Probate, trust, guardianship and inheritance litigation
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How To Establish Federal Diversity Jurisdiction for an Estate in Florida

By:  Jeffrey Skatoff, Esq.

Diversity jurisdiction is one of the two primary ways in which to acquire Federal jurisdiction over a controversy.  Diversity jurisdiction requires that all plaintiffs be diverse from all defendants.  Diversity is tested based on the citizenship of each party.  For individuals, citizenship is usually straightforward – it is domicile.  For an estate, is citizenship determined based on the citizenship of the personal representative, or that of the decedent?

In the recent case of Doolin v. American Optical, 2016 U.S. Dist. Lexis 83733 (MD Fla. 2016), a federal district court in Florida held that the citizenship of an estate is determined by that of the decedent, not that of the personal representative.  As explained by the court:

When an individual acts in a representative capacity for one who is deceased, that individual is deemed to be a citizen of the state of which the deceased was a citizen at the time of death. Palmer v. Hosp. Auth. of Randolph County, 22 F.3d 1559, 1562 (11th Cir. 1994); 28 U.S.C. § 1332(c)(2). Thus, “[w]here an estate is a party, the citizenship that counts for diversity [*4]  purposes is that of the decedent, and [he] is deemed to be a citizen of the state in which [he] was domiciled at the time of [his] death.” King v. Cessna Aircraft Co., 505 F.3d 1160, 1170 (11th Cir. 2007).
However, to establish diversity over a natural person, a complaint must include allegations of the person’s citizenship, not where he or she resides. Taylor v. Appleton, 30 F.3d 1365, 1367 (11th Cir. 1994). A natural person’s citizenship is determined by his or her “domicile,” or “the place of his true, fixed, and permanent home and principal establishment . . . to which he has the intention of returning whenever he is absent therefrom.” McCormick v. Aderholt, 293 F.3d 1254, 1257-58 (11th Cir. 2002) (quotation and citation omitted). As the Complaint discloses only the residence of the decedent prior to his death, rather than his state of citizenship, the Court finds that Plaintiff has not alleged the facts necessary to establish the Court’s diversity jurisdiction over this case. See Taylor, 30 F.3d at 1367 (“Citizenship, not residence, is the key fact that must be alleged in the complaint to establish diversity for a natural person.”); see also Miss. Band of Choctaw Indians v. Holyfield, 490 U.S. 30, 48, 109 S. Ct. 1597, 104 L. Ed. 2d 29 (1989) (“‘Domicile’ is not necessarily synonymous with ‘residence[.]'”).

In order to maintain a complaint in federal court based on diversity, an allegation of the citizenship of the deceased would seem to be mandatory in the initial complaint.

Jeffrey Skatoff is a Florida probate attorney.  To have Mr. Skatoff review your case free of charge, please go to his website.

Probate attorney Jeffrey Skatoff handles probate, trust, guardianship and inheritance litigation.

Jeffrey H. Skatoff, Esq.

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