Posted by Solomon N. Klein, Litigation Partner
District Judge Denis R. Hurley sua sponte dismissed two cases in as many days where plaintiffs failed to properly allege diversity jurisdiction in cases involving LLCs. Courtyard Apartments Property 1, LLC, v. Rosenblum, 17-cv-2909 (E.D.N.Y April 3, 2018) (DRH) (SIL); Sienna Ventures, LLC v. Halley Equipment Leasing, LLC, 18-cv-201 (E.D.N.Y April 2, 2018) (DRH) (GRB).
A bit of background: Establishing diversity jurisdiction for an LLC can be tricky because the citizenship of an LLC is determined by the citizenship of all of its members. (Indeed, LLCs with sizeable membership interests will often be ineligible for diversity jurisdiction.) Problem is, many attorneys instinctively think of citizenship in terms of principal place of business and state of organization of the LLC, which are not relevant – unlike traditional incorporated entities where place of business and incorporation determine citizenship. This has led to no shortage of “oops” cases where the parties or the courts realize deep into litigation that there is no subject matter jurisdiction.
Diligent federal judges and clerks have tackled the issue by proactively reviewing jurisdictional pleadings involving LLCs and sua sponte directing litigants to address jurisdictional defects at the outset of the case. Judge Hurley recently dismissed two such cases.
In Courtyard Apartments Property 1, LLC, v. Rosenblum, Judge Hurley, sua sponte, issued an order directing plaintiffs to explain the basis for subject matter jurisdiction, and citing caselaw that “A complaint premised upon diversity of citizenship must allege the citizenship of natural persons who are members of a limited liability company and the place of incorporation and principal place of business of any corporate entities who are members of the limited liability company.”
In accordance with its obligation to ensure that subject matter jurisdiction exists, on January 25, 2018, this Court ordered Plaintiffs to show cause in writing why the action should not be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. On February 7, 2018, Plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint, which again failed to address the citizenship of all of either Plaintiffs’ or Defendants’ members. In the Amended Complaint, Plaintiffs allege that Defendant Rosenblum “formed, and solely owned, or controlled as Managing Member” the corporate defendants. (Amended Complaint ¶ 12.) Plaintiffs make no other allegations concerning the citizenship of Defendants’ members, nor do Plaintiffs distinguish between which of the defendant corporations Rosenblum solely owned and which he just controlled.
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The citizenship of a limited liability company (“LLC”) is determined by the citizenship of each of its members. See, e.g., Bayerische Landesbank, New York Branch v. Aladdin Capital Management LLC, 692 F.3d 42, 49 (2d Cir. 2012); Handelsman v. Bedford Vill. Assocs. Ltd P’ship, 213 F.3d 48, 51–52 (2d Cir. 2000). “A complaint premised upon diversity of citizenship must allege the citizenship of natural persons who are members of a limited liability company and the place of incorporation and principal place of business of any corporate entities who are members of the limited liability company.” New Millennium Capital Partners, III, LLC v. Juniper Grp. Inc., 2010 WL 1257325, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 26, 2010), (citing Handelsman, 213 F.3d at 51–52)); Bishop v. Toys “R” Us-NY LLC, 414 F. Supp.2d 385, 389 n.1 (S.D.N.Y. 2006), aff’d, 385 Fed. App’x 38 (2d Cir. 2010).
When viewed against the foregoing principles, diversity jurisdiction has not been properly pled in this case as there are numerous fatal shortcomings in the Amended Complaint that are neither adequately addressed nor remedied by the Response to the Order to Show Cause. First, Plaintiffs make a blanket statement that each of the sixteen Plaintiffs are limited liability companies “with its same natural citizen sole owner and same principal place of business and residential address  listed as follows[.]” (Amended Compl. ¶ 9.) The Court is unpersuaded that this is sufficient to allege citizenship of each of the members of the sixteen limited liability companies. Moreover, Plaintiffs have failed to even allege the members, let alone the members’ citizenship, of certain of the Plaintiffs such as those of the David J. Keudell Revocable Trust. See Amerigold Logistics, LLC v. ConAgra Foods, Inc., 136 S. Cit. 1012, 1016–17 (2016) (explaining that for purposes of diversity jurisdiction, a trust as an unincorporated entity “possesses the citizenship of all of its members”). This shortcoming alone is fatal to diversity jurisdiction, however, there are also significant issues with Plaintiffs’ allegations regarding the citizenship of all Defendants.
As noted above, Plaintiffs make no allegations concerning the citizenship of each of the Defendants’ members, relying on confusing statements about Defendant Rosenblum’s involvement in the companies. Reference is also made to other non-defendants who apparently have or had some stake in the Defendant companies at some point in time.
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While Plaintiffs ask that the Court provide guidance or further directive as to its Order to Show Cause, the Court declines to do so here. Plaintiffs have had three proverbial “bites at the apple” to properly allege subject matter jurisdiction; in the Complaint, the Amended Complaint, and the Response to the Order to Show Cause. Plaintiffs have failed to do so on all occasions. It is not the Court’s responsibility to do research for Plaintiffs’ counsel on how to properly allege subject matter jurisdiction.
Similarly, in Sienna Ventures, LLC v. Halley Equipment Leasing, LLC, the court issued a sua sponte directive for the plaintiff to fill in the jurisdictional blanks or have the case dismissed. However, plaintiff’s response failed to identify the members of defendant’s LLC and their citizenship. The court dismissed the action.
Plaintiff responded to the Court’s order to show cause by letter, which alleges simply that “subject matter jurisdiction exists in this case as Sienna Ventures, LLC  is a New York Limited Liability Company and its sole member is a citizen and resident of New York, and Halley Equipment Leasing, LLC  is a Texas Limited Liability Company.” Plaintiff makes no other allegations concerning the residency or citizenship of Defendant’s members. Thus, as explained below, the case is dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.
Posted by Solomon N. Klein, Litigation Partner