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Smith v. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Norfolk Division

January 6, 2020

GLENN S. SMITH, Plaintiff,



         This matter is before the Court on the Glen S. Smith's ("Plaintiff) Motion to Remand. Doc. 7. On November 20, 2019. the Court held a hearing on the Motion. Doc. 13. After oral argument, the Court required further briefing and documentation to rule on Plaintiffs Motion. The Court ORDERED the Defendants to file a copy of the legal title to the vehicle operated by Defendant Carrie Field on the day of the accident. Doc. 15. Additionally, the Court ORDERED the parties to file a three (3) page brief addressing the following:

1. In Virginia, what is the proper legal status of a business entity that:
a. Is properly incorporated in a foreign jurisdiction; and
b. Is improperly registered to do business under its foreign incorporated name in Virginia.

Id. The parties have filed the required documents and briefs. The Motion is now ripe for disposition by the Court. For the reasons stated herein, the Plaintiffs Motion to Remand is GRANTED.


         The current action arises out of automobile collision that occurred on June 30, 2018. Pl. Mem., Doc 8 at 1. One of the Defendants, Carrie Field, was operating a vehicle that collided with the Plaintiff causing serious injuries to the Plaintiff and fatal injuries to the Plaintiffs passenger. Id. at 2. Field was operating the vehicle at the time as an agent of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ("LDS Church"), Corporation of the Presiding Bishop of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ("Presiding Bishop") and Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ("President"). Id. see Def's Answer, Doc. 3 at ¶ 6 (admitting that Field was an agent/employee and operating within the scope of her employment for all three entities at the lime of the accident).


         Title 28 of the United States Code, Section 1441(a) provides that "any civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction, may be removed by the defendant or the defendants...."' 28 U.S.C. § 1441 (a). The burden of establishing federal jurisdiction is upon the party seeking removal. Mulcahey v. Columbia Ornanic Chems. Co., 29 F.3d 148, 151 (4th Cir. 1994) (citing Wilson v. Republic Iron & Steel Co., 257 U.S. 92, 97 (1921)). When analyzing a motion to remand, significant federalism concerns require the court to construe the removal statute strictly against removal into federal court. Venezuela v. Massimo Zanetti Beverage USA, Inc., 525 F.Supp.2d 781, 784 (B.D. Va. 2007). Therefore, "[i]f federal jurisdiction is doubtful, a remand is necessary." Mulcahey, 29 F.3d at 151.

         The general rule is that a defendant may remove a state court action to federal court only if it originally could have been filed by the plaintiff in federal court. Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams. 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1441). But if the jurisdiction for the action is predicated on diversity jurisdiction, the "action shall be removable only if none of the parties in interest properly joined and served as defendants is a citizen of the State in which such action is brought." Sanders v. Medtronic. Inc., No. 4:06cv57, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 45516, at *5 (E.D. Va. June 26, 2006) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a)).

         A. Complete Diversity

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a), the Court has original jurisdiction over all civil actions where the matter in controversy exceeds §75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs, and is between citizens of different states. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). Federal Diversity Jurisdiction under § 1332, "requires complete diversity among the parties, meaning the citizenship of each plaintiff must be different from the citizenship of each defendant." Hoschar v. Appalachian Power Co., 739 F.3d 163. 170 (4th Cir. 2014) Additionally, "when diversity of citizenship is a basis of removal jurisdiction, it must exist both at the time the original action is filed in the state court and at the time the removal is sought." Hubbard v. Tripp, 611 F.Supp. 895, 896 (E.D. Va. 1985) (quoting 14A Charles Alan Wright et al., Federal Practice and Procedure. Jurisdiction 2d § 3723 (1985)) (internal quotation marks omitted). "For purposes of diversity jurisdiction, 'a corporation shall be deemed to be a citizen of every State ... by which it has been incorporated and of the State . . . where it has its principal place of business.'" Hoschar, 739 F.3d at 170 (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 1332(c)(1)). This dual citizenship rule has been strictly limited to only "true-blue corporations." Hawkins v. i-TV Digitalis Tavkozlesi zrt., 935 F.3d 211, 223 (4th Cir. 2019) (citing Carden v. Arkoma Assocs., 494 U.S. 185, 187-89, 196 (1990)). Therefore, "other business entities, such as a partnership, is treated as an unincorporated association, which has the citizenship of each of its members." Id. (citing Carden, 494 U.S. at 189).[1] This framework applies to both religious and secular entities. See U.S. Fire Ins. Co. v. United Church of Christ, 410 F.Supp.2d 637, 638 (N.D. Ohio 2005).

         Plaintiff avers that Presiding Bishop and President are foreign corporations incorporated in Utah and that the individual LDS Church located in Portsmouth, Virginia is either a corporation organized within the Commonwealth of Virginia or an unincorporated association. See Doc. 8 at 2 (citing to the Complaint noting that "LDS Church is a corporation organized within the Commonwealth.") see alsoId. (noting the "LDS Church location operates in Virginia as an unincorporated association"). For purposes of diversity jurisdiction, if LDS Church is an unincorporated association then it, has the imputed citizenship of each one of its members. Doc. 8 at 6. Plaintiff highlights that the full name of the Portsmouth location, "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints" is not registered at the time of removal "in any fashion" as an autonomous entity with the Virginia State Corporation Commission ("Virginia SCC").[2]Id. at 3. The Defendants' counter that Corporation of the Presiding Bishop officially changed its name to "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" in Utah on June 27, 2019. But the record illustrates that this change was not accepted by the Virginia SCC until August 29. 2019. Id. at 3; Doc. 16. Because of the lack of registration with the Virginia SCC, the LDS location in Portsmouth is averred to have "operated, at all relevant ...

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