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Buchanan v. Camden County School District

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Brunswick Division

September 29, 2017

TRACY BUCHANAN, Plaintiff,
v.
CAMDEN COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT, CAMDEN COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION, JOHN DOE 1-6, Defendants.

          ORDER

          LISA GODBEY WOOD JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Camden County-School District's ("the School District") Motion to Dismiss, Dkt. No. 5, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b) (6) . This Motion has been fully briefed and orally argued at a hearing. Dkt. Nos. 5, 7, 9, 12, 13.[1] It is now ripe for resolution. For the following reasons, Defendant's 12(b)(6) Motion is hereby GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND

         The facts stated herein are taken solely from Plaintiff's Complaint and are assumed to be true, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). Plaintiff brings defamation claims against the School District, Camden County Board of Education ("the Board"), and John Doe 1-6, alleging that Defendant falsely indicated that Plaintiff acted like a child molester. Dkt. No. 1 ¶ 3. Plaintiff further alleges that Defendant falsely stated that Plaintiff intended to commit "suicide by cop." Id. ¶ 4. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant published these statements, resulting in damage to Plaintiff's professional career through the loss of clients. Id. t 6, 9. The School District responded with a 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss for failure to state a claim.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) requires that a plaintiff's complaint contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a). When ruling on a motion to dismiss brought pursuant to Rule 12(b) (6), a district court must accept as true the facts set forth in the complaint and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Randall v. Scott, 610 F.3d 701, 705 (11th Cir. 2 010) . Although a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, it must contain "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).

         "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). The Court accepts the allegations in the complaint as true and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Ray v. Spirit Airlines, Inc., 836 F.3d 1340, 1347 (11th Cir. 2016). However, the Court does not accept as true threadbare recitations of the elements of the claim and disregards legal conclusions unsupported by factual allegations. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79. At a minimum, a complaint should "contain either direct or inferential allegations respecting all the material elements necessary to sustain a recovery under some viable legal theory." Fin. Sec. Assurance, Inc. v. Stephens, Inc., 500 F.3d 1276, 1282-83 (11th Cir. 2007) (per curiam) (quoting Roe v. Aware Woman Ctr. for Choice, Inc., 253 F.3d 678, 683 (11th Cir. 2001)).

         DISCUSSION

         I. SUBJECT MATTER JURISDICTION

         This Court has subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff's claims pursuant to diversity of citizenship under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. In order for diversity jurisdiction to exist, two requirements must be met: (1) every plaintiff must be the resident of a different state from every defendant; and (2) the amount in controversy must exceed $75, 000. Id. § 1332(a)(1). When a plaintiff files suit in federal court, she must allege facts that show federal subject matter jurisdiction in her case. Travaglio v. Am. Express Co., 735 F.3d 1266, 1268 (11th Cir. 2013) (citing Taylor v. Appleton, 30 F.3d 1365, 1367 (11th Cir. 1994}). When diversity of citizenship is alleged, Plaintiff must make factual allegations regarding the citizenship of each party. Travaglio, 735 F.3d at 1268 (citing Triggs v. John Crump Toyota, Inc., 154 F.3d 1284, 1287 (11th Cir. 1998)). The second requirement, the amount in controversy, is easily met because Plaintiff requested a minimum of $250, 000 in actual damages and a minimum of $500, 000 in punitive damages. Dkt. No. 1 at 3:11-12.

         Regarding the first requirement, while Plaintiff has alleged that he is a citizen of the state of Florida and that the School District is a citizen of Georgia, he has also named as defendants six individuals unknown to him, identified as, John Doe 1-6. Dkt. No. 1 ¶ 2, 8, Civil Cover Sheet. Defendant argues that diversity of citizenship cannot exist with unknown defendants because their identities being unknown to Plaintiff is an admission by Plaintiff that their citizenship-which Defendant argues is "likely" in Florida-is also unknown. Diversity of citizenship must involve factual allegations regarding the citizenship of each party, and it is impossible to make factual allegations, Defendant argues, concerning the citizenship of unknown parties.

         No Eleventh Circuit case directly resolves how to handle unknown defendants in assessing diversity of citizenship. Regarding the subject matter jurisdiction of cases that have been removed to federal court, the removal statute is clear: fictitious defendants are disregarded. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b)(1) ("In determining whether a civil action is removable on the basis of the jurisdiction under section 1332(a) of this title, the citizenship of defendants sued under fictitious names shall be disregarded."). But the diversity jurisdiction statute is silent on the question of fictitious defendants for cases originally filed in federal court.

         While this Court surmises that fictitious defendants be treated the same in a diversity of citizenship analysis for cases removed to federal court as those originally filed here, it need not decide so today. The Complaint here alleges that Defendants John Doe 1-6 are residents of Camden County, Georgia. In other words, Plaintiff has chosen to define the John Does as including only those who reside in Georgia. Because this Court must accept those allegations as true, it must accept at this time that no Defendant is a citizen of Florida-the state of which Plaintiff is a citizen. Diversity of citizenship has been properly alleged. Therefore, this court has subject matter jurisdiction over this cause of action.

         II. SOVEREIGN IMMUNITY OF ...


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