Caballero v. Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias De Colombia, 122719 FED10, 19-4037

Docket Nº:19-4037
Opinion Judge:KELLY, CIRCUIT JUDGE
Party Name:ANTONIO CABALLERO, Plaintiff - Appellant, v. FUERZAS ARMADAS REVOLUCIONARIAS DE COLOMBIA, a/k/a FARC-EP, a/k/a Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia; EJERCITO DE LIBERACION NACIONAL, a/k/a ELN, a/k/a National Liberation Army; THE NORTE DE VALLE CARTEL, Defendants - Appellees.
Attorney:Bradley R. Helsten, Zumpano Patricios & Helsten, LLC, Holladay, Utah, Joseph I. Zumpano, Leon N. Patricios, Rossana Baeza, Zumpano Patricios, P.A., Coral Gables, Florida, on behalf of the Plaintiff-Appellant.
Judge Panel:Before EID, KELLY, and CARSON, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:December 27, 2019
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

ANTONIO CABALLERO, Plaintiff - Appellant,

v.

FUERZAS ARMADAS REVOLUCIONARIAS DE COLOMBIA, a/k/a FARC-EP, a/k/a Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia; EJERCITO DE LIBERACION NACIONAL, a/k/a ELN, a/k/a National Liberation Army; THE NORTE DE VALLE CARTEL, Defendants - Appellees.

No. 19-4037

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

December 27, 2019

Submitted on the briefs: [*]

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Utah (D.C. No. 2:17-CV-00315-CW)

Bradley R. Helsten, Zumpano Patricios & Helsten, LLC, Holladay, Utah, Joseph I. Zumpano, Leon N. Patricios, Rossana Baeza, Zumpano Patricios, P.A., Coral Gables, Florida, on behalf of the Plaintiff-Appellant.

Before EID, KELLY, and CARSON, Circuit Judges.

KELLY, CIRCUIT JUDGE

Antonio Caballero filed the underlying lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Utah seeking a "judgment on a judgment" he had obtained from a Florida state court. The federal district court registered the Florida state-court judgment under 28 U.S.C. § 1963, but denied all other relief because Mr. Caballero did not establish personal jurisdiction over the defendants. As a result, Mr. Caballero could not utilize federal district court collection procedures. Mr. Caballero then filed a motion to alter or amend the judgment, which the district court denied. He appeals both orders. We exercise jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, and reverse and remand for further proceedings.

I. BACKGROUND

Mr. Caballero sued the defendants in Florida state court, where he obtained a judgment for over $190 million. He then filed the underlying action in Utah federal court alleging that the defendants are Colombian drug traffickers who kidnapped, tortured, and killed his father to facilitate their trafficking and distribution of illicit drugs. The federal complaint further alleged that the defendants, through their agents and representatives, were trafficking millions of dollars of illicit drugs into and through Utah and, further, that their "vicious and vile acts against [Mr. Caballero] and his family were a necessary component part of this scheme." Aplt. App. Vol. 1, at 10.

Mr. Caballero requested a "judgment on a judgment" to have the federal court enter a judgment and authorize collection procedures. His complaint asserted that he "expects to proceed against assets located in Utah pursuant to the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act of 2002, [Pub. L. No. 107-297, § 201(a), 116 Stat. 2322, 2337, codified as a note to 28 U.S.C. § 1610 (TRIA)], and to take discovery as to assets owned by the Defendants or their agencies and instrumentalities." Id. at 9. He served the defendants with process in the federal suit; none of the defendants answered or otherwise participated in the Utah federal action.

The district court registered the judgment under 28 U.S.C. § 1963, despite Mr. Caballero's request to enter a "judgment on a judgment" pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1738, and denied all other relief, holding that he had not demonstrated personal jurisdiction over the defendants. Mr. Caballero filed a motion to alter or amend the judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e), seeking to have the court enter a new federal judgment. The district court denied the motion. Mr. Caballero appeals, arguing that § 1963 is limited to registration of a federal judgment in another federal court, and he is entitled to a new judgment, which would allow him to use collection remedies.

II. JURISDICTION AND STANDARDS OF REVIEW

"Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, possessing only that power authorized by Constitution and statute." Gunn v. Minton, 568 U.S. 251, 256 (2013) (internal quotation marks omitted). "Federal subject matter jurisdiction is elemental, and must be established in every cause under review in the federal courts." Safe Streets All. v. Hickenlooper, 859 F.3d 865, 878 (10th Cir. 2017) (brackets and internal quotation marks omitted). The party invoking a federal court's jurisdiction bears the burden of establishing subject-matter jurisdiction.

Id. "A court lacking jurisdiction cannot render judgment but must dismiss the cause at any stage of the proceedings in which it becomes apparent that jurisdiction is lacking." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).

"Questions of statutory interpretation . . . are pure questions of law that we review de novo." May v. Segovia, 929 F.3d 1223, 1227 (10th Cir. 2019). We also review de novo the legal question of jurisdiction. TransAm Trucking, Inc. v. Fed. Motor Carrier Safety Admin., 808 F.3d 1205, 1210 (10th Cir. 2015). "We review rulings on Rule 59(e) motions for an abuse of discretion. A court abuses its discretion when basing its decision on an erroneous legal conclusion." Nelson v. City of Albuquerque, 921 F.3d 925, 929 (10th Cir. 2019) (citation omitted).

III. DISCUSSION

  1. Section 1963

The district court registered the Florida state-court judgment under 28 U.S.C. § 1963, which provides: A judgment in an action for the recovery of money or property entered in any court of appeals, district court, bankruptcy court, or in the Court of International Trade may be registered by filing a certified copy of the judgment in any other district or, with respect to the Court of International Trade, in any judicial district, when the judgment has become final by appeal or expiration of the time for appeal or when ordered by the court that entered the judgment for good cause shown. . . . A judgment so registered shall have the same effect as a judgment of the district court of the district where registered and may be enforced in like manner.

Federal courts disagree on whether a state-court judgment may be registered in a federal district court under § 1963. The Seventh Circuit has held that § 1963 does not prohibit removal of a state-court judgment to federal court if other requirements for federal jurisdiction are met. GE Betz, Inc. v. Zee Co., 718 F.3d 615, 625 (7th Cir. 2013). In reaching this conclusion, the court determined that "[r]eading a bar against the...

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