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David Gregory v. Melinda Griswold


April 11, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: The Honorable S. James Otero, United States District Judge

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Victor Paul Cruz Courtroom Clerk


Not Present

Not Present Court Reporter


Not Present


This matter comes before the Court on Defendant Elizabeth Martinelli's ("Martinelli") Notice of Removal filed on February 15, 2012. For the following reasons, the Court REMANDS this action to Ventura County Superior Court.


Plaintiff David Gregory who is trustee of the Gregory Family Trust ("Plaintiff") alleges that it is the owner of real property located at 451 Appian Way in Ventura, California (the "Property").*fn1 (Notice of Removal ("Notice") Ex. C ("Compl.") ¶ 2, Feb. 15, 2012, ECF No. 1.) Martinelli is a resident of the Property, and Melinda Griswold and Paul M. Griswold (collectively, the "Griswolds") were the former owners of the Property. (Compl. ¶¶ 2, 17; Notice Ex. A ("Prejudgment Claim").)

Plaintiff's Complaint alleges the following facts against Melinda and Paul Griswold. Plaintiff acquired the Property on November 30, 2011, at a foreclosure sale. (Compl. ¶ 5.) On January 6, 2012, Plaintiff served the Griswolds with a written notice that required them to vacate the Property within three days ("Three Day Notice to Quit") and deliver possession to Plaintiff. (Compl. ¶¶ 7, 9.) The Three Day Notice to Quit was posted on the Property and mailed to the Griswolds. (Compl. ¶ 8.) Pursuant to the Three Day Notice to Quit, Plaintiff was to take possession of the Property on January 10, 2012, but on that day, the Griswolds failed to relinquish possession the Property. (Compl. ¶¶ 10-11.)

On January 10, 2012, Plaintiff filed a Complaint for unlawful detainer against the Griswolds in Ventura County Superior Court. (See generally Compl.) Plaintiff seeks: (1) immediate possession of the Property; (2) declaration of forfeiture of any existing rental agreement; (3) damages at a rate of $86.67 per day commencing from January 10, 2012; and (4) costs of suit. (Compl., Prayer for Relief.) On January 23, 2012, Martinelli filed a Prejudgment Claim of Right to Possession, thereby adding herself as a defendant to the action. (Prejudgment Claim.)

On February 15, 2012, Martinelli, representing herself pro se, removed the action to federal court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441 on the basis of federal question jurisdiction.*fn2 (Notice ¶ 5.)


A. Sua Sponte Consideration of Subject Matter Jurisdiction

The Court raises the issue of subject matter jurisdiction sua sponte. "If at any time before final judgment it appears that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction," the district court is mandated to remand the case. See 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). The Ninth Circuit has held that "a court may raise the question of subject matter jurisdiction, sua sponte, at any time during the pendency of the action." Snell v. Cleveland, Inc., 316 F.3d 822, 826 (9th Cir. 2002). As such, the Court finds it appropriate to determine whether subject matter jurisdiction exists.

B. Legal Standard for Removal

Under this Court's removal jurisdiction, "any 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 the defendants, to the district court of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). The Ninth Circuit "strictly construe[s] the removal statute against removal jurisdiction." Gaus v. Miles, Inc., 980 F.2d 564, 566 (9th Cir. 1992). This "strong presumption" against removal to federal district court means "that the defendant always has the burden of establishing that removal is proper." Id. (citing Nishimoto v. Federman-Bachrach & Assocs., 903 F.2d 709, 712 n.3 (9th Cir. 1990)).

C. Federal Question Jurisdiction

Martinelli asserts that this Court has subject matter jurisdiction over this action based on federal question jurisdiction. (Notice ¶ 5.) Martinelli argues that the Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act ("PTFA") preempts California law as to foreclosure (Notice ¶ 6), and because of the preemption, Plaintiff is required to plead a federal cause of action against Defendants pursuant to the PTFA. (Notice ¶¶ 6-7.) On the premise that the PTFA preempts California law, Martinelli contends that Plaintiff's Three Day Notice to Quit failed to comply with the PTFA. (Notice ¶ 7.)

Under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, federal courts have "original jurisdiction" over "all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 1331. A case "arises under" federal law if a plaintiff's "well-pleaded complaint establishes either that federal law creates the cause of action" or that the "plaintiff's right to relief necessarily depends on resolution of a substantial question of federal law." Franchise Tax Bd. v. Constr. Laborers Vacation Trust for S. , 463 U.S. 1, 27-28 (1983); see Empire Healthchoice Assurance, Inc. v. McVeigh, 547 U.S. 677, 689-90 (2006). Pursuant to the well-pleaded complaint rule, a case may not be removed to federal court on the basis of a federal defense, including the defense of preemption, to a state-law See Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 393 (1987); Botsford v. Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mont., Inc., 314 F.3d 390, 393 (9th Cir. 2002). The well-pleaded complaint rule makes a plaintiff the "master of his complaint" and a plaintiff may avoid federal jurisdiction by pleading only state-law claims. Balcorta v. Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp., 208 F.3d 1102, 1106 (9th Cir. 2000).

Here, Plaintiff's claim does not present a federal question or turn on the construction of federal law. Plaintiff's unlawful detainer claim is based strictly on California law. (See generally Compl.) Martinelli's arguments that the PTFA preempts California law and that the Three Day Notice to Quit must comply with PTFA is best characterized as a federal defense or potential counterclaim, neither of which is considered when determining federal question jurisdiction.*fn3 See Valles v. Ivy Hill Corp., 410 F.3d 1071, 1075 (9th Cir. 2005) ("A federal law defense to a state-law claim does not confer jurisdiction on a federal court, even if the defense is that of federal preemption and is anticipated in the plaintiff's complaint.").

Martinelli also argues that she is not presenting Plaintiff's alleged violation of the PTFA as a defense; she avers that because she is protected under the PTFA, Plaintiff may only evict her by pleading causes of action pursuant to the PTFA. (Compl. ¶ 8, 13.) Martinelli states that "Plaintiff cannot state a cause of action to remove such a tenant without framing the prima facie case in the language of the PTFA." (Compl. ¶ 13.) However, Martinelli's argument ignores the fact that Plaintiff can assert whichever causes of action he chooses. Martinelli's assertion that Plaintiff is required to state a PTFA cause of action is contrary to the well-pleaded complaint rule.

Because Plaintiff's Complaint does not contain a federal question arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States, this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over this action.


For the foregoing reasons, the Court REMANDS the instant action to Venutra County Superior


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