Gordon v. Steele

376 F. Supp. 55 (W.D. Pa. 1974)

Yeazell p. 7-11


Facts: Gordon is suing Steele and two other defendants for medical malpractice that she claims took place in February of 1972.  The defendants are citizens of Pennsylvania, and so was the plaintiff, until at least August 9th, 1972, the date that she enrolled in college in Idaho and rented an apartment.  She filed a suit on April 10th, 1973 in federal court.  The defendants claimed that the federal court did not have subject matter jurisdiction because Gordon was really a citizen of Pennsylvania on the date she filed the suit.


Issue: Can a student attending college in a different state from her parents be considered a citizen of the new state for the purposes of diversity jurisdiction?


Rule: You must be a citizen of a different state as the defendant on the day you file a suit to qualify for diversity jurisdiction.  It’s up to you, the plaintiff, to prove that the parties are citizens of different states.


Analysis: The method of this judge is to chalk up the points for Gordon being a citizen of Pennsylvania against points for her being a citizen of Idaho.  Each side has its points, but the court gives special weight to the fact that the plaintiff explicitly says that she intends not to come back to Pennsylvania.


There is a contemporary issue that is important in this case.  In the old days, students off at college out of state were not considered to have “gained or lost a residence” by going to school there.  One reason people thought that way was that college students were generally financially provided for by their parents.


At the time this ruling came down, things were changing.  The age of majority was being lowered in many states to 18 from 21.  This influenced the court in determining whether or not Gordon was emancipated from her parents.


Conclusion: The court found as a matter of fact that Gordon was a citizen of Idaho on the date she filed the suit.  Therefore, the court denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.


Notes and Problems


1.     The court put a lot of weight on the plaintiff’s own statements saying she planned to remain in Idaho.  The court said that since the intent to remain is so subjective, the best you can do is take into account what the plaintiff says.  The court is also interested that Gordon rented an apartment in Idaho, because that shows she’s an independent grown-up type person and has her action are in accordance with her statements that she intends to stay in Idaho.  The court also mentions that it doesn’t matter if she might move somewhere else someday.  Finally, the court justifies ruling differently on this issue than courts in the past by the fact that people who are 18 are considered to be independent adults more and more by the law and society.

a.      The court’s weighing of the facts is kind of subjective, but if Gordon lived in a dormitory, it would at least tip the scales against her being a citizen of Idaho somewhat.  If she lived in a dorm, it could be argued that her actions didn’t support her statements of her intent of where to live.  A dorm is more temporary than an apartment, further on the scale between a motel on the one hand and a fully paid for house on the other hand.  I don’t think the court makes it clear enough how important the apartment is to figure out how it would have ruled if she lived in a dorm.

b.     This would tip the scales in favor of her not being a citizen of Idaho, but not much.  The court doesn’t talk about her Blue Cross membership except very briefly when recounting the plaintiff’s statements.

c.     This is interesting, and you have to look closely at the quote from Gallagher v. Philadelphia Transportation Company.  The last sentence of that quote basically says that it doesn’t matter if the plaintiff leaves the state or intends to leave the state later on, so long as it doesn’t become apparent later that the plaintiff didn’t have the intent to remain in the first place.  The defendants would argue, whether she moved back in six months or six days, that she was insincere when she said she intended to remain in Idaho.  The shorter the period of time she stayed, the more skeptical you could be about the sincerity of her intentions.

2.     b.  Gordon’s lawyer could have claimed that she was still a citizen of Pennsylvania, and thus could have filed in a Pennsylvania state court.  The defendants could have then made the opposite argument that Gordon was a citizen of Idaho and not of Pennsylvania and that the state court did not have subject matter jurisdiction.

3.     c.  I think it’s suggested from the preceding section of the case book that she could sue her lawyer for malpractice.  That would blow.  She would have two malpractice suits in a row.

4.     So what to do with the Peters case?  Well, the book seems to imply that Peters is better off filing the case when he gets back to school.  The only reason I can think of off the top of my head for filing immediately is from Note 3b: if you get the case going sooner, you’d have a better shot at getting in under the statute of limitations in case you failed to prove diversity in federal court.  That would only be a week’s time different, though.  But when your guy Peters gets to school…boy oh boy, he should go nuts getting an apartment and a driver’s license and joining the local Rotary Club and going shopping for a house and putting a big ad in the campus newspaper that says “I, AMBROSIA X. PETERS, INTEND TO REMAIN A CITIZEN OF THE STATE OF MICHIGAN FOREVER AND EVER!”


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