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Yokeno v. Sekiguchi

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

April 15, 2014

MATAO YOKENO, AKA Eddie M. Yokeno, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
SAWAKO SEKIGUCHI, AKA Sawako S. Lai; EMIL LAI; JOHN DOES, 1-10, Defendants-Appellees

Argued and Submitted, Pasadena, California: November 4, 2013.

Page 650

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Guam. D.C. No. 1:09-cv-00020. Frances Tydingco-Gatewood, Chief District Judge, Presiding.

Andrew B. Compton, University of Arizona Pro Bono Appellate Project, Tucson, Arizona, argued the cause for the Appellant. With him on the briefs were Willie Jordan-Curtis, Ph.D., J.D., Matthew J. Palmer, David C. Potts, and Michael R. Shumway, University of Arizona Pro Bono Appellate Project, Tucson, Arizona.

Carlos L. Taitano, Taitano and Taitano LLP, Tamuning, Guam, argued the cause for the Appellees and filed the briefs.

Before: Diarmuid F. O'Scannlain, Susan P. Graber, and Carlos T. Bea, Circuit Judges. Opinion by Judge O'Scannlain.

OPINION

Page 651

O'SCANNLAIN, Circuit Judge:

We must decide whether the federal court in Guam has jurisdiction in disputes exclusively between aliens.

I

Matao Yokeno sued Emil Lai and Sawako Sekiguchi in the Superior Court of Guam, asserting claims arising from alleged breaches of fiduciary duty in the course of the parties' several business ventures. Sekiguchi and Lai removed the case to the District Court of Guam based on diversity of citizenship.

Yokeno is an alien admitted to the United States for permanent residence, living in Guam.[1] Lai, a British Overseas Citizen, and Sekiguchi, a Japanese citizen, both live in Japan. The district court did not examine its jurisdiction and neither party objected to its exercise based on diversity of citizenship. The district court granted summary judgment on the merits, in favor of Sekiguchi and Lai, and Yokeno timely appealed.

Yokeno now contests subject matter jurisdiction for the first time, contending that no diversity of citizenship exists in a dispute between aliens. He urges us to dismiss the appeal and to vacate the district court's judgment with instructions to remand to the Superior Court of Guam. Sekiguchi and Lai maintain that diversity jurisdiction exists but instead, curiously, move to dismiss this appeal based on res judicata.[2]

II

We deal first with Yokeno's jurisdictional challenge. We have an independent

Page 652

obligation to determine the district court's jurisdiction, see Chapman v. Pier 1 Imports (U.S.), Inc., 631 F.3d 939, 954 (9th Cir. 2011) (en banc), and we consider Yokeno's objection to subject matter jurisdiction even though he raises it for the first time on appeal, see Detabali v. St. Luke's Hosp., 482 F.3d 1199, 1202 (9th Cir. 2007).

A

Article III of the United States Constitution extends the judicial power to controversies " between Citizens of different States . . . and between a State, or the Citizens thereof, and foreign States, Citizens or Subjects." U.S. Const. art. III, § 2, cl. 1. This clause, the constitutional source of diversity jurisdiction, supplies jurisdiction even where only minimal diversity of citizenship is present. See State Farm Fire & Cas. Co. v. Tashire, 386 U.S. 523, 530-31, 87 S.Ct. 1199, 18 L.Ed.2d 270 (1967). In the case of litigation involving an alien, a state or a citizen of a state must be a party. Jackson v. Twentyman, 27 U.S. (2 Pet.) 136, 136, ...


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