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Wall v. Moseley

United States District Court, Fifth Circuit

December 4, 2013

FREDA WALL, Plaintiff,
v.
MARCUS DON MOSELEY and all occupants, Defendants.

FINDINGS, CONCLUSIONS, AND RECOMMENDATION

IRMA CARRILLO RAMIREZ, Magistrate Judge.

Pursuant to Special Order 3-251, this pro se case has been automatically referred for pretrial management. Based on the relevant filings and applicable law, this Court lacks jurisdiction and the case should be REMANDED to the state court.

I. BACKGROUND

On December 17, 2012, Freda Wall (Plaintiff) filed a complaint for forcible detainer against Marcus Don Moseley (Defendant) and the occupants of 1936 La Prada Parkway, Mesquite, Texas, 75150 (the Property) in Justice of the Peace Court, Precinct 2, Place 1. ( See doc. 1 at 13-17.)[1] Plaintiff recovered a judgment against Defendant, and he appealed the judgment to County Court at Law No. 3, which set a trial date of December 5, 2013. ( Id. at 5-12.) Two days prior to trial, on December 3, 2013, Defendant filed a notice of removal of the action to the federal district court for the Northern District of Texas on grounds of diversity jurisdiction. ( Id. at 1-3.)

II. JURISDICTION

"Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. They possess only that power authorized by Constitution and statute, which is not to be expanded by judicial decree." Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994) (citations omitted). They "must presume that a suit lies outside this limited jurisdiction, and the burden of establishing federal jurisdiction rests on the party seeking the federal forum." Howery v. Allstate Ins. Co., 243 F.3d 912, 916 (5th Cir. 2001). Courts have "a continuing obligation to examine the basis for their jurisdiction." See MCG, Inc. v. Great W. Energy Corp., 896 F.2d 170, 173 (5th Cir. 1990). They may sua sponte raise the jurisdictional issue at any time. Id.; EEOC v. Agro Distrib., LLC, 555 F.3d 462, 467 (5th Cir. 2009) (even without an objection to subject matter jurisdiction, a court must consider sua sponte whether jurisdiction is proper). Accordingly, the Court must sua sponte determine whether it has jurisdiction over this removed case.

Any civil action brought in state court may be removed to federal court if the district court has original jurisdiction over that action. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). A district court's original jurisdiction is of two types: federal question jurisdiction and diversity jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1332. Federal question jurisdiction exists in all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States. Id. § 1331. Diversity jurisdiction exists in all civil actions where the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000.00 exclusive of interests and costs, and there is diversity of citizenship. Id. § 1332(a). "The removing party bears the burden of showing that federal question jurisdiction exists and that removal was proper." Manguno v. Prudential Prop. and Cas. Ins. Co., 276 F.3d 720, 723 (5th Cir.2002). "[A]ny doubt about the propriety of removal must be resolved in favor of remand." Gasch v. Hartford Acc. & Indem. Co., 491 F.3d 278, 281-82 (5th Cir.2007).

A. Citizenship

A case removed under § 1332 must have complete diversity of citizenship. Lincoln Property Co. v. Roche, 546 U.S. 81, 84 (2005). "Complete diversity" means that a plaintiff may not share citizenship with any defendant. Whalen v. Carter, 954 F.2d 1087, 1094 (5th Cir.1992). A party asserting diversity jurisdiction must "distinctly and affirmatively" allege the citizenship of the parties. Getty Oil Corp. v. Ins. Co. of N. Am., 841 F.2d 1254, 1259 (5th Cir.1988) (citing McGovern v. Am. Airlines, Inc., 511 F.2d 803, 805 (5th Cir. 1991)).

Defendant's notice of removal "distinctly and affirmatively" alleges Plaintiff's citizenship as "an association with [its] main office in Charlotte, NC" and his own as an individual resident citizen of the State of Texas. ( See doc. 1 at 2.) This allegation directly conflicts with the original complaint for forcible detainer attached to the notice of removal, however, which states that Plaintiff is an individual residing in Dallas County. ( See id. at 14.) It is therefore not clear that Defendant has met his burden to show diversity of citizenship. Because the amount in controversy requirement is dispositive, however, this issue need not be determined.

B. Amount in Controversy

The amount-in-controversy threshold is a necessary element of subject-matter jurisdiction and must be met before a federal court properly exercises diversity jurisdiction. Arbaugh v. Y & H Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 514 (2006). The defendant, as the removing party, bears the burden of establishing by a preponderance of the evidence that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000. De Aguilar v. Boeing Co., 11 F.3d 55, 58 (5th Cir. 1993). The removing party may satisfy this burden by demonstrating that it is facially apparent from the petition that the claim likely exceeds $75, 000.00, or by setting forth the facts in controversy that support a finding of the requisite amount. Allen v. R & H Oil & gas Co., 63 F.3d 1326, 1335 (5th Cir.1995).

In the context of forcible detainer actions involving foreclosed property, courts have held that the amount in controversy is not the value of the property, but rather, the value of the right of possession. See Fed. Nat. Mortg. Ass'n v. Talley, No. 3:12-CV-1967-N-BH, 2012 WL 4005910, at *2 (N.D. Tex. Aug. 16, 2012), report and recommendation adopted, 2012 WL 4005760 (N.D. Tex. Sept. 11, 2012) (collecting cases). By contrast, when the loss of title to property is at issue, the property itself is the object of the litigation and its value is the proper measure of the amount in controversy. Burr v. JP Morgan Chase Bank, N.A., No. 4:11-CV-03519, 2012 WL 1016121, at *3 (S.D. Tex. Mar. 23, 2012).

In this case, the only issue raised by the statecourt forcible detainer action is the right to possession. Plaintiff does not seek money damages, dispute the title to property, or seek any debt related to the property, so Defendant cannot show that the amount in controversy requirement for diversity jurisdiction has been met. Consequently, ...


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