Kelley Mala v. Crown Bay Marina ( 2013 )


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  •                                   PRECEDENTIAL
    
       UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
            FOR THE THIRD CIRCUIT
                 _____________
    
                      No. 10-4710
                     _____________
    
               KELLEY JOSEPH MALA,
                     Appellant
    
                            v.
    
             CROWN BAY MARINA, INC.
                  ____________
    
            On Appeal from the District Court
                   of the Virgin Islands
            District Court No. 3-06-cv-00120
     District Judge: The Honorable Juan R. Sanchez
    
    Submitted Pursuant to Third Circuit L.A.R. 34.1(a)
                   December 3, 2012
    
    Before: SMITH, HARDIMAN, and ROTH, Circuit
                      Judges
    
                 (Filed: January 7, 2013)
                            1
    Alan R. Feuerstein
    Feuerstein & Smith
    475 Delaware Avenue
    Buffalo, NY 14202
          Counsel for Appellant
    
    W. Mark Wilczynski
    Palm Passage C20-22
    P.O. Box 1150
    St. Thomas, VI 00804
          Counsel for Appellee
    
                       ________________
    
                           OPINION
                       ________________
    
    SMITH, Circuit Judge.
    
           Kelley Mala sued Crown Bay Marina after his boat
    exploded. The District Court conducted a bench trial
    during which Mala represented himself and after which
    the court rejected his negligence claims. Mala now
    contends that the court should have provided him with
    additional assistance because of his status as a pro se
    litigant. He also contends that the court wrongfully
    denied his request for a jury trial and improperly ruled on
                                 2
    a variety of post-trial motions. We reject these
    contentions and we will affirm.
    
                               I
    
           Mala is a citizen of the United States Virgin
    Islands. On January 6, 2005, he went for a cruise in his
    powerboat near St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. When his
    boat ran low on gas, he entered Crown Bay Marina to
    refuel. Mala tied the boat to one of Crown Bay‘s eight
    fueling stations and began filling his tank with an
    automatic gas pump. Before walking to the cash register
    to buy oil, Mala asked a Crown Bay attendant to watch
    his boat.
    
          By the time Mala returned, the boat‘s tank was
    overflowing and fuel was spilling into the boat and into
    the water. The attendant manually shut off the pump and
    acknowledged that the pump had been malfunctioning in
    recent days. Mala began cleaning up the fuel, and at
    some point, the attendant provided soap and water. Mala
    eventually departed the marina, but as he did so, the
    engine caught fire and exploded. Mala was thrown into
    the water and was severely burned. His boat was
    unsalvageable.
    
          More than a year later, Mala sued Crown Bay in
    
    
    
    
                               3
    the District Court of the Virgin Islands.1 Mala‘s pro se
    complaint asserted two claims: first, that Crown Bay
    negligently trained and supervised its attendant, and
    second, that Crown Bay negligently maintained its gas
    pump. The complaint also alleged that the District Court
    had admiralty and diversity jurisdiction over the case,
    and it requested a jury trial. At the time Mala filed the
    complaint, he was imprisoned in Puerto Rico. Although
    the record is silent on the reason for his imprisonment, it
    is fair to say that he is a seasoned litigant—in fact, he has
    filed at least twenty other pro se lawsuits.2 See
    Appellee‘s Br. at 21–22.
    
           Mala‘s original complaint named ―Crown Bay
    Marina Inc.‖ as the sole defendant. But Mala soon
    amended his complaint by adding other defendants—
    including Crown Bay‘s dock attendant, Chubb Group
    Insurance Company, Crown Bay‘s attorney, and ―Marine
    Management Services Inc, [a] registered corporation
    entity duly licensed to conduct business in the State of
    Florida . . . , d/b/a Crown Bay Marina Inc, [ ] a corporate
    
          1
             Chief Judge Curtis Gomez was initially assigned
    the case, but Judge Juan Sanchez took over in the middle
    of 2010 and presided over the trial.
           2
             Mala requested a court-appointed attorney in this
    case, but the District Court denied the request because his
    history of filing frivolous lawsuits prevented him from
    securing in forma pauperis status. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915.
                                  4
    entity duly licensed to conduct business in St. Thomas
    Virgin Islands of the Unites States.‖ JA 55. The District
    Court allowed Mala to amend his complaint a second
    time by adding his wife as a plaintiff—though the court
    dismissed her loss-of-consortium claim shortly thereafter.
    Mala later attempted to amend his complaint a third time
    by adding Texaco as a defendant. The District Court
    rejected this attempt for failing to comply with Federal
    Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a)(2) (requiring the other
    side‘s consent or the court‘s leave).3
    
           As the trial approached, two significant incidents
    took place. First, the District Court decided on its own to
    identify the parties to the case. It concluded that the only
    parties were Mala and ―Marine Services Management
    d/b/a Crown Bay Marina, Inc.‖ JA 132. It thereby
    dismissed all other defendants that Mala had named in
    his various pleadings.
    
          Next, Crown Bay filed a motion to strike Mala‘s
    jury demand. Crown Bay argued that plaintiffs generally
    do not have a jury-trial right in admiralty cases—only
    when the court also has diversity jurisdiction. And Crown
    Bay asserted that the parties were not diverse in this case,
    which the court itself had acknowledged in a previous
    
          3
            Because the District Court refused to add Texaco
    as a defendant, see JA 94 n.2, we have omitted ―Texaco
    Puerto Rico‖ from the case caption.
                                5
    order. In response to this motion, the District Court ruled
    that both Mala and Crown Bay were citizens of the
    Virgin Islands. The court therefore struck Mala‘s jury
    demand, but nevertheless opted to empanel an advisory
    jury.
    
           The trial began at the end of 2010—nearly four
    and a half years after Mala filed his complaint. The delay
    is partly attributable to the District Court‘s decision to
    postpone the trial until after Mala‘s release from prison.
    At the close of Mala‘s case-in-chief, Crown Bay renewed
    a previous motion for summary judgment. The court
    granted the motion on the negligent-supervision claim
    but allowed the negligent-maintenance claim to go
    forward. At the end of the trial, the advisory jury returned
    a verdict of $460,000 for Mala—$400,000 for pain and
    suffering and $60,000 in compensatory damages. It
    concluded that Mala was 25 percent at fault and that
    Crown Bay was 75 percent at fault. The District Court
    ultimately rejected the verdict and entered judgment for
    Crown Bay on both claims.
    
          After his loss at trial, Mala filed a flurry of
    motions, asking the court to vacate its judgment and hold
    a new trial. These motions contained numerous
    overlapping objections. A magistrate judge prepared
    three Reports and Recommendations that summarized
    Mala‘s claims and urged the District Court to reject all of
    them. Judge Sanchez adopted these recommendations
    
                                 6
    and explained his reasoning in an eight-page opinion.
    
          This appeal followed. Mala argues that the District
    Court made three reversible errors. First, the court failed
    to accommodate Mala as a pro se litigant. Second, it
    improperly denied his request for a jury trial. Third, it
    erroneously adopted the magistrate‘s recommendations.
    We consider and reject these arguments in turn. 4
    
                                II
    
           Mala first argues that the District Court did not
    give appropriate consideration to his status as a pro se
    litigant. Specifically, he claims that the District Court
    should have provided him with a pro se manual—a
    manual that is available to pro se litigants in other
    districts in the Third Circuit and throughout the country.
    We conclude that pro se litigants do not have a right to
    general legal advice from judges, so the District Court
    did not abuse its discretion by failing to provide a
    manual.
    
    
          4
             The District Court had admiralty jurisdiction
    under 28 U.S.C. § 1333(1). Mala argues that the court
    also had diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332.
    This argument determines the outcome of Mala‘s jury
    claim, so we will discuss it in Part III. At all events, we
    have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291.
    
                                7
           According to Mala, ―[t]here is comparatively little
    case law regarding the responsibility of courts to provide
    information and assistance to the pro se party.‖
    Appellant‘s Br. at 7. A more accurate statement is that
    there is no case law requiring courts to provide general
    legal advice to pro se parties. In a long line of cases, the
    Supreme Court has repeatedly concluded that courts are
    under no such obligation. See, e.g., McKaskle v. Wiggins,
    
    465 U.S. 168
    , 183–184 (1984) (―A defendant does not
    have a constitutional right to receive personal instruction
    from the trial judge on courtroom procedure. Nor does
    the Constitution require judges to take over chores for a
    pro se defendant that would normally be attended to by
    trained counsel as a matter of course.‖); McNeil v. United
    States, 
    508 U.S. 106
    , 113 (1993); Faretta v. California,
    
    422 U.S. 806
    , 834 n.46 (1975).
    
           The Supreme Court revisited this line of cases
    nearly a decade ago. In Pliler v. Ford, 
    542 U.S. 225
    (2004), the Court rejected the idea that district courts
    must provide a specific warning to pro se litigants in
    certain habeas cases. It concluded that ―[d]istrict judges
    have no obligation to act as counsel or paralegal to pro se
    litigants.‖ Id. at 231. After all, a ―trial judge is under no
    duty to provide personal instruction on courtroom
    procedure or to perform any legal ‗chores‘ for the
    defendant that counsel would normally carry out.‖ Id.
    (quoting Martinez v. Court of Appeal of Cal., Fourth
    Appellate Dist., 
    528 U.S. 152
    , 162 (2000)) (quotation
                                 8
    marks omitted). Because of this general rule, courts need
    not, for example, inform pro se litigants of an impending
    statute of limitation. See Outler v. United States, 
    485 F.3d 1273
    , 1282 n.4 (11th Cir. 2007) (―[N]o case has
    ever held that a pro se litigant should be given actual
    notice of a statute of limitations.‖).
    
           The general rule, then, is that courts need not
    provide substantive legal advice to pro se litigants. Aside
    from the two exceptions discussed below, federal courts
    treat pro se litigants the same as any other litigant. This
    rule makes sense. Judges must be impartial, and they put
    their impartiality at risk—or at least might appear to
    become partial to one side—when they provide trial
    assistance to a party. See Pliler, 542 U.S. at 231
    (―Requiring district courts to advise a pro se litigant . . .
    would undermine district judges‘ role as impartial
    decisionmakers.‖); Jacobsen v. Filler, 
    790 F.2d 1362
    ,
    1364 (9th Cir. 1986); see also Julie M. Bradlow,
    Comment, Procedural Due Process Rights of Pro Se
    Civil Litigants, 55 U. Chi. L. Rev. 659, 671 (1988)
    (―[E]xtending too much procedural leniency to a pro se
    litigant risks undermining the impartial role of the judge
    in the adversary system.‖). Moreover, this rule eliminates
    the risk that judges will provide bad advice. See Pliler,
    542 U.S. at 231–32 (noting that warnings and other legal
    advice ―run the risk of being misleading themselves‖);
    see also Robert Bacharach & Lyn Entzeroth, Judicial
    Advocacy in Pro Se Litigation: A Return to Neutrality, 42
                                 
    9 Ind. L
    . Rev. 19, 42 (2009) (―[G]iving legal advice is
    prohibited by multiple canons of judicial conduct.‖).
    
           To be sure, some cases have given greater leeway
    to pro se litigants. These cases fit into two narrow
    exceptions. First, we tend to be flexible when applying
    procedural rules to pro se litigants, especially when
    interpreting their pleadings. See, e.g., Higgs v. Att’y Gen.,
    
    655 F.3d 333
    , 339 (3d Cir. 2011) (―The obligation to
    liberally construe a pro se litigant‘s pleadings is well-
    established.‖). This means that we are willing to apply
    the relevant legal principle even when the complaint has
    failed to name it. Dluhos v. Strasberg, 
    321 F.3d 365
    , 369
    (3d Cir. 2003). And at least on one occasion, we have
    refused to apply the doctrine of appellate waiver when
    dealing with a pro se litigant. Tabron v. Grace, 
    6 F.3d 147
    , 153 n.2 (3d Cir. 1993). This tradition of leniency
    descends from the Supreme Court‘s decades-old decision
    in Haines v. Kerner, 
    404 U.S. 519
     (1972). In Haines, the
    Court instructed judges to hold pro se complaints ―to less
    stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by
    lawyers.‖ Id. at 520; see Erickson v. Pardus, 
    551 U.S. 89
    ,
    94 (2007).
    
          We are especially likely to be flexible when
    dealing with imprisoned pro se litigants. Such litigants
    often lack the resources and freedom necessary to
    comply with the technical rules of modern litigation. See
    Moore v. Florida, 
    703 F.2d 516
    , 520 (11th Cir. 1983)
    
                                 10
    (―Pro se prison inmates, with limited access to legal
    materials, occupy a position significantly different from
    that occupied by litigants represented by counsel‖). The
    Supreme Court has ―insisted that the pleadings prepared
    by prisoners who do not have access to counsel be
    liberally construed and [has] held that some procedural
    rules must give way because of the unique circumstance
    of incarceration.‖ McNeil v. United States, 
    508 U.S. 106
    ,
    113 (1993) (citations omitted). Accordingly, the Supreme
    Court has concluded that pro se prisoners successfully
    file a notice of appeal in habeas cases when they deliver
    the filings to prison authorities—not when the court
    receives the filings, as is generally true. Houston v. Lack,
    
    487 U.S. 266
    , 270–71 (1988) (―Such prisoners cannot
    take the steps other litigants can take to monitor the
    processing of their notices of appeal and to ensure that
    the court clerk receives and stamps their notices of appeal
    before the 30-day deadline.‖).
    
           Yet there are limits to our procedural flexibility.
    For example, pro se litigants still must allege sufficient
    facts in their complaints to support a claim. See Riddle v.
    Mondragon, 
    83 F.3d 1197
    , 1202 (10th Cir. 1996). And
    they still must serve process on the correct defendants.
    See Franklin v. Murphy, 
    745 F.2d 1221
    , 1234–35 (9th
    Cir. 1984). At the end of the day, they cannot flout
    procedural rules—they must abide by the same rules that
    apply to all other litigants. See McNeil, 508 U.S. at 113
    (―[W]e have never suggested that procedural rules in
                                11
    ordinary civil litigation should be interpreted so as to
    excuse mistakes by those who proceed without
    counsel.‖); Kay v. Bemis, 
    500 F.3d 1214
    , 1218 (10th Cir.
    2007).
    
           The second exception to our general rule of
    evenhandedness is likewise narrow. We have held that
    district courts must provide notice to pro se prisoners
    when converting a motion to dismiss into a motion for
    summary judgment. See Renchenski v. Williams, 
    622 F.3d 315
    , 340 (3d Cir. 2010). In particular, courts must
    tell pro se prisoners about the effects of not filing any
    opposing affidavits. Id.; see also Somerville v. Hall, 
    2 F.3d 1563
    , 1564 (11th Cir. 1993); Neal v. Kelly, 
    963 F.2d 453
    , 457 (D.C. Cir. 1992); Klingele v. Eikenberry, 
    849 F.2d 409
    , 411 (9th Cir. 1988) (concluding that the rule
    applies only to pro se prisoners). But see Williams v.
    Browman, 
    981 F.2d 901
    , 903–04 (6th Cir. 1992) (holding
    that such notice is unnecessary); Martin v. Harrison
    Cnty. Jail, 
    975 F.2d 192
    , 193 (5th Cir. 1992) (same).
    
           Similarly, the Supreme Court has required district
    courts to provide notice to pro se litigants in habeas cases
    before converting any motion into a motion to vacate
    under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. See Castro v. United States, 
    540 U.S. 375
    , 383 (2003). The underlying principle is simple:
    when a court acts on its own in a way that significantly
    alters a pro se litigant‘s rights—for example, by
    converting one type of motion into a different type of
    
                                12
    motion—the court should inform the pro se party of the
    legal consequences. But as the Supreme Court made clear
    only a few months after Castro, notice is the exception.
    Nonassistance is the rule. See Pliler, 542 U.S. at 231,
    233–34.
    
           That brings us back to Mala‘s claim. Mala argues
    that the District Court should have provided him with a
    pro se manual. Various district courts have created
    manuals to help pro se litigants navigate the currents of
    modern litigation. See, e.g., U.S. District Court for the
    Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Clerk’s Office
    Procedural                Handbook                (2012),
    http://www.paed.uscourts.gov/documents/
    handbook/handbook.pdf; U.S. District Court for the
    Western District of Pennsylvania, Pro Se Package: A
    Simple Guide to Filing a Civil Action (2009),
    http://www.pawd.uscourts.gov/Documents/Forms/PROS
    E_manual_2009.pdf; U.S. District Court for the District
    of New Jersey, Procedural Guide for Pro Se Litigants
    (2006),        http://www.njd.uscourts.gov/rules/proselit-
    guide.pdf. These manuals are generally available online
    and in the clerk‘s office. They explain how to file a
    complaint, serve process, conduct discovery, and so
    forth. In addition, public-interest organizations have
    supplemented these manuals by publishing their own
    guides for pro se litigants. See, e.g., Columbia Human
    Rights Law Review, A Jailhouse Lawyer’s Manual (9th
    ed. 2011), http://www3.law.columbia.edu/ hrlr/jlm/toc/.
                               13
            These manuals can be a valuable resource for pro
    se litigants. They may help litigants assert and defend
    their rights when no lawyer is available. And they can
    reduce the administrative burden on court officials who
    must grapple with inscrutable pro se filings. Because
    these manuals do not provide case-specific advice and
    because they are available to all litigants—not just to pro
    se litigants—they do not impair judicial impartiality. See
    Nina I. VanWormer, Note, Help at Your Fingertips: A
    Twenty-First Century Response to the Pro Se
    Phenomenon, 60 Vand. L. Rev. 983, 1018 (2007) (―By
    providing pro se litigants with easy, understandable, and
    reliable access to both procedural and substantive law,
    court systems can uphold their mandate to impartially
    administer justice to all, while at the same time
    increasing the efficiency with which they can manage
    their dockets.‖). Without a doubt, these manuals are
    informative, and inexperienced litigants would do well to
    seek them out.
    
           That said, nothing requires district courts to
    provide such manuals to pro se litigants. See Pliler, 542
    U.S. at 231 (―District judges have no obligation to act as
    counsel or paralegal to pro se litigants.‖). To put it
    another way, pro se litigants do not have a right—
    constitutional, statutory, or otherwise—to receive how-to
    legal manuals from judges. See McKaskle, 465 U.S. at
    183–184 (―[T]he Constitution [does not] require judges
    to take over chores for a pro se defendant that would
                                14
    normally be attended to by trained counsel as a matter of
    course.‖). And Mala has less reason to complain than the
    neophyte pro se litigant, having filed more than twenty
    suits in the past. See Appellee‘s Br. at 21–23. His
    experiences have made him well acquainted with the
    courts. See Davidson v. Flynn, 
    32 F.3d 27
    , 31 (2d Cir.
    1994) (refusing to be flexible when interpreting a
    complaint because the plaintiff was ―an extremely
    litigious inmate who [was] quite familiar with the legal
    system and with pleading requirements‖); Cusamano v.
    Sobek, 
    604 F. Supp. 2d 416
    , 445–46 (N.D.N.Y. 2009).
    The District Court‘s failure to provide Mala with a pro se
    litigation manual was not an abuse of discretion. 5
    
           Mala also suggests that the District Court abused
    its discretion by not considering his status as a prisoner
    during the early stages of litigation. His problem,
    
          5
             We would reject Mala‘s claim even if the District
    Court had an obligation to provide a pro se manual. For
    one thing, Mala never indentified anything that he would
    have done differently if he had access to such a manual.
    Moreover, it is unclear why he needed a pro se manual
    from the District Court of the Virgin Islands. He could
    have received a manual from other district courts or from
    public-interest organizations. These manuals are easy to
    access through an internet search, which Mala could have
    performed while doing his legal research at the local
    library. Any error therefore would be harmless.
                                 15
    however, is that he has not identified anything in
    particular that the court should have done differently. In
    fact, the court was solicitous of Mala‘s needs as an
    incarcerated litigant—delaying the trial until his release
    from prison and allowing him to amend the complaint at
    least once despite his noncompliance with Rule 15(a).
    Contrary to Mala‘s suggestion, the court accommodated
    his status as a prisoner.
    
                                 III
    
           Mala next argues that the District Court
    improperly refused to conduct a jury trial. This claim
    ultimately depends on whether the District Court had
    diversity jurisdiction. The court concluded that it had
    only admiralty jurisdiction, and Mala urges us to
    conclude otherwise. We generally exercise plenary
    review over jurisdictional questions, but factual findings
    that ―underline a court‘s determination of diversity
    jurisdiction . . . are subject to the clearly erroneous rule.‖
    Frett-Smith v. Vanterpool, 
    511 F.3d 396
    , 399 (3d Cir.
    2008) (citation and quotation marks omitted). Here, the
    District Court found that both Mala and Crown Bay were
    citizens of the Virgin Islands. These findings were not
    clearly erroneous, and so we conclude that Mala did not
    have a jury-trial right.
    
           The Seventh Amendment creates a right to civil
    jury trials in federal court: ―In Suits at common law . . .
    the right of trial by jury shall be preserved.‖ U.S. Const.
                                  16
    amend. VII. Admiralty suits are not ―Suits at common
    law,‖ which means that when a district court has only
    admiralty jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331(1), the
    plaintiff does not have a jury-trial right. Complaint of
    Consolidation Coal Co., 
    123 F.3d 126
    , 132 (3d Cir.
    1997) (citing Waring v. Clarke, 46 U.S. (5 How.) 441,
    458–60 (1847)). But the saving-to-suitors clause in
    § 1333(1) preserves state common-law remedies. U.S.
    Express Lines Ltd. v. Higgins, 
    281 F.3d 383
    , 390 (3d Cir.
    2002). This clause allows plaintiffs to pursue state claims
    in admiralty cases as long as the district court also has
    diversity jurisdiction. Id. In such cases, § 1333(1)
    preserves whatever jury-trial right exists with respect to
    the underlying state claims. Gorman v. Cerasia, 
    2 F.3d 519
    , 526 (3d Cir. 1993) (noting that the saving-to-suitors
    clause saves ―common law remedies, including the right
    to a jury trial‖); see also Ross v. Bernhard, 
    396 U.S. 531
    ,
    537–38 (1970).
    
          Mala argues that the District Court had both
    admiralty and diversity jurisdiction. As a preliminary
    matter, the court certainly had admiralty jurisdiction. The
    alleged tort occurred on navigable water and bore a
    substantial connection to maritime activity. See Jerome
    B. Grubart, Inc. v. Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co., 
    513 U.S. 527
    , 534 (1995) (explaining the two-part test for
    admiralty jurisdiction under § 1333(1)).
    
          The grounds for diversity jurisdiction are less
    
                                17
    certain. District courts have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C.
    § 1332 only if the parties are completely diverse.
    Barefoot Architect, Inc. v. Bunge, 
    632 F.3d 822
    , 836 (3d
    Cir. 2011). This means that no plaintiff may have the
    same state or territorial citizenship as any defendant. Id.
    The parties agree that Mala was a citizen of the Virgin
    Islands. He was imprisoned in Puerto Rico when he filed
    the suit, but his imprisonment is of no moment. Prisoners
    presumptively retain their prior citizenship when the
    gates close behind them. See Hall v. Curran, 
    599 F.3d 70
    , 72 (1st Cir. 2010); Smith v. Cummings, 
    445 F.3d 1254
    , 1260 (10th Cir. 2006); Sullivan v. Freeman, 
    944 F.2d 334
    , 337 (7th Cir. 1991). No one challenges that
    presumption here.
    
           Unfortunately for Mala, the District Court
    concluded that Crown Bay also was a citizen of the
    Virgin Islands. Mala rejects this conclusion, stating that
    the sole defendant was Marina Management Services—a
    Florida corporation that operated Crown Bay Marina as
    one of its divisions. For its part, Crown Bay
    acknowledges that Marina Management Services
    managed the day-to-day operations at Crown Bay
    Marina, but Crown Bay argues that the two were separate
    legal entities. We recognize that the District Court could
    have done more to clarify the relationship between these
    
    
    
    
                                18
    two entities. 6 Even so, Mala‘s claim must fail.
    
          Mala bears the burden of proving that the District
    Court had diversity jurisdiction. McCann v. Newman
    Irrevocable Trust, 
    458 F.3d 281
    , 286 (3d Cir. 2006)
    
          6
             A few months before trial, the District Court
    decided to ―clarify the pre-trial status of [the] case.‖ JA
    131. Because no one else had been served, the court
    dismissed all defendants other than ―Marine Services
    Management d/b/a Crown Bay Marina, Inc.‖ JA 132. The
    acronym ―d/b/a‖ stands for ―doing business as‖ and
    typically indicates that the second name (here, ―Crown
    Bay Marina, Inc.‖) is the party‘s trade name, whereas the
    first name (here, ―Marine Services Management,‖ which
    seems to be a reference to Marina Management Services)
    is the party‘s legal name. See, e.g., Tai-Si Kim v.
    Kearney, 
    838 F. Supp. 2d 1077
    , 1090 (D. Nev. 2012).
    This suggests that a Florida corporation was the sole
    defendant.
           On the other hand, during the pre-trial
    proceedings, Crown Bay claimed to be a Virgin Islands
    entity, separate from Marina Management Services, see
    JA 122, and later provided testimony to support that
    claim, see Trial 12/6 at 75–76. Also, the District Court
    concluded that it lacked diversity jurisdiction. See JA 96.
    n.3. This suggests that the sole defendant was a Virgin
    Islands business and that Marina Management Services
    was a separate entity.
                                19
    (―The party asserting diversity jurisdiction bears the
    burden of . . . proving diversity of citizenship by a
    preponderance of the evidence.‖). Mala failed to meet
    that burden because he did not offer evidence that Crown
    Bay was anything other than a citizen of the Virgin
    Islands. Mala contends that Crown Bay admitted to being
    a citizen of Florida, but Crown Bay actually denied
    Mala‘s allegation that Crown Bay Marina was a division
    of ―Marine Management Services.‖ Compare JA 55 ¶ 9
    (alleging that Crown Bay Marina was a ―corporate
    entity‖ under ―Marine Management Services‖), with JA
    61 ¶ 9 (admitting that ―Marine Management Services‖ is
    a Florida corporation but denying everything else). 7
    
           Absent evidence that the parties were diverse, we
    are left with Mala‘s allegations. Allegations are
    insufficient at trial. McCann, 458 F.3d at 286 (requiring a
    showing of diversity by a preponderance of the
    
          7
             Mala also points out that during a pretrial
    hearing, Crown Bay‘s attorney introduced himself as
    ―Mark Wilczynski on behalf of Marina Management
    Services, Inc.‖ JA 144. But this statement does not
    appear to be an admission that Crown Bay was the same
    entity as Marina Management Services. Indeed, Crown
    Bay‘s attorney might have introduced himself this way
    simply because the District Court had previously
    identified the defendant as ―Marine Services
    Management d/b/a Crown Bay Marina, Inc.‖
                               20
    evidence). And they are especially insufficient on appeal,
    where we review the District Court‘s underlying factual
    findings for clear error. Smith, 511 F.3d at 399. Under
    this standard, we will not reverse unless ―we are left with
    the definite and firm conviction‖ that Crown Bay was in
    fact a citizen of Florida. Id. (quotation mark omitted).
    Mala has not presented any credible evidence that Crown
    Bay was a citizen of Florida—much less evidence that
    would leave us with the requisite ―firm conviction.‖
    
           Mala tries to cover up this evidentiary weakness by
    again pointing to his pro se status. He argues that we
    should construe his complaint liberally to find diversity.
    But Mala‘s problem is not a pleading problem. It is an
    evidentiary problem. Our traditional flexibility toward
    pro se pleadings does not require us to indulge
    evidentiary deficiencies. See Brooks v. Kyler, 
    204 F.3d 102
    , 108 n.7 (3d Cir. 2000) (indicating that pro se
    litigants still must present at least affidavits to avoid
    summary judgment). Accordingly, the parties were not
    diverse and Mala does not have a jury-trial right. 8
    
    
          8
            At various times, Mala suggested that the District
    Court also had supplemental jurisdiction. It is unclear
    whether he was referring to supplemental jurisdiction
    under 28 U.S.C. § 1367, or whether he was calling
    diversity jurisdiction by the wrong name. Either way, the
    argument fails. As noted above, the parties were not
                                 21
           Mala also claims that the District Court erred by
    rejecting the advisory jury‘s verdict. Federal Rule of
    Civil Procedure 39(c) states that ―[i]n an action not
    triable of right by a jury, the court, on motion or on its
    own . . . may try any issue with an advisory jury.‖
    District courts are free to use advisory juries, even absent
    the parties‘ consent. Compare Fed. R. Civ. P. 39(c)(2)
    (requiring consent for a nonadvisory jury when the party
    does not have a jury-trial right), with id. 39(c)(1) (not
    requiring consent for an advisory jury); see also
    Broadnax v. City of New Haven, 
    415 F.3d 265
    , 271 n.2
    (2d Cir. 2005). District courts are also free to reject their
    verdicts, as long as doing so is not independently
    erroneous. Wilson v. Prasse, 
    463 F.2d 109
    , 116 (3d Cir.
    1972) (―[F]indings by an advisory jury are not binding.‖).
    As a result, the District Court did not err in this case by
    empanelling an advisory jury or by rejecting its verdict.
    
    
    diverse. And even if he was referring to supplemental
    jurisdiction under § 1367, such jurisdiction exists only
    when there is no independent basis for federal
    jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a) (stating that
    supplemental jurisdiction is limited to ―other claims‖
    over which district courts do not have ―original
    jurisdiction‖). Here, the District Court had admiralty
    jurisdiction over all parts of Mala‘s claim, as both parties
    acknowledge. The court did not need supplemental
    jurisdiction.
                                  22
                                IV
    
           Mala‘s final claim is that the District Court
    erroneously ruled on a handful of post-trial motions.
    After losing at trial, Mala asked the court to vacate the
    judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)
    and to grant a new trial under Rules 50(b) and 59. These
    motions contained several overlapping arguments.9 A
    magistrate judge recommended that the District Court
    reject these motions, and the court adopted the
    magistrate‘s recommendations. We conclude that the
    court did not make a mistake in doing so.
    
           In reviewing a district court‘s decision to adopt a
    magistrate‘s recommendations, ―[w]e exercise plenary
    review over the District Court‘s legal conclusions and
    apply a clearly erroneous standard to its findings of fact.‖
    O’Donald v. Johns, 
    402 F.3d 172
    , 173 n.1 (3d Cir. 2005)
    (per curiam). Mala claims that ―the Court stubbornly
    maintained that its rulings were correct and proper; no
    real review took place of the facts of the case, especially
    on the issue of jurisdiction allowing the Plaintiff a jury
    trial, nor acknowledging that the Court‘s decision to
    
          9
             Among other things, Mala claimed that he should
    have received a jury trial, that the District Court
    improperly ignored evidence, that the court did not have
    jurisdiction once Mala had filed a recusal motion, and
    that Crown Bay had committed fraud on the court.
                               23
    empanel an advisory jury during the pretrial conference
    was unclear and confusing to the Plaintiff at best.‖
    Appellant‘s Br. at 23.
    
           Mala‘s claim has little substance. The magistrate
    prepared three Reports and Recommendations that
    discussed Mala‘s arguments and urged the District Court
    to deny his motions. Judge Sanchez explained his reasons
    for doing so in an eight-page opinion. Both judges were
    meticulous and thorough. Mala has given us no reason to
    accept his general argument that ―no real review took
    place.‖
    
           Beyond this general argument, Mala alleges two
    specific shortcomings. First, he bemoans the District
    Court‘s refusal to conduct a jury trial. As noted above,
    this was not an error. Although the court could have been
    clearer about Crown Bay‘s citizenship, Mala nevertheless
    failed to meet his burden of proving diversity. Second,
    Mala asserts that he failed to understand that the jury‘s
    findings would be nonbinding. This was not the District
    Court‘s fault. The court plainly stated that the jury would
    be advisory. See JA 147 (―[CROWN BAY‘S
    ATTORNEY]: And is that in fact the Court‘s position
    that there will be an advisory jury? THE COURT: Yes.‖).
    We therefore reject Mala‘s final claim.
    
                              ***
          Mala is a serial pro se litigant. In this case, he
                                24
    convinced a jury of his peers to award him over $400,000
    in damages. Unfortunately for Mala, the jury was
    advisory, and the District Court rejected the verdict. We
    conclude that the court did not err by using an advisory
    jury or by rejecting its verdict. Nor did the court err by
    adopting the magistrate‘s recommendations or by failing
    to provide a pro se manual. For these reasons we will
    affirm the District Court‘s judgment.
    
    
    
    
                               25