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Federal National Mortgage Association v. Edwin D. Wheat

August 6, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gregory G. Hollows United States Magistrate Judge


This action was referred to the undersigned pursuant to E.D. Cal. L.R. 302(c)(21). It was removed from state court on July 10, 2012. A district court has "a duty to establish subject matter jurisdiction over [a] 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, 966 (9th Cir. 2004); see also Kelton Arms Condominium Assoc., Inc. v. Homestead Ins. Co., 346 F.3d 1190, 1192 (9th Cir. 2003). Having reviewed the notice of removal, the court finds that the action should be remanded to state court due to lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

I. Federal Question Jurisdiction

Removal jurisdiction statutes are strictly construed against removal. See Libhart v. Santa Monica Dairy Co., 592 F.2d 1062, 1064 (9th Cir. 1979). "Federal jurisdiction must be rejected if there is any doubt as to the right of removal in the first instance." Gaus v. Miles, 980 F.2d 564, 566 (9th Cir. 1992). "The burden of establishing federal jurisdiction falls on the party invoking removal." Harris v. Provident Life and Accident Ins. Co., 26 F.3d 930 (9th Cir. 1994), overruled on other grounds by Leeson v. Transamerica Disability Income Plan, 671 F.3d 969, 979 (9th Cir. 2012).

A plaintiff may bring suit in federal court if his claim "arises under" federal law. 28 U.S.C. § 1331. In that situation, the court has original jurisdiction. A state court defendant cannot invoke the federal court's original jurisdiction. But he may in some instances invoke the court's removal jurisdiction. The requirements to invoke removal jurisdiction are often identical to those for invoking its original jurisdiction. The requirements for both relate to the same end, that is, federal jurisdiction.

Removal of a state court action is proper only if it originally could have been filed in federal court. 28 U.S.C. § 1441. "[F]ederal courts have jurisdiction to hear, originally or by removal, only those cases in which a 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 Board v. Construction Laborers Vacation Trust, 463 U.S. 1, 27-28, 103 S. Ct. 2841, 2855-56 (1983). Mere reference to federal law is insufficient to permit removal. See Smith v. Industrial Valley Title Ins. Co., 957 F.2d 90, 93 (3d Cir. 1992). Also, defenses and counterclaims cannot provide a sufficient basis to remove an action to federal court. See Berg v. Leason, 32 F.3d 422, 426 (9th Cir. 1994); FIA Card Servs. v. McComas, 2010 WL 4974113 (S.D. Cal. Dec. 2, 2010) (remanding action removed by defendant on the basis that defendant's counterclaim raised a federal question).

II. Original Jurisdiction

Based on Fannie Mae's Federal Charter Courts are split over whether Fannie Mae's charter confers federal jurisdiction. In Pirelli v. Armstrong Tire Corporation Retiree Medical Benefits Trust v. Raines, 534 F.3d 779 (D.C. Cir. 2008), the court relied on American National Red Cross v. Solicitor General, 505 U.S. 247, 112 S.Ct. 2465 (1992), to so hold. Fannie Mae's charter provides for it "to sue and be sued, and to complain and to defend, in any court of competent jurisdiction, State or Federal." 12 U.S.C. § 1723a(a).*fn1 The Pirelli court found that this language was similar to the charter providing that the Red Cross was authorized "to sue and be sued in courts of law and equity, State or Federal, within the jurisdiction of the United States..." (Id. at 251.) See 36 U.S.C. § 300105(a)(5).

Other courts, however, have distinguished the enabling language of these statutes. For example, in Knuckles v. RBMG, Inc., 481 F.Supp.2d 559, 563 (S.D. W. Va. 2007), the court compared statutory construction in the Red Cross charter to that found in the Fannie Mae charter:

Under the canons of statutory construction each word in a statute should be given effect and linguistic superfluity avoided. Scheidler v. Nat'l Org. for Women, Inc., 547 U.S. 9, 126 S.Ct. 1264, 164 L.Ed.2d 10 (2006). Accordingly, the phrase "any court of competent jurisdiction, State or Federal," found in Fannie Mae's charter, but not in the charter of the Red Cross, must be given effect. For the phrase "any court of competent jurisdiction" to have any meaning it should be read as differentiating between state and federal courts that possess "competent" jurisdiction, i.e., an independent basis for jurisdiction, from those that do not. To conclude, as Fannie Mae suggests, that its charter could be read to confer original federal jurisdiction in all suits in which it is a party, notwithstanding the absence of an independent basis for federal jurisdiction, would effectively eliminate the phrase "of competent jurisdiction" from the charter. Stated differently, were the court to adopt Fannie Mae's reading of its charter, all federal courts would possess jurisdiction, regardless of competency.

The Knuckles court compared the same language which is found in the charter for the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, noting that courts have declined to construe it as creating a grant of federal jurisdiction. Id. See 12 U.S.C. §1702; C.H. Sanders Co. v. BHAP Hous. Dev. Fund Co., 903 F.2d 114, 118 (2nd Cir. 1990); Industrial Indem., Inc. v. Landrieu, 615 F.2d 644, 647 (5th Cir. 1980); Bor-Son Bldg. Corp. v. Heller, 572 F.2d 174, 181 (9th Cir. 1978); Lindy v. Lynn, 501 F.2d 1367, 1369 (3rd Cir. 1974).

In Rincon del Sol v. Lloyd's of London, 709 F.Supp.2d 517, 524 (S.D. Tex. 2010), the court reasoned that the language, "of competent jurisdiction," required an independent basis of jurisdiction, because to construe otherwise would render the emphasized language "to be sued in any court of competent jurisdiction, State or Federal," ineffectual as it would eliminate the right to sue Fannie Mae in state court. Rincon also noted the Pirelli court's acknowledgment that the Fannie Mae statute contained the words, "of competent jurisdiction," while the Red Cross charter did not. Id. at 523.

Other courts interpreting the Fannie Mae charter have come to the same conclusion. See Federal National Mortgage Ass'n v. Sealed, 457 F.Supp.2d 41(D.D.C. 2006), overruled by Pirelli, 534 F.3d at 785; Federal National Mortgage Ass'n v. De-Savineau, 2010 WL 3397027 (C. D. Cal. 2010); Federal National Mortgage Ass'n v. Bridgeman, 2010 WL 5330499 (E. D. Cal. 2010); State of Nevada v. Countrywide Home Loans Servicing, LP, 2011 WL 484298 (D. Nev. February 4, 2011) (finding that Fannie Mae's charter does not create jurisdiction but federal jurisdiction existed independently on other grounds).

In analogous statutory construction, courts have noted that where the Federal Home Loan Bank is a party, the "sue and be sued" provision in this bank's charter is nearly identical to that provision in Fannie Mae's charter, and have rejected any grant of original jurisdiction.*fn2 See Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago v. Bank of America Funding Corp., 760 F.Supp.2d 807, 809 (N.D. Ill. 2011); Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco v. Deutsche Bank Securities, Inc., 2010 WL 5394742 (N.D. Cal. 2010); Federal Home Loan Bank of Seattle v. Deutsche Bank Securities, ...

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