Favorable Opinion Obtained from Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals

Attorneys Bart Cannon, Phil Collins, and Alex Parish recently received a favorable opinion from the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of Huie’s telecommunications client. In Smith v. Comcast Corporation, et al. (No. 18-13956), the plaintiff initially sued in Alabama Circuit Court seeking $5,000,000 in damages. The defendants removed the case to federal court based on diversity jurisdiction and filed Rule 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss. The plaintiff moved to remand the case back to state court by arguing, among other things, complete diversity was lacking based on the citizenship of certain fictitious defendants pleaded in the complaint. The plaintiff claimed the description of the fictitious defendants was such that the defendants knew their true identities but improperly concealed the information from him to remain in federal court. The U.S. District Court ultimately found it had jurisdiction over the case and denied the plaintiff’s Motion to Remand.

The District Court dismissed the plaintiff’s initial complaint without prejudice to allow him to attempt to cure certain pleading deficiencies. The plaintiff then filed an amended complaint which the defendants again immediately moved to dismiss. After extensive briefing on the issues, the District Court granted the defendants’ motions and dismissed all claims in the case with prejudice. The plaintiff appealed to the Eleventh Circuit.

On appeal, the plaintiff argued the District Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to dismiss the claims because the removal was improper. Specifically, he argued: (1) the defendants knew or should have known that the fictitiously named defendants were citizens of Alabama and therefore there was not complete diversity; (2) discovery on the citizenship issue would reveal the parties’ true identities; and (3) the District Court erred in denying him leave to conduct the discovery. The appellate court rejected each of the plaintiff’s arguments and affirmed the district court.  Central to its holding was the removal statute at issue, 28 U.S.C. § 1441 where it expressly states: “In determining whether a civil action is removable on the basis of [diversity jurisdiction], the citizenship of defendants sued under fictitious names shall be disregarded.” Because “diversity jurisdiction is determined . . . at the time of removal” the Court found that  “the District Court rightly ‘disregarded’ the citizenship of the fictitiously named defendants when it assessed jurisdiction . . . .”

A copy of the court’s opinion can be found here.