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Federal National Mortgage Association, Its Assignees and/Or Successors v. John C. White and Does 1-10 Inclusive

September 26, 2011



Defendant John White removed this case from the Superior Court of Kern County on September 20, 2011. See Court's Docket Doc. No. 1. Defendant asserts that the basis for removal is the presence of a federal question. Specifically, White contends that he filed a demurrer to Plaintiff's unlawful detainer complaint in which he alleged that Plaintiff failed to comply with 12 U.S.C. § 5220. It is the demurrer, and specifically the invocation of 12 U.S.C. § 5220, that Defendant asserts jurisdiction. See id.

The federal removal statute permits the removal from state court to federal court of cases that might have been filed in federal court originally. See 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). "The burden of establishing federal jurisdiction is on the party seeking removal, and the removal statute is strictly construed against removal jurisdiction." Prize Frize Inc. v. Matrix Inc., 167 F.3d 1261, 1265 (9th Cir. 1999); Emrich v. Touche Ross & Co., 846 F.2d 1190, 1195 (9th Cir. 1988); see California ex rel. Lockyer v. Dynegy, Inc., 375 F.3d 831, 838 (9th Cir. 2004). "It is to be presumed that a cause lies outside the limited jurisdiction of the federal courts . . . ." Hunter v. Philip Morris USA, 582 F.3d 1039 (9th Cir. 2009). If there is any doubt as to the right of removal in the first instance, "federal jurisdiction must be rejected." Duncan v. Stuetzle, 76 F.3d 1480, 1485 (9th Cir. 1996); Gaus v. Miles, Inc., 980 F. 2d 564, 566 (9th Cir. 1992). "If at any time prior to judgment it appears that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the case shall be remanded." 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). A district court has "a duty to establish subject matter jurisdiction over the removed action sua sponte, whether the parties raised the issue or not." United Investors Life Ins. Co. v. Waddell & Reed, Inc., 360 F.3d 960, 967 (9th Cir. 2004). "Thus, the court can, in fact must, dismiss a case when it determines that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction, whether or not a party has a filed a motion." Page v. City of Southfield, 45 F.3d 128, 133 (6th Cir. 1995). In other words, a district court may remand a removed case sua sponte if it determines that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the case. See Parker v. Ho Sports Co., 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 37289 at *1 (E.D. Cal. 2005); Knutson v. Allis-Chalmers Corp., 358 F. Supp. 2d 983, 990 (D. Nev. 2005); Tortola Restaurants, L.P. v. Kimberly-Clark Corp., 987 F. Supp. 1186, 1188 (N.D. Cal. 1997); cf. Kelton Arms Condo. Homeowners Ass'n v. Homestead Ins. Co., 346 F.3d 1190, 1192-93 (9th Cir. 2003) (holding that a court may not sua sponte remand for procedural defects in removal but noting a distinction between procedural and jurisdictional defects and that a "district court must remand if it lacks jurisdiction").

"The presence or absence of federal question jurisdiction is governed by the 'well-pleaded complaint rule,' which provides that federal jurisdiction exists only when a federal question is presented on the face of the plaintiff's properly pleaded complaint." California v. United States, 215 F.3d 1005, 1014 (9th Cir. 2000); see Dynegy, 375 F.3d at 838; Duncan, 76 F.3d at 1485. Under the "well-pleaded complaint" rule, courts look to what "necessarily appears in the plaintiff's statement of his own claim in the bill or declaration, unaided by anything in anticipation of avoidance of defenses which it is thought the defendant may interpose."

California, 215 F.3d at 1014. Accordingly, "a case may not be removed on the basis of a federal defense . . . even if the defense is anticipated in the plaintiff's complaint and both parties concede that the federal defense is the only question truly at issue." Caterpillar, Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987); Wayne v. DHL Worldwide Express, 294 F.3d 1179, 1183 (9th Cir. 2002); see also Vaden v. Discover Bank, 129 S. Ct. 1262, 1278 (2009) ("It does not suffice to show that a federal question lurks somewhere inside the parties' controversy, or that a defense or counterclaim would arise under federal law.").

Here, Defendant has not shown that removal was appropriate. The complaint filed by Plaintiff is an unlawful detainer action that is based entirely on state law. As mentioned above, Defendant relies on his demurrer to establish federal jurisdiction. Defendant is attempting to remove this case on the basis of a federal defense. This is improper, as the defensive invocation of 12 U.S.C. § 5220 cannot form the basis of this Court's jurisdiction. See Vaden 129 S.Ct. at 1278; Caterpillar, 482 U.S. at 392; Wayne, 294 F.3d at 1183; California, 215 F.3d at 1014; Oates Revocable Trust Dated June 23, 2003 v. Rizon, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 95547 (C.D. Cal. Aug. 23, 2011). Because there is no federal question appearing in Plaintiff's complaint, Defendant has failed to invoke this Court's jurisdiction. Remand to the Kern County Superior Court is appropriate. 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c); Kelton Arms, 346 F.3d at 1192-93; Page, 45 F.3d at 133.

Accordingly, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that, as per 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c) due to this Court's lack of subject matter jurisdiction, this case is REMANDED forthwith to the Superior Court of Kern County.




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