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Bombliss v. Sprung

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Rock Island Division

June 26, 2017

RONALD BOMBLISS, Plaintiff,
v.
DENNIS SPRUNG, LISA JOHNSTON, JACK NORTON, THE AMERICAN KENNEL CLUB, INC., Defendants.

          ORDER

          SARA DARROW UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim, ECF No. 21, filed by Defendants Lisa Johnston, Dennis Sprung, and The American Kennel Club, Inc. (collectively, “Defendants”), against the Complaint, Ex. A, ECF No. 1-1. Also before the Court is Plaintiff Ronald Bombliss' Motion to Remand, ECF No. 12, Motion to Amend, ECF No. 24, a Motion for Extension of Time to File Amended Complaint, ECF No. 25, and a Motion for Leave to File Electronically, ECF No. 26. For the following reasons, the Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED and the other pending motions are DENIED.

         BACKGROUND[1]

         Ronald Bombliss is a resident of Galva, Illinois and a longtime breeder of Tibetan Mastiff dogs. On December 30, 2016, Bombliss filed a complaint in Knox County, Illinois in Illinois's Ninth Judicial Circuit, against defendants The American Kennel Club (“AKC”); Dennis Sprung, the AKC CEO; Lisa Johnson, AKC Customer Registration Support; and Jack Norton, the AKC Director of Compliance. The AKC, a registry and advocacy organization for breeders and owners of purebred dogs, is headquartered in New York. Bombliss' complaint alleged “Breach of Fiduciary Duty by Constructive Fraud.” Defendants filed for removal of the case to federal court in the Central District of Illinois, based on diversity jurisdiction. Not. Removal, ECF No. 1.

         Bombliss alleges that, in the interest of churning a profit by registering more dogs, the AKC began the practice of registering litters of puppies without verification that the litter is the result of a legitimate breeding arrangement. To that end, Bombliss alleges that the AKC is engaged in fraudulent registration of dogs without verification from “legal owners.” He alleges that one such instance occurred when his Tibetan Mastiff, Kesang Camp's Silkbow of Ho (“Silkbow”), sired a litter of puppies via artificial insemination, to a registered Tibetan Mastiff dam named Goddess Bhasundra Sendroma Komali, owned by non-defendants Michelle and Kyle McConnell. The McConnells applied to have the litter of puppies registered with the AKC. The AKC administered DNA testing on the puppies to determine that they were, in fact, offspring of Silkbow. Pursuant to AKC policy, the puppies were then determined to be purebreds, and the AKC attempted to secure Bombliss' signature to complete the Litter Registration Application, which Bombliss refused to provide. Bombliss alleges that the need for his legal consent via his signature, on the DNA testing forms as well as a Litter Registration Application, was “bypassed, ” and that the AKC and the McConnells perpetrated a fraud on him by going through with the registration process without notifying him of the need for his signature.

         Bombliss corresponded with Lisa Johnston, an AKC Customer Registration Support employee, via letters, attached to the Complaint as exhibits. In her letters, Johnston writes that according to AKC procedures, “the owner of the sire is required to sign an application to register a litter” unless a signed agreement between all parties states that the sire owner is not obligated to do so. Ltr. from Lisa Johnston to Ronald Bombliss (Apr. 1, 2014), ECF No. 1-1 at 29. In later correspondence, Johnston informed Bombliss that his “interpretation of the American Kennel Club's rules is inaccurate” and that he could present evidence of a pending lawsuit between himself and the McConnells to dispute the litter registration. Ltr. from Lisa Johnston to Ronald Bombliss (Apr. 11, 2014), ECF No. 1-1 at 31.

         Because Bombliss refused to sign what he deemed a “fraudulent litter application, ” he alleges that the AKC, in retaliation, suspended his membership and fined him $1, 000. After the removal of the case to federal court, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss, ECF No. 21, on March 2, 2017. Bombliss filed a response and motion for leave to amend his complaint on March 17, 2017, seeking a 90-day continuance “in order to negate federal jurisdiction.” Pl.'s Resp. and Mot. Leave Amend. 1, ECF No. 24.

         Bombliss claims $10 million in damages, including punitive damages, and seeks to have his AKC membership reinstated, as well as his fees and costs covered.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Plaintiff's Motion to Remand for Amended Complaint and Motion for Leave to Amend Complaint

         On February 6, 2017, Bombliss filed a motion to remand this proceeding to state court in Knox County, IL, where he originally filed suit. See Mot. Remand, ECF No. 12. Bombliss bases his motion only on the future prospect that he might amend his complaint to add defendants “for their intentional torts committed within Knox County, ” which would destroy the basis for diversity jurisdiction. Id. at 1.

         A case may be appropriately removed from state court to federal court when the action could have been filed originally in federal court, 28 U.S.C. § 1441, and one such statutorily-created basis for federal jurisdiction is diversity jurisdiction, codified at 28 U.S.C. § 1332. “28 U.S.C. § 1332 requires complete diversity” of citizenship: “no plaintiff may be a citizen of the same state as any defendant.” Altom Transport, Inc. v. Westchester Fire Ins. Co., 823 F.3d 416, 420 (7th Cir. 2016). Additionally, 28 U.S.C. § 1332 imposes an amount in controversy requirement guaranteeing that the value of the action exceeds $75, 000. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a).

         Plaintiff Bombliss is a resident of Illinois. Compl. ¶ 1. As for Defendants, the AKC is headquartered and has its principal place of business in New York, Dennis Sprung is a citizen of New York, and both Lisa Johnston and Jack Norton are citizens of North Carolina. Id. at 2-3. Bombliss does not contend that the parties, as they currently exist, lack diversity-only that diversity may be destroyed in the future by an amended complaint he plans to file. As for the amount in controversy, the jurisdictional threshold is uncontested in this matter, and in such a scenario, the “plaintiff's good faith allegation of the amount in controversy” is accepted unless the Court can determine “to a legal certainty that the claim is really for less than the jurisdictional amount.” McMillian v. Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers, 567 F.3d 839 (7th Cir. 2009). Bombliss has claimed $10 million in damages, and however unlikely that particular amount of recovery might be, the Court is not able to determine with legal certainty that the value of the claim is less than $75, 000. The Court finds that it has jurisdiction over this proceeding by virtue of 28 U.S.C. § 1332, and will proceed to the merits.

         For related reasons, the Court denies Bombliss' motion for leave to amend his complaint in this proceeding under Rule 15(a)(2). Pl.'s Resp. and Mot. Leave Amend. Though the Court should “freely give leave when justice so requires, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2), it still has discretion to deny a motion to amend under certain circumstances. “Leave to amend may be denied where there has been undue delay, bad faith, prejudice to the opponent, dilatory motive on part of movant, or amendment would be futile.” Figgie Int'l Inc. v. Miller, 966 F.2d 1178, 1180-81 (7th Cir. 1992). Bombliss repeatedly states that his purpose for amending the complaint is to destroy diversity jurisdiction. Pl.'s Resp. and Mot. Leave Amend. 1; Mot. Remand 1. That is not a sufficient reason to allow amendment of a complaint. Schwartz v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 174 F.3d 875, 878 (7th Cir. 1999) (reiterating that a plaintiff “may not join an in-state defendant solely for the purpose of ...


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