Noel L. Hillman: Substituting Parties Insufficient to Cure SMJ Defect

Can a plaintiff substitute in the correct party to cure a lack of subject matter jurisdiction once the defendant has moved to dismiss? According to District of New Jersey judge Noel L. Hillman, sitting by designation, the answer is no.

In the underlying litigation, Vianex Delaware LLC brought suit for copyright infringement. The only trouble was that this particular Vianex entity did not own the copyright and thus had no standing to sue.

After defendant moved to dismiss, Vianex sought to amend its complaint to substitute the correct plaintiff. The Court rejected the maneuver, noting that it lacked authority to permit the amendment:

“It has long been the case that the jurisdiction of the court depends upon the state of things at the time of the action brought. This time-of-filing rule is hornbook law (quite literally) taught to first-year law students in any basic course on federal civil procedure.”

Thus, “[b]ecause Vianex Delaware LLC did not have standing to assert its claims when it filed suit, the Court does not have subject matter jurisdiction to consider anything filed thereafter.”

The dictates of subject-matter jurisdiction are strong enough to withstand what the Court itself acknowledged may be a “technical and wasteful exercise” in dismissing the complaint. Given the strength of this command, there may be a lesson beyond caveats about drafting pleadings. When analyzing a Court’s foundational authority to hear our cases, all facets of subject-matter jurisdiction must be at the top our list.

Vianex Delaware LLC v. Nuance Comms. Inc., C.A. No. 09-067-NLH-JS (D. Del.) (Hillman, J.).

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