United States District Court, District of Columbia
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
RANDOLPH D. MOSS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Jervon Herbin's
motions for default judgment. Dkt. 15; Dkt. 18. Because
Herbin has not met his burden of establishing subject matter
jurisdiction and has not made a prima facie showing of
personal jurisdiction, the Court will DENY
both motions for default judgment without prejudice. The
Court will further require that Herbin file additional
evidence regarding jurisdiction, liability, and damages.
case arises from a putative business dispute between
Plaintiff Jervon Herbin and Defendant Shawnita Wilkins Seau.
During the relevant events, Herbin was incarcerated in
Virginia, where he remains today. See Dkt. 1 at 1.
According to Herbin, he developed an idea for “a
dating/social networking website” that would
“target [b]lack consumers.” Id. at 3-4
(Compl. ¶ 5). He decided to go into business with Seau,
“a former college classmate, ” id. at
3-4 (Compl. ¶¶ 4-5), with whom Herbin had
“reconnect[ed] after . . . a 17[-]year hiatus in their
. . . friendship, ” id. at 7-8 (Compl. ¶
12). They “entered into a [p]artnership agreement,
” and Herbin gave Seau a “copy of [his] business
plan.” Id. (Compl. ¶ 5). Although the two
friends worked well together at first, Herbin eventually grew
dissatisfied with what he perceived to be Seau's lack of
follow-through. Id. (Compl. ¶ 5). He alleges
that she “failed to meet her partnership obligations
[by] failing to execute the task[s] needed to bring the
business to fruition.” Id. (Compl. ¶ 5).
In particular, Herbin asserts, Seau did not register a domain
name for the website, skipped a workshop at the D.C.
“Bar Entrepreneurship Pro Bono Program, ” and
failed to email potential investors. Id. (Compl.
¶ 5); see Id. at 5-6 (Compl. ¶¶
8-11). Disillusioned, Herbin asked Seau “to return his
business plan, ” warned her not to “steal”
his idea, and “informed her . . . that the partnership
was to be dissolved.” Id. at 3-4, 7-8 (Compl.
¶¶ 5, 12). Although Seau agreed to return the
document and said she would not compete with him, she
allegedly has not returned Herbin's business plan to him
despite multiple requests. Id. at 7-8 (Compl. ¶
12). Herbin alleges that, as a result, he has missed out on
“professional assistance in launching the business,
” including “assistance from potential
investors.” Id. at 3-4 (Compl. ¶ 5).
proceeding pro se, filed this diversity action
against Seau. Dkt. 1. He asserts a variety of contract and
tort claims based on her alleged “fail[ure] to honor
the partnership agreement” as well as unspecified
intellectual property claims stemming from her “refusal
to return [his] business plan.” Id. at 9-10
(Compl. ¶¶ 14, 17). He seeks compensatory damages
in the amount of $152 million as well as punitive damages.
Id. at 11-12 (Compl. Prayer).
was served on July 24, 2017, Dkt. 11 at 3, and has failed to
respond to the complaint. Herbin moved for a default judgment
on December 4, 2017, before the Clerk of the Court had
entered a default. Dkt. 15. Three days later, the Clerk
entered the default. Dkt. 14. Herbin renewed his motion for
default judgment on March 27, 2018. Dkt. 18.
Rule of Civil Procedure 55 governs the entry of a default
judgment. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 55. If a defendant
“has failed to plead or otherwise defend” against
the action, the plaintiff may “apply to the [C]ourt for
a default judgment.” Id. Entry of a default
judgment, however, “is not automatic.” Mwani
v. bin Laden, 417 F.3d 1, 6 (D.C. Cir. 2005). In
particular, “the procedural posture of a default does
not relieve a federal court of its ‘affirmative
obligation' to determine whether it has subject matter
jurisdiction over the action.” Cohen v. Islamic
Republic of Iran, 238 F.Supp.3d 71, 79 (D.D.C. 2017)
(quoting James Madison Ltd. v. Ludwig, 82 F.3d 1085,
1092 (D.C. Cir. 1996)). In addition, the Court “should
satisfy itself that it has personal jurisdiction before
entering judgment against an absent defendant.”
Mwani, 417 F.3d at 6. In the absence of an
evidentiary hearing on personal jurisdiction, the plaintiff
can satisfy his “burden of proving personal
jurisdiction . . . with a prima facie showing” based on
the “pleadings, bolstered by . . . affidavits and other
written materials.” Id. at 7 (emphasis
omitted) (citing Edmond v. U.S. Postal Serv. Gen.
Counsel, 949 F.2d 415, 424 (D.C. Cir. 1991)). The
plaintiff “has the burden of establishing both subject
matter jurisdiction over the claim and personal
jurisdiction over the defendant.” Friends of
Mayanot Inst., Inc. v. Islamic Republic of Iran, ___
F.Supp.3d ___, 2018 WL 2023498, at *3 (D.D.C. May 1, 2018)
(quoting Thuneibat v. Syrian Arab Republic, 167
F.Supp.3d 22, 33 (D.D.C. 2016)).
complaint that is “filed pro se is ‘to
be liberally construed, '” and, “however
inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards
than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Erickson
v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (quoting Estelle
v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)). A pro se
plaintiff, however, still “bears the burden of
establishing that the Court has subject matter
jurisdiction.” Bickford v. United States, 808
F.Supp.2d 175, 179 (D.D.C. 2011) (internal quotation marks
and citations omitted); see Kokkonen v. Guardian Life
Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). To determine
whether it has jurisdiction, the Court may “consider
the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts evidenced in
the record.” Coal. for Underground
Expansion v. Mineta, 333 F.3d 193, 198 (D.C. Cir.
2003) (quoting Herbert v. Nat'l Acad. of Scis.,
974 F.2d 192, 197 (D.C. Cir. 1992)). If the complaint
“fails facially to plead facts sufficient to
establish” subject matter jurisdiction, the Court may
dismiss the complaint. Achagzai v. Broad. Bd. of
Governors, 170 F.Supp.3d 164, 173 (D.D.C. 2016).
Subject Matter Jurisdiction
reaching the merits of Herbin's motions for entry of a
default judgment, the Court must satisfy itself that it has
Article III jurisdiction. See Steel Co. v. Citizens for a
Better Env't, 523 U.S. 83, 94-95 (1998). Because
Herbin has not established that the Court has subject matter
jurisdiction, the Court will deny the motions without
has invoked the Court's diversity jurisdiction under 28
U.S.C. § 1332. See Dkt. 1 at 1 (Compl.).
“Federal diversity jurisdiction exists only in cases in
which no plaintiff is a citizen of the same state as any
defendant.” McKee v. U.S. Dep't of
Justice, 253 F.Supp.3d 78, 82 (D.D.C. 2017). For
purposes of assessing diversity jurisdiction, an individual
is a citizen of the state in which she is domiciled. See
Prakash v. Am. Univ., 727 F.2d 1174, 1180 (D.C. Cir.
1984). Domicile requires “physical presence in a
state” as well as the “intent to remain there for
an unspecified or indefinite period of time.”
Id. If there are “any litigants from the same
state on opposing sides, ” then diversity jurisdiction
is “lacking.” Saadeh v. Farouki, 107
F.3d 52, 55 (D.C. Cir. 1997) (citation and internal quotation
marks omitted). Although Herbin is incarcerated in Virginia,
he asserts that he is “a citizen and resident of the
District of Columbia.” Dkt. 1 at 1 (Compl.). The Court,
accordingly, lacks jurisdiction if Seau resides in the
District as well.
score, the record is mixed. According to the complaint,
Herbin “is not exactly sure of where” Seau
“resides” because “there is some
discrepancy as to her exact address.” Dkt. 1 at 3
(Compl. ¶ 4). She allegedly provided Herbin with
“two different addresses” located in Stafford,
Virginia, and “also occasionally resides at her
brother's house in Alexandria, Virginia.”
Id. (Compl. ¶ 4). Further confusing matters,
Seau allegedly informed Herbin that she “use[s] . . .
other relative[s'] address(es)” in the District of
Columbia “as her place of residence.”
Id. (Compl. ¶ 4). In subsequent filings, Herbin
has continued to express uncertainty as to Seau's place
of residence. See Dkt. 2 at 1 (“There is [a]
discrepancy as to [Seau's] residential ...