No Federal Jurisdiction Over Spoiled Food Case

Wouldn’t it be great to be incarcerated in the state prison system? I imagine that it would lend a great deal of structure to my day, and I could file my lawsuits for free. Perhaps some court would write about me in an opinion. Instead of identifying me by name, the court would simply start the opinion with “Plaintiff is incarcerated at Ironwood State Prison . . . .” Alas, Walter Brown, Jr. was so lucky, as shown in Brown v. Summerset, No. C 09-04764, 2010 WL 3154538 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 9, 2010).

Brown filed a products action based on the peanut products recall in 2009. Apparently, Summerset, the menu coordinator for the state prison system, also tried to punish Brown by providing him with “spoiled beef and textured vegetable protein tacos.” (This and other tidbits are available in the Complaint, which is Document 1 in the case easily found on PACER.) Although the complaint describes the injuries suffered, I’ll spare you most of the details, only to say that Plaintiff complained of an intestinal ailment that he described as “watery.”

Brown must have spent much of his time in prison studying law, as he stated claims for negligence, strict liability, warranty, and even intentional infliction of emotional distress. Brown did an excellent job pleading facts to get past Iqbal and Twombly. He alleged that the “Plaintiffs believed they would succumb to their sickness” and that the Peanut Corporation of America knowingly distributed tainted food. He also alleged damages of at least $35 million, ensuring that he would meet the amount in controversy requirement.

But woe to Brown, that in all of his legal study, the seminal case of Strawbridge v. Curtiss eluded him, and his suit was doomed from the start when he sued Ms. Summerset, a fellow California citizen, thereby destroying complete diversity among the parties. Judge Armstrong went the extra mile, even addressing whether federal question jurisdiction was available. Indeed it was not. Brown’s claim, being dismissed, may be re-filed in California state court, where it will be much harder for me to find and read his complaint on the internet. Good luck, Mr. Brown. May your next meal of beef and textured vegetable protein tacos be more appetizing.

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