Law School Case Brief
Rodriguez-Diaz v. Sierra-Martinez - 853 F.2d 1027 (1st Cir. 1988)
State citizenship for diversity purposes is ordinarily equated with domicile. A person's domicile is the place where he has his true, fixed home and principal establishment, and to which, whenever he is absent, he has the intention of returning. Domicile generally requires two elements: 1) physical presence in a state, and 2) the intent to make such a state a home. It is the domicile at the time suit is filed which controls, and the fact that the plaintiff has changed his domicile with the purpose of bringing a diversity action in federal court is irrelevant.
Plaintiff Rodriguez Diaz was involved in a motor vehicle accident in Puerto Rico when he was 17 years of age, whereby he suffered bodily injuries. All the defendants resided in Puerto Rico. However, between the time of the accident and the commencement of the action, Diaz moved from his family’s home in Puerto Rico to New York, and attained his 18th birthday. He then sued the defendants for negligence and medical malpractice in the United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico, on hid own behalf and through his parents as next friends, alleging that he was a citizen of New York and that there was diversity of citizenship under 28 U.S.C. § 1332 (1982). The District Court dismissed Diaz’s complaint for lack of diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C.S. § 1332 because under 1 P.R. Laws Ann. § 8 (1967) the domicile of an unemancipated minor was ordinarily that of his parents, who in this case still resided in Puerto Rico. The age of majority under 31 P.R. Laws Ann. § 971 (1967) was 21, whereas under N.Y. C.P.L.R. 105(5) (1988) the age of majority was 18. Diaz challenged the District Court’s decision.
Was it proper for the District Court of Puerto Rico to dismiss the case for lack of diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332?
In vacating and remanding, the Court found that the issue of what substantive law applied in a diversity case was a different problem from that of whether a litigant had access to the federal court. According to the Court, the difference in law between Puerto Rico and New York regarding the age of majority did not deny plaintiff of the right to sue as a citizen of New York. If the rule of lex forum were applied, plaintiff had the potential of being viewed, even within the same judicial system, as both a citizen of New York and a citizen of Puerto Rico. Thus, if plaintiff met the requirements for domicile in New York, federal diversity jurisdiction existed under federal common law.
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