Cobb v. Brede, No. C 10-03907 MEJ

CourtUnited States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Northern District of California
Writing for the CourtMaria-Elena James
PartiesJONATHAN D. COBB, SR., et al., Plaintiffs, v. ERNEST BREDE, et al., Defendants.
Docket NumberNo. C 10-03907 MEJ
Decision Date06 January 2012

JONATHAN D. COBB, SR., et al., Plaintiffs,
ERNEST BREDE, et al., Defendants.

No. C 10-03907 MEJ

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT Northern District of California

Dated: January 6, 2012

Re: Dkt. No. 114)

Plaintiffs Jonathan Cobb and Walter St. Clair initiated this lawsuit on August 31, 2010. Dkt. No. 1. Their pro se Complaint explained that their suit was "intended to expose a scheme put into motion" by Defendants1 to remove them as the elders (i.e., ministers) and corporate officers of the Menlo Park Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses.2 Dkt. No. 1 ¶ 1. Plaintiffs alleged that Defendants were specifically liable for the following: "conspiracy, conspiracy to commit fraud, fraud, religious fraud, collusion, mail and wire fraud and defamation of character." Id. Plaintiffs stressed that they were not seeking any damages and only wished for "vindication through the courts so as to expose the fraud and restore their good names." Dkt. No. 1 ¶ 46.

On September 17, Plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint that contained largely the same allegations as their original Complaint. Dkt. No. 4. Defendants moved to dismiss Plaintiffs' lawsuit on October 1. Dkt. No. 5. Before the Court could analyze this Motion, Plaintiffs filed their Second Amended Complaint ("SAC"). Dkt. No. 12. Because Plaintiffs were representing themselves, the

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Court permitted this amendment and found that Defendants' Motion, which was based on Plaintiffs' earlier pleading, was moot. Dkt. No. 13. Even though Defendants were permitted to refile a motion to dismiss, they instead chose to file their Answer and commence discovery.

Defendants now move for summary judgment on Plaintiffs' entire lawsuit. Dkt. No. 114. Defendants' primary argument is that this Court has no jurisdiction over the ecclesiastical questions and controversies that are at the center of Plaintiffs' claims. Id. In considering this argument, the Court has reviewed the papers submitted by both parties and analyzed Plaintiffs' claims. This review has raised other jurisdictional problems with Plaintiffs' lawsuit, which, as discussed below, lead the Court to dismiss this action.3

The Court must first determine whether it has subject matter jurisdiction (i.e., the power to adjudicate this case). Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction that can only adjudicate certain matters: mainly those based on diversity of citizenship or a federal question. Schwarzer, Tashima & Wagstaffe, Cal. Prac. Guide: Fed. Civ. Pro. Before Trial, ¶ 2.2 (The Rutter Group 2011) (citing Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of America, 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994)). The lack of subject matter jurisdiction may be raised at any time and it can never be waived. Attorneys Trust v. Videotape Computer Prods., Inc., 93 F.3d 593, 594-95 (9th Cir. 1996). If the parties fail to raise the issue of subject matter jurisdiction, as they have done here,4 it must be raised by the district court sua sponte. Gilder v. PGA Tour, Inc., 936 F.2d 417, 421 (9th Cir. 1991) ("Although neither party contests subject matter jurisdiction, we are bound to address it sua sponte if it is questionable"); In re Disciplinary Action Against Mooney, 841 F.2d 1003, 1006 (9th Cir. 1988) (overruled on other grounds in Partington v. Gedan, 923 F.2d 686 (9th Cir. 1991)) ("Nothing is to be more jealously guarded by a court than its jurisdiction. Jurisdiction is what its power rests upon. Without jurisdiction it is nothing").

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Here, Plaintiffs did not include a jurisdictional statement — as required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) and Civil Local Rule 3-5 — in any of their pleadings. Nonetheless, a review of these pleadings reveals that there is an issue with this Court's subject matter jurisdiction. For the Court to exercise diversity jurisdiction, the amount in controversy between the parties must exceed the sum or value of $75,000. 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Because Plaintiffs' lawsuit does not seek any damages, they have not met this threshold requirement. Moreover, jurisdiction cannot be based on diversity of citizenship because many of the Defendants are from the same state as Plaintiffs (California). See Schwarzer, Tashima & Wagstaffe, Cal. Prac. Guide: Fed. Civ. Pro. Before Trial, ¶ 2.1405 (The Rutter Group 2011) ("The basic requirement in diversity cases is that all plaintiffs be of different citizenship than all defendants. Any instance of common citizenship prevents federal diversity jurisdiction").

Plaintiffs' alleged claims also do not invoke any federal questions. In their SAC, Plaintiffs refer to numerous causes of action — without discussing any of their elements — that they assume are valid federal claims (e.g., extortion, collusion, coercion, conspiracy to commit fraud, fraud, deceit, religious fraud, fraudulent misrepresentation, misrepresentation, personal enrichment, and defamation). See Dkt. No. 14. Disregarding that many of these causes of action are superfluous and not actionable, they also do not involve any federal questions since they are contract and tort-based claims that do not fall within the limited jurisdiction of federal courts. See Hunter v. United Van Lines, 746 F.2d 635, 644 (9th Cir. 1984) ("The rights plaintiffs seek to vindicate in their claims for fraud, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and tortious bad faith were conferred by California, not by the United States"). The only time Plaintiffs invoke a claim arising under federal law is when they allege violations of the "Mail and Wire Fraud Act" under "Federal Statutes 1341 and 1343." See, e.g., Dkt. No. 14 ¶¶ 5, 19. The Court assumes that Plaintiffs are referring to 18 U.S.C. §§ 1341 and 1343, which are the...

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