‘Domicile’ vs. ‘Residence’ vs. ‘Citizenship’ in Federal Court Jurisdiction – More Semantic Hairsplitting?

Strabala v. Zhang, 318 F.R.D. 81 (Ill. N.D. 2016), featured here for its detailed discussion of e-mail evidence, provides an equally thorough analysis of the differences between residence and domicile in the Federal court jurisdiction calculus.

In the Federal litigation scheme, the party asserting Federal court jurisdiction bears the burden of proving subject matter jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence.

The plaintiff here alleged that the Northern District had original jurisdiction based on 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(2) – the diversity of citizenship statute that vests Federal courts with jurisdiction over claims between “citizens of a State and citizens or subjects of a foreign state.”

The defendants were unquestionably Chinese citizens – a foreign state under Section 1332.  The plaintiff’s citizenship, though, was unclear.  While plaintiff claimed he was a citizen of Illinois, the defendants disputed this; they pointed to the plaintiff’s home in China as proof that he wasn’t really an Illinois citizen and so was stateless.  A “stateless” citizen can’t invoke Federal court diversity jurisdiction.

Though colloquially used interchangeably, under Federal law, the terms citizenship and residence have important differences.  Citizenship equals domicile, not residence.  The term residence denotes where a person lives while domicile carries both a physical and mental dimension.

Domicile is “the place where that individual has a true, fixed home and principal establishment” and the place where the person intends to eventually return.  A person can have multiple residences but only one domicile.

Objective factors a court considers to determine domicile include “current residence, voting registration and voting practices, location of personal and real property, location of financial accounts, membership in unions and other associations, place of employment, driver’s license and automobile registration, and tax payments.”  But no lone citizenship/domicile factor is conclusive; each case turns on its own facts.

Applying these factors, the Court noted that since plaintiff was based in Illinois from the late 1980s through 2006 (when plaintiff moved first to Houston, TX then to Shanghai), the Court required defendants to show that plaintiff not only currently lived outside of Illinois but also had no intention of returning to Illinois.

The Court credited the plaintiff’s declaration (sworn statement) of intent to keep an Illinois domicile.  Other factors weighing in favor of finding subject matter jurisdiction included (1) plaintiff and his wife never sold there Chicago condominium or removed furniture from it when they moved to Houston in 2006, (2) for several months they lived in corporate housing provided by plaintiff’s Houston employer (an architecture firm), (3) plaintiff’s wife divided her time equally between Chicago and Houston while plaintiff spent about 50% of his time in Shanghai, 40% in Houston and 10% in Chicago.

The plaintiff’s Texas drivers’ license and Houston condo purchase weren’t enough to tilt the citizenship question to the defendants (who, again, argued that the plaintiff wasn’t an Illinois citizen) since the plaintiff swore under oath that he intended to keep an Illinois domicile and defendant had no facts to refute this.

Rejecting the defendants’ argument that plaintiff’s domicile was Shanghai, the Court focused on the following facts: (1) plaintiff lived in a furnished hotel with a lease of one year or less and owned no real property or car in Shanghai, (2) plaintiff’s Chinese work permit had to be renewed annually; and (3) plaintiff’s wife spent six months out of the year in Chicago.

Other pro-Illinois domicile factors cited by the Court included the plaintiff’s testimony (via declaration) that he has had a landline telephone number with a Chicago area code for over two decades and plaintiff’s LinkedIn profile that listed his employment locations as Shanghai, Seoul, and Chicago.

Afterwords:

For Federal subject matter jurisdiction based on diversity of citizenship to attach, the plaintiff must be a citizen of a State (as opposed to a foreign country).  This case provides an exhaustive application of the various factors a court considers when deciding the site of a Federal plaintiff’s domicile in a complex fact pattern and emphasizes the differences between residence and domicile.

 

 

An Enigma Wrapped Inside A Conundrum: Suing the LLC in Federal Court – How Hard Can it Be?

maze

A limited liability company (LLC) is generally lauded as a flexible business entity that provides the limited liability of a corporation with the tax attributes of a partnership (flow-through, not double, taxation).

Flexibility is another oft-cited hallmark of the LLC form as its members can be one or more individuals, corporations, partnerships or even other LLCs. It’s common to see LLCs that have several other LLC members that are in turn comprised of (still more) LLC members.  With multiple layers of LLC members, tricky jurisdictional issues routinely abound.

When Federal subject matter jurisdiction is at stake, the question of whether a plaintiff can sue an LLC in Federal court quickly morphs from an academic, “fun” one, to an important strategic one.

Here are some useful bullet-points:

– A Federal district court has original subject matter jurisdiction over matters involving citizens of different states and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000. 28 U.S.C. s. 1332(a)(1).

– There must be “complete diversity” between the parties: each plaintiff must be a citizen of a different state than each defendant.  The easily parroted rule becomes hard to apply the more parties are involved in a given lawsuit; especially where business entities are implicated in a case.

– A corporation is considered a citizen of the state where it has its principal place of business or where it is incorporated.  So, if Corporation X was incorporated in Texas but has its main office in Ohio, Corporation X would be considered a citizen of both Ohio and Texas.  28 U.S.C. s. 1332(c)(1).

– An LLC is considered a citizen of the state of its members;

– An LLC can have as members, partnerships, corporations and other entities;

– When an LLC has multiple members that have varied citizenships, a court must examine each member’s state of citizenship, as well as each member’s members’ citizenship, when determining whether it has jurisdiction over an LLC defendant.

A Case Illustration

Cumulus Radio Corp. v. Olson, 2015 WL 1110592, a case I’ve twice featured for its discussion of Federal TRO guidelines, illustrates the serpentine analytical framework involved with an LLC that’s made up of one or more LLC members.

There, the plaintiff broadcasting company was a Nevada corporation with its principal place of business in Georgia.  The defendant LLC was a Delaware-registered LLC based in Oregon.  The defendant LLC had but one member that happened to be another LLC.  That LLC (the sole member of the defendant LLC) had a single member – an individual who lived in Georgia.

Because the Delaware LLC’s sole member’s sole member was a Georgia resident, there was incomplete diversity between the plaintiff and defendant.  Normally, this would give the defendant a basis to move to dismiss the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.  The plaintiff would then have to sue the LLC defendant in state court in Delaware (where it was formed) Oregon (where it is based) or Georgia (where its member’s member lived).

While the court ultimately found that the Georgia resident wasn’t truly a member based on the LLC’s Operating Agreement, Cumulus provides a good illustration of the multi-layered jurisdictional analysis required with an LLC defendant that has several individual or business entity constituents.

Sources:

Hicklin Engineering LC v. Bartell, 439 F.3d 346 (7th Cir. 2006);

– 28 U.S.C. s. 1332(a), (c).

http://www.insidecounsel.com/2013/09/12/litigation-carefully-examine-the-layers-of-llc-cit (this is a good article from 2013 that lays out the applicable rules)