Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Douglas v. Southwestern Energy Production Co.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

November 20, 2019



          MALACHY E. MANNION United States District Judge

         This matter comes before the court upon the court's sua sponte inquiry regarding subject matter jurisdiction. Upon review, the court concludes that it does indeed possess subject matter jurisdiction over this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1332(a).


         On August 28, 2017, plaintiffs, Sheila Douglas, Susie Hall, and Morris T. Hall, Jr., (“Plaintiffs”), brought this negligence suit against defendants Southwestern Energy Production Company, a/k/a SWN Production Company, LLC, (“SWN”), Susquehanna Gathering Company, LLC, a/k/a Susquehanna Gathering Company I, LLC, (“Susquehanna”), and DTE Energy, a/k/a DTE Midstream, (“DTE”), (collectively, “Defendants”), in the Court of Common Pleas of Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania, alleging that Defendants harmed Plaintiffs' lands and residences due to, among other things, negligent misuse of the land and improper installation of a pipeline. (Doc. 1-1).

         Susquehanna and DTE filed preliminary objections but, before a ruling was issued on them, Defendants removed the action to this court. (Doc. 1). The Defendants then moved for dismissal, (Doc. 6), which the court granted without prejudice on September 13, 2018, (Doc. 25). The court additionally issued an order directing the parties to file briefs addressing whether the court had diversity jurisdiction. (Doc. 27).

         Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint on September 28, 2018, (Doc. 29), but did not file a jurisdictional brief. Susquehanna and DTE filed their brief on September 28, 2018, (Doc. 31), as did SWN, (Doc. 30). SWN filed a supplemental jurisdictional brief on October 1, 2018, (Doc. 32), addressing what it viewed as Plaintiffs' attempt to defeat diversity jurisdiction through the amended complaint.

         II. STANDARD

         “Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. They possess only that power authorized by Constitution and statute, which is not to be expanded by judicial decree.” Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994) (internal citations omitted). “[F]ederal courts are without power to adjudicate the substantive claims in a lawsuit, absent a firm bedrock of jurisdiction. When the foundation of federal authority is, in a particular instance, open to question, it is incumbent upon the courts to resolve such doubts, one way or the other, before proceeding to a disposition of the merits.” Carlsberg Res. Corp. v. Cambria Sav. & Loan Ass'n, 554 F.2d 1254, 1256 (3d Cir. 1977).

         “Without jurisdiction the court cannot proceed at all in any cause. Jurisdiction is power to declare the law, and when it ceases to exist, the only function remaining to the court is that of announcing the fact and dismissing the cause.” Ex parte McCardle, 74 U.S. 506, 514 (1868). This rule “spring[s] from the nature and limits of the judicial power of the United States and is inflexible and without exception.” Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env't, 523 U.S. 83, 94-95 (1998) (internal quotation marks omitted). Thus, “[i]t is presumed that a cause lies outside this limited jurisdiction, and the burden of establishing the contrary rests upon the party asserting jurisdiction.” Kokkonen, 511 U.S. at 377 (internal citations omitted).

         Diversity jurisdiction arises under 28 U.S.C. §1332(a), which states that federal courts 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 . . . citizens of different States.” Complete diversity, wherein no plaintiff is a citizen of the same state as any defendant, is necessary. Zambelli Fireworks Mfg. Co. v. Wood, 592 F.3d 412, 419 (3d Cir. 2010). Natural persons are citizens of the states where they are domiciled. Id. Corporations are citizens of the states in which they are incorporated, as well as the states in which they have their principal place of business. Id. To determine the citizenship of a limited liability corporation (“LLC”), the court must treat it as a partnership, which takes on the citizenship of each of its partners. Id. at 420. “And as with partnerships, where an LLC has, as one of its members, another LLC, the citizenship of unincorporated associations must be traced through however many layers of partners or members there may be to determine the citizenship of the LLC.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Under 28 U.S.C. §1441(a), a defendant may remove an action brought in state court to federal district court if the claims fall within the scope of federal jurisdiction. The defendant's right to remove is to be determined by the plaintiff's pleading at the time of the petition for removal, and the burden is on the defendant to show the existence of federal jurisdiction. Abels v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co, 770 F.2d 26, 29 (3d Cir. 1985). Where a plaintiff does not specifically aver in the complaint that the amount in controversy is less than the jurisdictional minimum, but there is not a factual dispute as to the amount in controversy, the court should apply the legal certainty test outlined in St. Paul Mercury Indem. Co. v. Red Cab Co., 303 U.S. 283 (1938). See Frederico v. Home Depot, 507 F.3d 188, 193-94 (3d Cir. 2007). The legal certainty test holds that the amount of damages asserted by the party claiming jurisdiction controls so long as it is made in good faith, and the action will be dismissed only if the party challenging jurisdiction can show from the “face of the pleadings, it is apparent, to a legal certainty, that the plaintiff cannot recover [over $75, 000], or if, from the proofs, the court is satisfied to a like certainty that the plaintiff never was entitled to recover that amount.” Red Cab Co., 303 U.S. at 289.


         a. Citizenship of the Parties

         It is undisputed that all Plaintiffs are citizens of Pennsylvania. As to the Defendants, in the complaint, Plaintiffs allege that SWN and DTE Energy are “foreign corporations” with places of business at Pennsylvania addresses, and that Susquehanna is a “domestic limited liability company, ” also with a place of business at a Pennsylvania address. (Doc. 1-1, at 4). However, in both their notice of removal and their jurisdictional briefs, Defendants aver that DTE is a Michigan corporation with its principal ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.