"Jurisdiction, That Is The Question: Keeping Your Case In Federal Court After The 11th Circuit Issues a Jurisdictional Question That Stalls Your Appeal"

The case you spent years successfully litigating was firmly planted in federal court.  At the time, you had no reason to think otherwise.  Whether your case began in federal district court or was channeled there by virtue of the removal process, the court’s authority to both hear and rule upon your cause was never questioned.  The party adverse to your favorable judgment then timely appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.  A briefing schedule was set, you eventually received the other side’s opening brief, and, as a matter of course, you started preparing to defend the merits of your hard-fought, district court victory.  

But just days into your preparation, the case came to an abrupt – and entirely unexpected – stop.  Why?  The Clerk of the Eleventh Circuit advised you, via letter, that a potentially fatal defect in your case affects the appellate court’s ability to proceed.  The letter reads:  “After review of the district court docket entries, order and/or judgment appealed from, and the notice of appeal, it appears that this court may lack jurisdiction over this appeal.  If it is determined that this court is without jurisdiction, this appeal will be dismissed.”

The Eleventh Circuit refers to the document that accompanies this letter as a “jurisdictional question,” the answer to which theoretically could undo the federal court judgment you expended considerable time and effort (and money) to secure. And most often, jurisdictional questions require practitioners to go all the way back to their case-instituting papers, asking them whether the pleadings or notice of removal filed in federal court adequately alleged the parties’ citizenship in order to invoke the district court’s subject matter jurisdiction on diversity grounds. 

Now, for the first time on appeal, you could be forced to confront a deficiency in the jurisdictional allegations that either you or perhaps another attorney drafted years before.  As a consequence, you might “struggle to find jurisdiction that could have been established with the stroke of a pen,” or, in an extreme scenario, “the inattention leads to calamity” due to the risk of dismissal of your case “for want of complete diversity although it had been tried to conclusion.”