Dismissal on Subject Matter Jurisdiction Grounds Affirmed by 11th Circuit

February 21, 2008 – Media Coverage

ATLANTA -- The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed the dismissal of a 100-plaintiff asbestos lawsuit, finding that a district court correctly concluded that it did not have subject matter jurisdiction over the case, which included plaintiffs and defendants from both California and Georgia. Beavers, et al. v. A.O. Smith Electrical Products Co., et al., No. 06-15401 & 07-11401 (11th Cir.).

In the Feb. 13 unpublished opinion, the 11th Circuit opined that since the plaintiffs drafted the complaint, they were responsible for alleging the correct jurisdictional facts.

Since they failed to do so, the appellate court found that the dismissal of the lawsuit was proper.

An estimated 100 plaintiffs, who all contend they have been injured by exposure to asbestos, brought the case in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama.

However, the District Court, citing a lack of complete diversity among the parties, dismissed the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Specifically, the court found that the case involved both plaintiffs and defendants from California and Georgia.

The plaintiffs filed a notice of appeal, but also filed a motion for relief from judgment, saying that the ruling was manifestly unjust and also sought a severance of each plaintiff's claims and permission to amend the lawsuit. The District Court denied the motions, saying it did not have jurisdiction because of the notice of appeal with the 11th Circuit.

The plaintiffs asked the court to reconsider, arguing that it did in fact have jurisdiction. The district court held a hearing on the matter, but denied the motion, saying that it "raised no meritorious arguments entitling relief." After several rounds of further briefing, the plaintiffs appealed the dismissal of this motion to the 11th Circuit as well.

The appellate court consolidated the issues on appeal.

The 11th Circuit first found that the District Court was correct in its conclusion that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction because the plaintiffs failed to state the citizenship of individual claimants, instead noting each plaintiff's residency.

The appellate court further found that "the plaintiffs' claims arise out of their separate exposures to asbestos at different locations over different time periods, and therefore the plaintiffs were required to allege that each individual plaintiff's claims met the amount in controversy requirement. Because they failed to do so, the District Court also lacked subject matter jurisdiction on this basis."

The 11th Circuit further found that this deficiency could not be overcome by plaintiffs' proposal to remove "nondiverse dispensable parties."

The District Court's decision to deny the supplemental motions by the plaintiffs, including to sever and amend, was also proper, the 11th Circuit held.

"The plaintiffs first argue that the district court abused its discretion by denying them relief under Rule 60(b)(1) because, according to them, their complaint was mistakenly drafted to give the impression that complete diversity did not exist even though it really did," the 11th Circuit noted. "In other words, the plaintiffs argue that Rule 60(b) should provide them relief because of their own error in drafting the document. However, even if a party's own mistake in drafting its complaint were a basis for relief under Rules 60(b)(1), which we seriously doubt, the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying relief on this ground because, as we mentioned above, this 'mistaken drafting' was not the only problem with jurisdiction in this case. Even apart from the plaintiffs' asserted drafting mistakes, the court lacked jurisdiction over the case."

The plaintiffs are represented by G. Patterson Keahey, Jr. of the Law Office G. Patterson Kehey, P.C. in Birmingham, Ala. and John David Saxon of John D. Saxon, P.C. in Birmingham, Ala.

The defendants are represented by James L. Pattillo of Norman, Wood, Kendrick & Turner in Birmingham, Ala.; Laura DeVaughn Goodson of Forman Perry Watkins Krutz & Tardy LLP in Jackson, Miss.; Edward B. McDonough, Jr., Attorney at Law in Mobile, Ala.; Keith James Pflaum of Porterfield, Harper, Mills & Motlow in Birmingham, Ala.; Kacey Leigh Keeton of Brunini, Grantham, Grower and Hewes in Jackson, Miss.; Donald C. Partridge of Forman, Perry, Watkins, Krutz & Tardy in Jackson, Miss.; William Perry Webb of Porterfield, Harper & Mills in Birmingham, Ala.; Walter Thompson Gilmer Jr. of McDowell, Knight, Roedder & Sledge in Mobile, Ala.; Frank Grey Redditt Jr. of Vickers, Riis, Murray & Curran in Mobile, Ala.; Frank Grey Redditt Jr. of Vickers, Riis, Murray & Curran in Mobile, Ala.; William T. Mills II of Porterfield, Harper & Mills in Birmingham, Ala.; Chadwick L. Shook of Aultman, Tyner & Ruffin in Hattiesburg, Miss.; Robert R. Baugh of Sirote & Permutt in Birmingham, Ala.; Frank E. Lankford Jr. of Huie, Fernambucq & Stewart in Birmingham, Ala.; Allan R. Wheeler of Burr & Forman in Birmingham, Ala.; Timothy W. Knight and Lucy Westover Jordan of Kee & Selby in Birmingham, Ala.; George Matthew Keenan of Starnes & Atchison in Birmingham, Ala.; Edward B. McDonough Jr., Attorney at Law in Mobile, Ala.; Matthew Whittle Robinett of Norman, Wood, Kendrick & Turner in Birmingham, Ala.; Jenelle R. Evans and S. Allen Baker Jr. of Balch & Bingham in Birmingham, Ala.; Charles Paul Cavender of Burr & Forman in Birmingham, Ala.; and Anthony C. Harlow of Starnes & Atchison in Birmingham, Ala.

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