Kicked Out of Federal Court: How Stateless Citizens Fall Outside of Diversity of Citizenship

Diversity of citizenship under 28 U.S.C. § 1332 is one way for parties to obtain entry into federal court.  When the case in controversy exceeds $75,000, federal courts have jurisdiction if the action is between “citizens of different States,” 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1), or between “citizens of a State and citizens and or subjects of a foreign state,” 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(2).  In Jane Doe v. Grace Baptist Church, 2022 WL 1490486 (N.D.N.Y. May 11, 2022), the Northern District of New York addressed the application of these provisions to a party with dual citizenship in the U.S. and Greece and found that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction.

The plaintiff, a dual citizen of the United States and Greece, married a Greek citizen, had been residing in Greece since 2017, intends to reside indefinitely in Greece, and wishes to rely her citizenship in Greece for purposes of establishing diversity of citizenship.

The Court held that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(2), reasoning that in matters of diversity jurisdiction a party’s American citizenship will apply, 2022 WL 1490486, at *1, and that therefore the plaintiff was not a “citizen or subject of a foreign state[.]”  Recognizing that a circuit split exists on this issue, the court nonetheless concluded that it was bound by Second Circuit precedent, which makes clear that plaintiff’s U.S. citizenship is determinative.  Id.  The court also noted that plaintiff’s stated intention to relinquish her U.S. citizenship was of no moment; the fact that she had not yet done so was dispositive.  Id.

Similarly, the court held that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1).  This is because, as a U.S. citizen domiciled abroad, the plaintiff is among a class of people who “are neither citizens of any state of the United States or subjects of a foreign state.”  Id. at *2 (quoting Herrick Co., Inc. v. SCS Commc’ns, Inc., 251 F.3d 315, 322 (2d Cir. 2001).)  Hence, Section 1332(a)(1) cannot be applied to confer diversity jurisdiction in a case involving the plaintiff, because she is not considered a citizen of any state.  She is known as a “stateless citizen.”

If you have any questions about federal jurisdiction, contact Michael Rakower or Melissa Yang.

Jane Doe

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