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National A-1 Advertising, Inc. v. John Doe

November 22, 2011

NATIONAL A-1 ADVERTISING, INC.
v.
JOHN DOE, A/K/A RICHARD MCCONNELL AND ONLINE NIC, INC., AND PERRY NARANCIC AND REX W. LIU



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joyner, C.J.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

We write now to address the issue which we previously raised sua sponte in our Order dated September 28, 2011: whether or not this Court possesses the requisite subject matter jurisdiction to proceed further. In compliance with that Order, the parties have now provided the supplemental briefing requested and because we cannot find to a legal certainty that the amount in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75,000, we shall remand this matter to the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, where it was originally filed.

Background

This case has its genesis in the sale of an internet domain, www.walk.com to Plaintiff, National A-1 Advertising, Inc. ("A-1"). Plaintiff avers that in April 2011, it was contacted by an individual representing himself to be one Richard McConnell, the owner of the domain at issue, with an offer to sell the domain to A-1 for $35,000. (Complaint, ¶s 9-10). A-1 accepted the offer and, on April 13, 2011 wire transferred the total sum of $35,311.50 *fn1 to Escrow.com, a company in the business of acting as escrow agent for business transactions. (Complaint, ¶s 12-14). The parties' agreement provided that, upon receipt of confirmation from Escrow.com that Plaintiff had deposited the monies for the sale, the domain would be transferred by its administrator, internet registrar, MelbourneIT in Australia. A-1 had established its own account with MelbourneIT, presumably to facilitate the transfer, and on April 19, 2011, the domain was transferred to A-1's account with Melbourne. (Complaint, ¶s 14-16). The following day, having been notified that the transfer had taken place, Plaintiff authorized the release of the $35,000 to McConnell. Escrow.com then wire-transferred that amount to the account of Defendant OnlineNIC at Wells Fargo Bank. (Complaint, ¶17).

Two days later, on April 22, 2011, Plaintiff was contacted by Richard McConnell, the owner of the walk.com domain. Mr. McConnell explained that the domain had been hijacked from his Godaddy.com account on Friday, April 8, 2011 and he had spent the better part of nearly three weeks trying to recover it. (Complaint, ¶ 18). Insofar as no one at either Godaddy.com or MelbourneIT had ever posted any warnings or placed any holds on the accounts to prevent further fraud, Plaintiff had no idea that the domain which it believed it had purchased legally had been stolen. Shortly after hearing from the real Richard McConnell, A-1 notified Escrow.com, Wells Fargo Bank, the FBI and IC3 in an attempt to recover the purchase price which it had paid to the defendant who it alleges stole the domain and who is identified in this Complaint as John Doe. (Complaint, ¶s 19-20). Those efforts proved unsuccessful and Plaintiff commenced suit and filed a Motion for Preliminary Injunction in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County on April 26, 2011. *fn2

Subsequent to the filing of the complaint, Defendants removed the case to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1441(a) on the grounds that "...this Court would have original jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1332(a) in that complete diversity of citizenship exists, as Plaintiff is a Delaware corporation with a principal place of business located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, OnlineNIC is a California corporation, and Defendants Doe (a/k/a McConnell), Narancic and Liu are domiciliaries of California, and the matter in controversy exceeds $75,000.00." (Notice of Removal, ¶ 9). In footnote 1 to the Notice of Removal, Defendants further asserted that "[i]n addition to amounts sought by Plaintiff, which Defendant OnlineNIC specifically disputes, Defendant OnlineNIC will be pursuing a counterclaim, in which damages well in excess of $75,000.00 will be sought." Defendants then filed motions to dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. Nos. 9(b) and 12(b)(6) and to transfer venue pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1404(a). As Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(h)(3) dictates that "[i]f [a] court determines at any time that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, the court must dismiss the action," we resolved to ascertain the value of the claims at issue and the amount in controversy in order to ensure that we had jurisdiction to proceed further.

Discussion

As noted, the statute conferring jurisdiction upon the district courts in cases based upon the diverse citizenship of the parties is 28 U.S.C. §1332(a), which reads as follows in relevant part:

(a) The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75,000, exclusive of interest and costs, and is between -

(1) citizens of different States;

(2) citizens of a State and citizens or subjects of a foreign state;

(3) citizens of different States and in which citizens or subjects of a foreign state are additional parties; and

(4) a foreign state, defined in section 1603(a) of this title, as plaintiff and citizens of a State or of different States.

Indeed, federal courts are not courts of general jurisdiction; they have only the power that is authorized by Article III of the Constitution and the statutes enacted by Congress pursuant thereto. Bender v. Williamsport Area School District, 475 U.S. 534, 541, 106 S. Ct. 1326, 1331, 89 L. Ed.2d 501 (1986). For this reason, it is incumbent upon every federal court to satisfy itself of its own jurisdiction. Id. (citing Mitchell v. Maurer, 293 U.S. 237, 244, 55 S. Ct. 162, 165, 79 L. Ed.2d 338 (1934)). The existence of federal jurisdiction ordinarily depends on the facts as ...


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