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The Bank of New York Mellon v. Couchran

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

April 30, 2019

DOUGLAS COUCHRAN; CELESTE COUCHRAN; and/or ALL OCCUPANTS OF 6221 Aspen Estates Drive, Sachse, Texas, 75048, Defendants.


          Sam A. Lindsay, United States District Judge.

         Before the court is Plaintiff's Motion to Remand Proceeding (Doc. 5), filed April 8, 2019. No. response to the motion was filed by Defendants. For the reasons herein explained, the court grants Plaintiff's Motion to Remand Proceeding (Doc. 5) and remands this action to County Court at Law No. 3, Dallas County, Texas, from which it was removed.

         I. Standard for Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         A federal court has subject matter jurisdiction over civil cases “arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States, ” or over civil cases in which the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs, and in which diversity of citizenship exists between the parties. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1332. Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction and must have statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate a claim. Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994) (citations omitted); Home Builders Ass'n of Miss., Inc. v. City of Madison, 143 F.3d 1006, 1010 (5th Cir. 1998). Absent jurisdiction conferred by statute or the Constitution, they lack the power to adjudicate claims and must dismiss an action if subject matter jurisdiction is lacking. Id.; Stockman v. Federal Election Comm'n, 138 F.3d 144, 151 (5th Cir. 1998) (citing Veldhoen v. United States Coast Guard, 35 F.3d 222, 225 (5th Cir. 1994)). A federal court must presume that an action lies outside its limited jurisdiction, and the burden of establishing that the court has subject matter jurisdiction to entertain an action rests with the party asserting jurisdiction. Kokkonen, 511 U.S. at 377 (citations omitted). “[S]ubject-matter jurisdiction cannot be created by waiver or consent.” Howery v. Allstate Ins. Co., 243 F.3d 912, 919 (5th Cir. 2001).

         Federal courts may also exercise subject matter jurisdiction over a civil action removed from a state court. Unless Congress provides otherwise, a “civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction, may be removed by the defendant or defendants, to the district court of the United States for the district and division embracing the place where such action is pending.” 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a).

         A federal court has an independent duty, at any level of the proceedings, to determine whether it properly has subject matter jurisdiction over a case. Ruhgras AG v. Marathon Oil Co., 526 U.S. 574, 583 (1999) (“[S]ubject-matter delineations must be policed by the courts on their own initiative even at the highest level.”); McDonal v. Abbott Labs., 408 F.3d 177, 182 n.5 (5th Cir. 2005) (A “federal court may raise subject matter jurisdiction sua sponte.”) (citation omitted).

         Whether an action “arises under” federal law and creates federal question jurisdiction over a case removed from state to federal court, or one originally filed in such court, ordinarily “must be determined by reference to the ‘well-pleaded complaint.'” Merrell Dow Pharms. Inc. v. Thompson, 478 U.S. 804, 808 (1986) (citation omitted). “[A] case may not be removed to federal court on the basis of a federal defense . . . even if the defense is anticipated in the plaintiff's complaint, and even if both parties concede that the federal defense is the only question truly at issue.” Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 393 (1987). “A defense that raises a federal question is inadequate to confer federal jurisdiction.” Thompson, 478 U.S. at 808 (citation omitted). “Even an inevitable federal defense does not provide a basis for removal jurisdiction.” Bernhard, 523 F.3d at 551 (citations omitted). In other words, the complaint must “raise[] issues of federal law sufficient to support federal question jurisdiction.” Rodriguez v. Pacificare of Tex., Inc., 980 F.2d 1014, 1017 (5th Cir. 1993) (citation omitted).

         Diversity of citizenship exists between the parties only if each plaintiff has a different citizenship from each defendant. Getty Oil Corp. v. Insurance Co. of N. Am., 841 F.2d 1254, 1258 (5th Cir. 1988). Otherwise stated, 28 U.S.C. § 1332 requires complete diversity of citizenship; that is, a district court cannot exercise jurisdiction if any plaintiff shares the same citizenship as any defendant. See Corfield v. Dallas Glen Hills LP, 355 F.3d 853, 857 (5th Cir. 2003) (citation omitted). “[T]he basis upon which jurisdiction depends must be alleged affirmatively and distinctly and cannot be established argumentatively or by mere inference.” Getty, 841 F.2d at 1259 (citing Illinois Cent. Gulf R.R. Co. v. Pargas, Inc., 706 F.2d 633, 636 n.2 (5th Cir. 1983)). Failure to allege adequately the basis of diversity mandates remand or dismissal of the action. See Stafford v. Mobil Oil Corp., 945 F.2d 803, 805 (5th Cir. 1991). A notice of removal “must allege diversity both at the time of the filing of the suit in state court and at the time of removal.” In re Allstate Ins. Co., 8 F.3d 219, 221 (5th Cir. 1993) (quotation marks and citations omitted).

         A natural person is considered a citizen of the state where he or she is domiciled, that is, where the person has a fixed residence with the intent to remain there indefinitely. See Freeman v. Northwest Acceptance Corp., 754 F.2d 553, 555-56 (5th Cir. 1985). “‘Citizenship' and ‘residence' are not synonymous.” Parker v. Overman, 59 U.S. 137, 141 (1855). “For diversity purposes, citizenship means domicile; mere residence in [a] [s]tate is not sufficient.” Preston v. Tenet Healthsystem Mem'l Med. Ctr., Inc., 485 F.3d 793, 799 (5th Cir. 2007) (citation and quotation marks omitted). “Domicile requires residence in [a] state and an intent to remain in the state.” Id. at 798 (citing Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians v. Holyfield, 490 U.S. 30, 48 (1989)). A national bank, for diversity purposes, “is a citizen of the State in which its main office, as set forth in its articles of association, is located.” Wachovia Bank, N.A. v. Schmidt, 546 U.S. 303, 307 (2006).

         For diversity purposes, the amount in controversy normally is determined by the amount sought on the face of the plaintiff's pleadings, so long as the plaintiff's claim is made in good faith. 28 U.S.C. § 1446(c)(2); Dart Cherokee Basin Operating Co., LLC v. Owens, 135 S.Ct. 547, 553 (2014) (citation omitted); St. Paul Reinsurance Co. v. Greenberg, 134 F.3d 1250, 1253 (5th Cir. 1998); De Aguilar v. Boeing Co., 47 F.3d 1404, 1408 (5th Cir. 1995). Removal is thus proper if it is “facially apparent” from the complaint that the claim or claims asserted exceed the jurisdictional amount. Allen v. R & H Oil & Gas Co., 63 F.3d 1326, 1335 (5th Cir.), reh'g denied, 70 F.3d 26 (5th Cir. 1995). “[A] defendant's notice of removal need include only a plausible allegation that the amount in controversy exceeds the jurisdictional threshold.” Dart, 135 S.Ct. at 554. Further, “[e]vidence establishing the amount is required by § 1446(c)(2)(B) only when the plaintiff contests, or the court questions, the defendant's allegation.” Id. In a removed case, when the complaint does not state a specific amount of damages and the allegations are challenged by the plaintiff or questioned by the court, the defendant must establish by a preponderance of the evidence that “the amount in controversy exceeds the [$75, 000] jurisdictional amount.” St. Paul Reinsurance, 134 F.3d at 1253. In such cases, “[t]he preponderance burden forces the defendant to do more than point to a state law that might allow the plaintiff to recover more than what is pled. The defendant must produce evidence that establishes that the actual amount of the claim will exceed [the jurisdictional amount].” De Aguilar, 47 F.3d at 1412 (footnotes omitted). If a defendant fails to establish the requisite jurisdictional amount, the court must remand the case to state court. If a defendant establishes that the jurisdictional amount has been met, remand is appropriate only if a plaintiff can establish “to a legal certainty” that his recovery will not exceed the jurisdictional threshold. In re 1994 Exxon Chemical Fire, 558 F.3d 378, 387-88 (5th Cir. 2009).

         Any doubts as to the propriety of the removal should be construed strictly in favor of remand. Manguno v. Prudential Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co., 276 F.3d 720, 723 (5th Cir. 2002). “The burden of establishing subject matter jurisdiction in federal court rests on the party seeking to invoke it.” St. Paul Reinsurance, 134 F.3d at 1253 (footnote omitted). Accordingly, if a case is removed to federal court, the defendant has the burden of establishing subject matter jurisdiction.

         II. Discussion

         Plaintiff maintains that Defendants removed this forcible detainer action for the improper purpose of delaying the lawful eviction proceedings for the Property. Plaintiff contends that the court should remand this action because Defendants have failed to establish that the court has subject matter jurisdiction over this action, and removal of the action violates the rule against allowing removal of actions by an in-state defendant, as Defendants are citizens of the state in which this action was brought. Regarding subject matter jurisdiction, Plaintiff asserts that Defendants have failed to identify any federal question in the state action brought by Plaintiff or establish that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000 as required for subject matter jurisdiction based on diversity of citizenship. The court agrees that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction over this action. It, therefore, focuses on this issue.

         The Notice of Removal alleges that Plaintiff The Bank of New York Mellon, as Trustee for Cit Home Equity Loan Trust 2003-1 (“Plaintiff”) “has violated various federal laws and the amount in controversy exceeds the jurisdictional minimum[] of $75, 000[, ] as [D]efendant is requesting $500, 000 in damages for civil rights violations because many conspirators in the foreclosure and eviction proceedings are government employees, many are federal government employees, in conjunction with The Bank of New York Mellon.” Defs.' Notice of Removal 1-2. A copy of the petition filed by Plaintiff in the state court action was not included in the removal papers filed in this case but was included as an exhibit to Plaintiff's Motion to Remand. As this document was filed in County Court at Law No. CC-19-01018-C[*] and is a matter of public record, the court can also take judicial notice of it. ...

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