254 F.3d 358 (1st Cir. 2001), 00-2184, Valentin v. Hospital Bella Vista

Docket Nº:00-2184
Citation:254 F.3d 358
Case Date:June 27, 2001
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

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254 F.3d 358 (1st Cir. 2001)




No. 00-2184

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

June 27, 2001

Submitted June 1, 2001


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Teresa M. Garcia Moll and Moreda & Moreda on brief for appellant.

Carlos Martinez-Texidor and Martinez-Texidor & Fuster on brief for appellees.

Before Selya, Lynch and Lipez, Circuit Judges.

Selya, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiff-appellant Helga Valentin, also known as Helga Valentin de Jesus, invites us to reverse an order of the district court dismissing her medical malpractice suit for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. Bound by a relatively restrictive standard of review, we decline her invitation.

On December 10, 1998, Valentin sued a cadre of defendants -divers hospitals, physicians, insurers, and a health services plan - in the United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico. Claiming that she was a citizen of Florida whereas all the defendants were citizens of Puerto Rico, the plaintiff premised federal jurisdiction on diversity of citizenship and the existence of a controversy in the requisite amount.1 See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332(a). Because it is Valentin's citizenship that is at issue here, we make no attempt to enumerate, or to differentiate among, the various defendants.

For federal jurisdictional purposes, diversity of citizenship must be determined as of the time of suit. Bank One v. Montle, 964 F.2d 48, 49 (1st Cir. 1992). Thus, the critical date here was December 10, 1998, and the plaintiff's jurisdictional assertion hinged upon her contention that she was a citizen of Florida at that time. The defendants scoffed at this contention and, after conducting some preliminary discovery, moved to dismiss for want of subject-matter jurisdiction. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1). They took the position that the plaintiff's true home was in Puerto Rico.

According to her own account, derived from her deposition testimony, the plaintiff was born in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, in 1968. Her family subsequently moved to Yauco. She lived there with her mother and studied nursing at a local university. When she completed her studies, she returned to Mayaguez and began working at the Mayaguez Medical Center (MMC) in late 1992.

At some point, the plaintiff's sister married and moved to Florida. After toiling at MMC for over five years, the plaintiff, using her accrued vacation time, spent a month visiting her sister and brother-in-law. During that visit, she experienced acute abdominal pain. Doctors in Florida informed her that she needed extensive tests and, quite likely, surgery. Cognizant of the requirements of her health insurance plan, she returned to Puerto Rico for follow-up care. Surgery proved necessary during the winter of 1997-1998. When performed, it went poorly.

The ensuing complications prompted the plaintiff to repair to Florida in April of 1998, seeking more sophisticated medical care. Her sister and brother-in-law again provided her with a place to live. When she left for Florida, however, she did not

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terminate her employment with MMC. To the contrary, her co-workers pooled their accumulated sick leave (totaling eighty-four days) and donated it to her so that she could pursue treatment alternatives without losing her job.

Even after the plaintiff had exhausted all available sick leave, she did not resign. Instead, she requested that MMC grant her an indefinite period of unpaid leave. MMC acquiesced. Although the plaintiff never returned to work at MMC, she did not sever that tie until March of 1999 - some three months after she filed the instant action.

These facts led the parties to opposite conclusions about the plaintiff's citizenship. On January 24, 2000, the most aggressive of the defendants, United Healthcare Plans of Puerto Rico (UHP), filed a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1), in which it asserted an absence of diversity jurisdiction. Several other defendants filed motions joining and/or adopting this motion. The plaintiff opposed these initiatives, maintaining that she had become a citizen of Florida (and, therefore, that jurisdiction was properly laid in the federal court). In an effort to streamline the proceedings, the district court gave the remaining defendants until March 17 to stake out their positions vis--vis jurisdiction and scheduled an evidentiary hearing for May 6.2

One additional defendant responded to the court's invitation and filed a motion to dismiss within the specified interval. As the date set for the evidentiary hearing approached, the plaintiff, by motion filed on May 1, 2000, asked the court to "suspend" that hearing and determine the existence vel non of jurisdiction on the parties' written submissions. The court, apparently yielding to this entreaty, proceeded to decide the jurisdictional issue on the papers.

In a carefully considered ten-page opinion, the court determined that the plaintiff went to Florida in mid-1998 with the intent of returning to Puerto Rico; that her intent remained unchanged on December 10, 1998; and that, therefore, she was still a citizen of Puerto Rico when she filed suit. Valentin v. UHP, No. 98-2382, slip op. at 10-11 (D.P.R. July 27, 2000) (unpublished). In the court's view, the evidence showed only that the plaintiff "returned to Florida in 1998 to receive medical treatment and that she harbored the intention and desire of living in Florida at some time in the future." Id. at 10. Because even "[a] definite and sincere intention to make a place one's home at some time in the future is not enough to make that place an individual's present domicile," the court found the evidence insufficient to support the plaintiff's claim of Florida citizenship. Id.

The plaintiff's attack on the district court's ruling is vigorous, but largely misdirected. Her principal arguments rest on serial misconceptions of the proper protocol for determining subject-matter jurisdiction and the level of appellate review that applies thereafter. We first expose these misconceptions and then use the correct standards to resolve this appeal.

The proper vehicle for challenging a court's subject-matter jurisdiction is Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). This rule is a large umbrella, overspreading a

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variety of different types of challenges to subject-matter jurisdiction. Some challenges - those grounded in considerations of ripeness, mootness, sovereign immunity, and the existence of federal question jurisdiction are good examples, see, e.g., Ernst & Young v. Depositors Econ. Prot. Corp., 45 F.3d 530, 534 (1st Cir. 1995) (ripeness); D.H.L. Assocs., Inc. v. O'Gorman, 199 F.3d 50, 54 (1st Cir. 1999) (mootness); Murphy v. United States, 45 F.3d 520, 522 (1st Cir. 1995) (sovereign immunity); BIW Deceived v. Local S6, 132 F.3d 824, 830-31 (1st Cir. 1997) (federal question) - present what amount to pure (or nearly pure) questions of law, and thus engender de novo review. Those types of challenges are beyond the scope of this opinion.

In more prosaic situations, such as when a defendant challenges the existence vel non of diversity jurisdiction, the challenge can be launched in either of two formats. See 2 James Wm. Moore et al., Moore's Federal Practice ¶¶ 12.30 (3d ed. 1999) (outlining procedures for resolving challenges to subject-matter jurisdiction). We explore that dichotomy.

The first way is to mount a challenge which accepts the plaintiff's version of jurisdictionally-significant facts as true and addresses their sufficiency, thus requiring the court to assess whether the plaintiff has propounded an adequate basis for subject-matter jurisdiction. Ohio Nat'l Life Ins. Co. v. United States, 922 F.2d 320, 325 (6th Cir. 1990); Menchaca v. Chrysler Credit Corp., 613 F.2d 507, 511 (5th Cir. 1980). In performing this task, the court must credit the plaintiff's well-pleaded factual allegations (usually taken from the complaint, but sometimes augmented by an explanatory affidavit or other repository of uncontested facts), draw all reasonable inferences from them in her favor, and dispose of the challenge accordingly. See Herbert v. Nat'l Acad. of Scis., 974 F.2d 192, 197 (D.C. Cir. 1992); Lawrence v. Dunbar, 919 F.2d 1525, 1528-29 (11th Cir. 1990) (per curiam); see also Barrett v. Lombardi, 239 F.3d 23, 30-31 (1st Cir. 2001) (assuming truth of uncontested facts set forth in plaintiff's explanatory affidavit). For ease in classification, we shall call this type of challenge a "sufficiency challenge."

The second way to engage the gears of Rule 12(b)(1) is by controverting the accuracy (rather than the sufficiency) of the jurisdictional facts asserted by the plaintiff and proffering materials of evidentiary quality in support of that position. Unlike, say, a motion for summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c), this type of challenge under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) -which we shall call a "factual challenge" - permits (indeed, demands) differential fact-finding. Thus, the plaintiff's jurisdictional averments are entitled to no presumptive weight; the court must address the merits of the jurisdictional claim by resolving the factual disputes between the parties. See Garcia v. Copenhaver, Bell & Assocs., 104 F.3d 1256, 1261 (11th Cir. 1997). In conducting this inquiry, the court enjoys broad authority to order discovery, consider extrinsic evidence, and hold evidentiary hearings in order to determine its own jurisdiction.3 See...

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