JACKSONVILLE (Florida Record) — A federal judge is mulling a Victoria's Secret request to take on the slip-and-fall case of a Clay County woman despite the judge's doubts that her court has jurisdiction enough to hear the case.

"Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, and therefore, have an obligation to inquire into their subject matter jurisdiction," said U.S. District Court Judge Marcia Morales Howard, who presides over Florida's Middle District, Jacksonville Division, in her most recent order in the case. "This obligation exists regardless of whether the parties have challenged the existence of subject matter jurisdiction."

In her five-page order, Howard gave Victoria's Secret until March 14 to prove the citizenship of all parties in the case enough to establish her court has jurisdiction.

On March 12, Victoria's Secret Stores filed a notice identifying the citizenship of Bowyer and itself. It isn't clear if additional filings are coming.

Donna Bowyer, the plaintiff in the case, filed suit against Victoria's Secret on Feb. 26 in Duval County Circuit Court regarding injuries she suffered in March 2014 when she stepped on a spray bottle cap on the floor, slipped and fell. Two days later Victoria's Secret filed a notice to remove the case to the Middle U.S. District Court, alleging the federal court does have jurisdiction. 

"Specifically, [Victoria's Secret] asserts that the court has jurisdiction because there is complete diversity of citizenship between the parties and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000.00," Howard said in her order.

To establish that her court has jurisdiction, three standards are required, Howard said. Jurisdiction must be established by statute, the case must raise questions relevant to a federal court and, most germane in this case, there must be "diversity" of citizenship among the parties.

"For a court to have diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a), all plaintiffs must be diverse from all defendants," Howard said. "To establish diversity over a natural person, a complaint must include allegations of the person's citizenship, not where he or she resides."

Victoria's Secret's notice to remove pointed to Bowyer's residency in Clay County and its own status as "a Delaware limited liability company with a principal place of business in Ohio". That didn't "adequately identify the citizenship of" Bowyer or Victoria's Secret and "does not offer sufficient additional information to satisfy the court's jurisdictional inquiry," Howard said.

Victoria's Secret's notice disclosed Bowyer's residency "rather than her domicile or state of citizenship" and Howard found that the retail outlet "has not alleged the facts necessary to establish the court's jurisdiction over this case," the order said "Citizenship, not residence, is the key fact that must be alleged in the complaint to establish diversity for a natural person."

Howard also cited 11th Circuit Court of Appeals precedent that "a limited liability company is a citizen of any state of which a member of the company is a citizen."

With that in mind and "in the hope of preventing the needless expenditure of litigant and judicial resources that occurs when a case proceeds to trial in the absence of subject matter jurisdiction," Howard's order gives Victoria's Secret additional time to establish citizenship of parties in the case.




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