702 F.2d 1189 (D.C. Cir. 1983), 82-1270, Dozier v. Ford Motor Co.

Docket Nº:82-1270.
Citation:702 F.2d 1189
Party Name:James J. DOZIER, Appellant, v. FORD MOTOR COMPANY.
Case Date:March 18, 1983
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

Page 1189

702 F.2d 1189 (D.C. Cir. 1983)

James J. DOZIER, Appellant,



No. 82-1270.

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

March 18, 1983

Submitted Oct. 5, 1982.

As Amended .

Page 1190

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (D.C.Civil Action No. 81-02102).

James J. Dozier, pro se.

Stephen W. Robinson, Fairfax, Va., and Michael F. Marino, Washington, D.C., were on the brief for appellee.

Before MacKINNON, WALD and SCALIA, Circuit Judges.

Opinion for the Court filed by Circuit Judge SCALIA.

Dissenting opinion filed by Circuit Judge WALD.

SCALIA, Circuit Judge:

On this appeal we must decide the res judicata effect of a prior dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

The appellant's earlier suit against the present defendant and one of its franchised dealers, brought in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia and based in part upon the diversity of citizenship provisions of 28 U.S.C. Sec. 1332 (1976), 1 was dismissed for lack of the requisite statutory amount in controversy and for absence of complete diversity of citizenship. Dozier v. Ford Motor Co., No. 80-0958-A (E.D.Va. Dec. 12, 1980) ("Dozier I "). As specifically stated in the Fourth Circuit's affirmance, the suit sought "$7,000 compensatory and $1,000,000 in punitive damages for alleged breach of express and implied warranties pertaining to an automobile manufactured by Ford." Dozier v. Ford Motor Co., 661 F.2d 920, unpublished op. at 2 (4th Cir.1981) (per curiam) ("Dozier I Appeal"). Appellant's request for rehearing in the Fourth Circuit alleged that the amount of actual damages was $13,900; nevertheless rehearing was denied. Appellant then filed the present suit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, complaining of the same transaction and alleging $16,400 in actual and $1,000,000 in punitive damages. Holding that the doctrine of res judicata precluded relitigation of whether appellant's claim placed more than $10,000 in controversy, as required by 28 U.S.C. Sec. 1332 (1976), the district court dismissed the suit. Dozier v. Ford Motor Co., No. 81-2102 (D.D.C. Feb. 23, 1982). We affirm.

To give proper res judicata effect to the judgment rendered in the Eastern District of Virginia, it is necessary to determine precisely what the judgment decided. In conducting that inquiry, we must assume that the court rendering the judgment acted in accordance with governing law; otherwise, we would in effect be permitting collateral attack. The cardinal rule governing the Eastern District's dismissal for insufficient amount in controversy (and the Fourth Circuit's affirmance) is expressed in the leading case as follows:

It must appear to a legal certainty that the claim is really for less than the jurisdictional amount to justify dismissal.... [I]f, from the face of the pleadings, it is apparent, to a legal certainty, that the plaintiff cannot recover the amount claimed, or if, from the proofs, the court is satisfied to a like certainty that the plaintiff never was entitled to recover that amount, and that his claim was therefore colorable for the purpose of conferring jurisdiction, the suit will be dismissed.

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[T]he plaintiff ... knows or should know whether his claim is within the statutory requirement as to amount. His good faith in choosing the federal forum is open to challenge not only by resort to the face of his complaint, but by the facts disclosed at trial, and if from either source it is clear that his claim never could have amounted to the sum necessary to give jurisdiction there is no injustice in dismissing the suit. Indeed, this is the court's duty ....

St. Paul Mercury Indemnity Co. v. Red Cab Co., 303 U.S. 283, 289-90, 58 S.Ct. 586, 590-91, 82 L.Ed. 845 (1938) (footnotes omitted and emphases added) (cited with approval in Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld, 420 U.S. 636, 642 n. 10, 95 S.Ct. 1225, 1230 n. 10, 43 L.Ed.2d 514 (1975)). Thus, the Eastern District of Virginia, affirmed on appeal by the Fourth Circuit, must have decided "to a legal certainty" (from the face of the complaint, given that the case did not proceed to trial) that neither punitive nor actual damages could be recovered in an amount exceeding the statutory threshold in Sec. 1332. 2 See, e.g., Wiggins v. North American Equitable Life Assurance Co., 644 F.2d 1014 (4th Cir.1981); Givens v. W.T. Grant Co., 457 F.2d 612 (2d Cir.), vacated and remanded on other grounds, 409 U.S. 56, 93 S.Ct. 451, 34 L.Ed.2d 266 (1972). Because the doctrine of res judicata applies to dismissal for lack of jurisdiction as well as for other grounds, that determination bars the present suit in federal district court, at least to the extent appellant seeks to base jurisdiction on Sec. 1332. American Surety Co. v. Baldwin, 287 U.S. 156, 53 S.Ct. 98, 77 L.Ed. 231 (1932) (Brandeis, J.); Acree v. Air Line Pilots Ass'n, 390 F.2d 199 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 393 U.S. 852, 89 S.Ct. 88, 21 L.Ed.2d 122 (1968).

The Eastern District and the Fourth Circuit considered the $1,000,000 punitive damage claim inadequate to satisfy the amount-in-controversy requirement because it was clear that on the facts alleged the governing state law would not allow punitive damages. Appellant's principal attack, however, is upon the actual damage aspect of the matter. He suggests that the prior courts did not make the determination necessary to bar the present suit because they did not inquire into whether he could in good faith have alleged greater actual damages. But St. Paul Mercury requires no such inquiry; it explicitly permits the "legal certainty" determination to be based upon the face of the complaint. See also Horton v. Liberty Mutual Insurance Co., 367 U.S. 348, 353, 81 S.Ct. 1570, 1573, 6 L.Ed.2d 890 (1961) (citing St. Paul Mercury ) ("The general federal rule has long been to decide what the amount in controversy is from the complaint itself ..."). The averment of damages, like the other averments of a complaint, is an allegation of fact. There was no more need to probe beneath that allegation, to determine whether Dozier's actual damages might in good faith be claimed to be higher, than there was to probe beneath the allegations of acts producing the damage, to determine whether they might in good faith be recast to sustain a claim for punitive damages. Simply stated, where jurisdiction is at issue a plaintiff is held to his own representations regarding damages just as regarding everything else; and "[i]f he fails to make the necessary allegations he has no standing." McNutt v. General Motors Acceptance Corp., 298 U.S. 178, 189, 56 S.Ct. 780, 785, 80 L.Ed. 1135 (1936). 3 See LeBlanc v. Spector,

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378 F.Supp. 301, 307 (D.Conn.1973), where, in dismissing a $10,000 claim, the court did not feel constrained to inquire into whether the facts might have justified a claim reaching the $10,001 jurisdictional minimum.

Appellant portrays his inadequate damage claim in the earlier suit as a mere pleading deficiency which falls within the "curable defect" exception to the res judicata effect of jurisdictional dismissals. It does not qualify. The "curable defect" exception applies where a "precondition requisite" to the court's proceeding with the original suit was not alleged or proven, and is supplied in the second suit--for example, the Government's filing of an affidavit of good cause in a denaturalization proceeding, Costello v. United States, 365 U.S. 265, 284-88, 81 S.Ct. 534, 544-46, 5 L.Ed.2d 551 (1961), proper service of process, Martin v. Dep't of Mental Hygiene, 588 F.2d 371, 373 n. 3 (2d Cir.1978), or residency adequate to invoke diversity jurisdiction, see Napper v. Anderson, 500 F.2d 634, 637 (5th Cir.1974), cert. denied, 423 U.S. 837, 96 S.Ct. 65, 46 L.Ed.2d 56 (1975). What all these cases have in common is that the jurisdictional deficiency could be remedied by occurrences subsequent to the original dismissal. The deficiency pertained to a fact (filing of affidavit, service of process or present residence) separate and apart from the past and completed transactions that constituted the cause of action. It may be desirable (though not unquestionably so) to give a plaintiff multiple chances to comply with these post-transactional requirements; 4 but it is quite another matter to permit him to change his sworn recitation of past facts. 5 Some very old cases suggest that any "defect in pleading" may be remedied. For example in Smith v. McNeal, 109 U.S. 426, 431, 3 S.Ct. 319, 321, 27 L.Ed. 986 (1883), the Supreme Court held that dismissal for failure to allege the jurisdictional prerequisite of disputed title was no bar to a subsequent suit which remedied that "defect in pleading." We regard such cases as superseded, expressing a rule that made sense only in a system where liberal amendment of pleading

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was not permitted. 6 (Smith v. McNeal has not been cited by the Supreme Court in the century since its issuance.) 7

The appropriateness of dismissing this suit is confirmed by the fact that even if appellant's revision of his damage claim had been attempted through amendment of the pleadings before judgment in the original suit, it should probably not have been allowed. As was said in another case dismissing a claim because the damage alleged fell short of the jurisdictional amount:

Plaintiff is, of course, entitled to leave to amend his complaint. But when an initial prayer proves defective at conferring jurisdiction, and the complaint is amended so as to raise the prayer above the jurisdictional amount, the plaintiff may find that he has provided the court with the objective evidence of a colorable claim necessary to dismiss an action seeking highly speculative...

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