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Homesite Insurance Co. v. Triangle Tube/PhaseIII Co. Inc.

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

October 31, 2016

HOMESITE INSURANCE COMPANY, a/s/o Margaret Lofrumento, and MARGARET LOFRUMENTO, individually, Plaintiffs,


          CHARLES S. HAIGHT, JR. Senior United States District Judge

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Homesite Insurance Company and its insured, Margaret Lofrumento, (collectively "Plaintiffs") bring this action against Triangle Tube/Phase III Co., Inc. ("Triangle Tube"), a corporation engaged in the manufacture and supply of water heaters. Specifically, Plaintiffs seek damages arising from "a significant water loss" from a tank manufactured by Triangle Tube, which occurred at Lofrumento's property in Brookfield, Connecticut, on November 19, 2014. Doc. 1 ("Complaint"), ¶ 8. That water loss was allegedly caused "by the failure of the 35 gallon Triangle Tube water tank" due to corrosion after the tank had been "in service for less than three years, " which was "within the warranty and useful life period for this water heater." Id., ¶ 9.

         Pursuant to the terms and conditions of an insurance contract Homesite had issued to Lofrumento, Homesite made payments to Lofrumento in excess of $132, 406.32 for the water damage to the Brookfield property.[1] Id., ¶ 10. In addition to the payments made by Homesite, Lofrumento incurred $79, 721.66 in damages and costs to repair her property.

         Plaintiffs thereafter filed this action, seeking to recover their damages resulting from the failure of the Triangle Tube water tank under Connecticut's product liability statute, Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-572m, et seq., asserting that the "water tank was in a defective and unreasonably dangerous condition." Doc. 1, ¶ 14(a). In support of that claim, Plaintiffs allege, inter alia, that the tank was designed and manufactured in a condition which subjected Lofrumento to "an unreasonable risk of harm;" and the tank was "not merchantable" or fit for its intended and foreseeable use. Id., ¶¶ 14 (b)-(c).

         In the Complaint, Plaintiffs' stated basis for subject matter jurisdiction is diversity of citizenship, 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). In particular, Plaintiffs allege that this action is "between citizens of different states and the amount in controversy, exclusive of interest and costs, exceeds the sum of $75, 000." See Doc. 1, ¶ 4. However, as set forth infra, Plaintiffs have failed to plead sufficient facts regarding citizenship to establish diversity jurisdiction.


         A. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         Pursuant to Article III of the Constitution, a federal court has limited jurisdiction. Bender v. Williamsport Area Sch. Dist., 475 U.S. 534, 541(1986) (citing Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch (5 U.S.) 137, 173-80 (1803)). In general, it may only exercise subject matter jurisdiction if either: (1) the plaintiff sets forth a colorable claim arising under the Constitution or federal statute, creating "federal question" jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1331; or (2) there is complete diversity of citizenship between plaintiff and all defendants and the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs, 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1). Strawbridge v. Curtiss, 3 Cranch 267, 1806 WL 1213, at *1 (February Term 1806). See also Da Silva v. Kinsho Int'l Corp., 229 F.3d 358, 363 (2d Cir. 2000) (delineating two categories of subject matter jurisdiction).

         It is incumbent on a federal court to determine with certainty whether it has subject matter jurisdiction over a case pending before it. If necessary, the court must consider its subject matter jurisdiction sua sponte. Joseph v. Leavitt, 465 F.3d 87, 89 (2d Cir.2006) ("Although neither party has suggested that we lack appellate jurisdiction, we have an independent obligation to consider the presence or absence of subject matter jurisdiction sua sponte."), cert. denied, 549 U.S. 1282 (2007); see also Univ. of South Alabama v. American Tobacco Co., 168 F.3d 405, 410 (11th Cir. 1999) ("a federal court is obligated to inquire into subject matter jurisdiction sua sponte whenever it may be lacking"); Licari v. Nutmeg Ins. Adjusters, Inc., No. 3:08mc245(WIG), 2008 WL 3891734, at * 1 (D. Conn. July 31, 2008) ("This Court has a duty to review a plaintiff's complaint at the earliest opportunity to determine whether this Court has subject matter jurisdiction.") (citing Transatlantic Marine Claims Agency, Inc. v. Ace Shipping Corp., 109 F.3d 105, 107 (2d Cir. 1997) for its holding that a district court may raise the issue of subject matter jurisdiction sua sponte).

         Unlike personal jurisdiction, "subject matter jurisdiction is not waivable and may be raised at any time by a party or by the court sua sponte." Lyndonville Sav. Bank & Trust Co. v. Lussier, 211 F.3d 697, 700 (2d Cir. 2000). If subject matter jurisdiction is lacking, the action must be dismissed. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(h)(3); Lyndonville Sav. Bank & Trust Co., 211 F.3d at 700-01. See also, e.g., Cortlandt St. Recovery Corp. v. Hellas Telecomms., S.À.R.L., 790 F.3d 411, 416-17 (2d Cir. 2015) ("A district court properly dismisses an action under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction if the court 'lacks the statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate it'") (citing Makarova v. United States, 201 F.3d 110, 113 (2d Cir.2000)); Manway Constr. Co. v. Housing Auth. of Hartford, 711 F.2d 501, 503 (2d Cir. 1983) ("It is common ground that in our federal system of limited jurisdiction any party or the court sua sponte, at any stage of the proceedings, may raise the question of whether the court has subject matter jurisdiction; and, if it does not, dismissal is mandatory."); Transatlantic Marine Claims Agency, Inc. v. Ace Shipping Corp., Div. of Ace Young Inc., 109 F.3d 105, 108 (2d Cir. 1997) ("Whenever it appears by suggestion of the parties or otherwise that the court lacks jurisdiction of the subject matter, the court shall dismiss the action.") (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3)); Lovejoy v. Watson, 475 F.App'x 792, 792 (2d Cir. 2012) ("Where jurisdiction is lacking . . . dismissal is mandatory.") (quoting United Food & Commercial Workers Union, Local 919, AFL-CIO v. CenterMark Props. Meriden Square, Inc., 30 F.3d 298, 301 (2d Cir.1994)).

         In the case at bar, given the fact that Plaintiffs have included solely a state law claim in their Complaint, there is no arguable basis upon which the Court may assert "federal question" subject matter jurisdiction over this action, 28 U.S.C. § 1331.[2] Plaintiffs have, however, alleged that diversity of citizenship exists as a jurisdictional basis, 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a).[3] In order for diversity of citizenship to exist, Plaintiffs' citizenship must be diverse from that of Defendant Triangle Tube. See, e.g., St. Paul Fire and Marine Ins. Co. v. Universal Builders Supply, 409 F.3d 73, 80 (2d Cir. 2005) ("Diversity is not complete if any plaintiff is a citizen of the same state as any defendant.") (citing Owen Equip. & Erection Co. v. Kroger, 437 U.S. 365, 373-74 (1978)) . Moreover, "diversity must exist at the time the action is commenced." Universal Licensing Corp. v. Lungo, 293 F.3d 579, 581 (2d Cir. 2002). See also Wolde-Meskel v. Vocational Instruction Project Cmty. Servs., Inc., 166 F.3d 59, 62 (2d Cir.1999) ("Satisfaction of the § 1332(a) diversity requirements (amount in controversy and citizenship) is determined as of the date that suit is filed - the 'time-of-filing' rule.").

         B. Citizenship of Corporate Parties

         Plaintiff Homesite and Defendant Triangle Tube are both corporations. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C.§ 1332(c)(1), "a corporation shall be deemed to be a citizen of any State by which it has been incorporated and of the State where it has its principal place of business." The Plaintiffs have adequately pled the citizenship of the two corporate parties. In particular, Plaintiffs have stated that Homesite is "a Connecticut company with its principle [sic] place of business located in Massachusetts;" and defendant Triangle Tube "is a corporation duly organized and existing under the laws of . . . New Jersey with a principal place of business at 1 Triangle Lane, Blackwood[, ] New Jersey." Doc. 1, ¶¶ 1, 3. Under those ...

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