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Catalina Becerra Villegas v. Pinos Produce

February 28, 2013


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Michael M. Anello United States District Judge


On December 4, 2012, Plaintiff Catalina Becerra Villegas ("Mrs. Becerra" or "Plaintiff") filed this declaratory relief action against Defendants Pinos Produce, Inc., and Pinos Enterprises, Inc., (individually "Los Pinos" and "Pinos Enterprises," and collectively "Defendants"). The action arises out of Mrs. Becerra's purported community property rights of ownership in the defendant corporations, which were co-founded by Mrs. Becerra's estranged husband, Benjamin Rodriguez Hernandez ("Mr. Rodriguez"). [See Compl. ¶¶ 5-9.] Plaintiff seeks a judicial declaration of her ownership rights in the defendant corporations, a full and complete accounting of their records, and a constructive trust imposed on all assets, income, issues, and distributions held by them on Mr. Rodriguez's behalf. [Id. ¶¶ 10-20.]

On January 22, 2013, Defendants filed the pending motion to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1)*fn1 for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, and 12(b)(7) for failure to join a required party. [Doc. No. 5.] Plaintiff filed an opposition to the motion [Doc. No. 6], to which Defendants replied [Doc. No. 7]. For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS Defendants' motion to dismiss under both Rule 12(b)(1) and Rule 12(b)(7).


Mr. Rodriguez and Mrs. Becerra were married in Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico, on March 6, 1958. Both are Mexican citizens and reside there. They have been separated for many years. Mr. Rodriguez and his brothers, Antonio Rodriguez Hernandez, Manuel Rodriguez Hernandez, Victor Rodriguez Hernandez, and Rafael Rodriguez Hernandez, formed Los Pinos on or about March 22, 1985, and Pinos Enterprises on or about May 3, 1996. The two companies are in the business of farming in Baja California and distributing fresh produce in the United States. Both companies are incorporated under the laws of the State of California.

Mrs. Becerra and Mr. Rodriguez are currently involved in two court proceedings in Mexico. The first, filed by Mrs. Becerra on March 7, 2003, is an action for alimony. On or around January 19, 2004, the Mexican court ordered Mr. Rodriguez to pay Mrs. Becerra alimony support payments in the amount of $1,178.13 per month. The alimony order was issued as a provisional remedy pending final determination as to the amount Mr. Rodriguez is obligated to pay Mrs. Becerra in alimony. The second case, filed in Baja California on January 18, 2013 by Mr. Rodriguez, is a formal divorce proceeding against Mrs. Becerra.


Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint on two separate grounds. First, they claim this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the matter, and request dismissal under Rule 12(b)(1). Second, Defendants assert that Mr. Rodriguez is a required party to the action under Rule 19, and accordingly request dismissal under Rule 12(b)(7). The Court considers each argument in turn.

A. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. Owen Equip. & Erection Co. v. Kroger, 437 U.S. 365, 374 (1978). "A federal court is presumed to lack jurisdiction in a particular case unless the contrary affirmatively appears." Stock West, Inc. v. Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, 873 F.2d 1221, 1225 (9th Cir. 1989).

Rule 12(b)(1) allows litigants to seek the dismissal of an action from federal court for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Complaint in this action asserts that there is federal diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). Under the relevant provision of that rule, "[t]he district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75,000, exclusive of interest and costs, and is between . . . citizens of a State and citizens or subjects of a foreign state . . . ." 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(2). It is undisputed that the parties to this action are citizens of a State (namely, California) and a foreign state (Mexico). Therefore, diversity jurisdiction exists if Plaintiff has met the amount-in-controversy requirement.

Under the "legal certainty" standard, a federal court lacks subject matter jurisdiction under § 1332 where "upon the face of the complaint, it is obvious that the suit cannot involve the necessary amount." Geographic Expeditions, Inc. v. Estate of Lhotka ex rel. Lhotka, 599 F.3d 1102, 1106 (9th Cir. 2010) (quoting St. Paul Mercury Indemnity Co. v. Red Cab Co., 303 U.S. 283, 292 (1938)). "In actions seeking declaratory or injunctive relief, it is well established that the amount in controversy is measured by the value of the object of the litigation." Cohn v. Petsmart, Inc., 281 F.3d 837, 840 (9th Cir. 2002) (quoting Hunt v. Wash. State Apple Adver. Comm'n, 432 U.S. 333, 347 (1977)).

Outside the generic allegation that the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000, nowhere in the Complaint does Plaintiff mention a dollar amount.

However, because Plaintiff seeks declaratory relief, the Court takes into account the value of the object of the litigation: Mr. Rodriguez's ownership interest in Los Pinos and Pinos Enterprises. See Cohn, 281 F.3d at 840. Plaintiff asserts, by way of declaration, that Los Pinos and Pinos Enterprises enjoy annual sales in excess of $100 million. [See Decl. Gutierrez ¶¶ 14-15, Exs. 3-4.] Upon review of the attached exhibits in support of the declaration, however, the Court finds that they do not establish, let alone even address, the annual sales of Defendants.*fn2 Additionally, even assuming the exhibits established Defendants' annual sales, this alone would not further establish: (1) the companies' annual earnings; (2) Mr. Rodriguez's share in those earnings; (3) Mr. Rodriguez's ownership interest in the companies; or (4) Plaintiff's community property interest in Mr. Rodriguez's earnings and ownership interest. What remains then, is a bald recitation in the Complaint that the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000 without any ...

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