (3d Cir. 1972)). Courts may also consider such factors as the ‚Äúlocation of brokerage and bank accounts, location of spouse and family, membership in unions and other organizations, and driver's ...

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