Adventures in Diversity Jurisdiction – Seventh Circuit Requires Lawyers to Try the Case For Free


This case was decided in 2003. However, it is worth posting again as these issues seem to come up all the time. The citizenship of an LLC is determined by the citizenship of each member. If you have a member from Illinois, the LLC is an Illinois citizen. If the defendant is from Illinois, there is no diversity of citizenship and no subject matter jurisdiction federal court. 28 USC 1332.

As I have indicated before, the diversity jurisdiction issues relating to LLCs can be more complicated than they seem. In this case, the diversity error was not uncovered until the case had been tried and was on appeal before the Seventh Circuit. The Seventh Circuit did not take kindly to the error. It explained:

Counsel and the magistrate judge assumed that a limited liability company is treated like a corporation and thus is a citizen of its state of organization and its principal place of business. That is not right. Unincorporated enterprises are analogized to partnerships, which take the citizenship of every general and limited partner. See Carden v. Arkoma Associates, 494 U.S. 185, 110 S.Ct. 1015, 108 L.Ed.2d 157 (1990). In common with other courts of appeals, we have held that limited liability companies are citizens of every state of which any member is a citizen. See Cosgrove v. Bartolotta, 150 F.3d 729 (7th Cir.1998). So who are Champaign Market Place LLC’s members, and of what states are they citizens? Our effort to explore jurisdiction before oral argument led to an unexpected discovery: Belleville Catering, the corporate plaintiff, appeared to be incorporated in Illinois rather than Missouri!

At oral argument we directed the parties to file supplemental memoranda addressing jurisdictional details. Plaintiffs’ response concedes that Belleville Catering is (and always has been) incorporated in Illinois. Counsel tells us that, because the lease between Belleville Catering and Champaign Market Place refers to Belleville Catering as “a Missouri corporation,” he assumed that it must be one. That confesses a violation of Fed. 693*693 R.Civ.P. 11. People do not draft leases with the requirements of § 1332 in mind — perhaps the lease meant only that Belleville Catering did business in Missouri — and counsel must secure jurisdictional details from original sources before making formal allegations. That would have been easy to do; the client’s files doubtless contain the certificate of incorporation. Or counsel could have done what the court did: use the Internet. Both Illinois and Missouri make databases of incorporations readily available. Counsel for the defendant should have done the same, instead of agreeing with the complaint’s unfounded allegation.

…..

One more subject before we conclude. The costs of a doomed foray into federal court should fall on the lawyers who failed to do their homework, not on the hapless clients. Although we lack jurisdiction to resolve the merits, we have ample authority to govern the practice of counsel in the litigation. See, e.g., Willy v. Coastal Corp., 503 U.S. 131, 112 S.Ct. 1076, 117 L.Ed.2d 280 (1992); Cooter & Gell v. Hartmarx Corp., 496 U.S. 384, 393-98, 110 S.Ct. 2447, 110 L.Ed.2d 359 (1990); Szabo Food Service, Inc. v. Canteen Corp., 823 F.2d 1073 (7th Cir.1987). The best way for counsel to make the litigants whole is to perform, without additional fees, any further services that are necessary to bring this suit to a conclusion in state court, or via settlement. That way the clients will pay just once for the litigation. This is intended not as a sanction, but simply to ensure that clients need not pay for lawyers’ time that has been wasted for reasons beyond the clients’ control.

The judgment of the district court is vacated, and the proceeding is remanded with instructions to dismiss the complaint for want of subject-matter jurisdiction.

Comment: Ouch!

Source: Belleville Catering v. Champaign Market Place, 350 F. 3d 691 – Court of Appeals, 7th Circuit 2003 – Google Scholar

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