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Con Am Management Corporation v. Ramirez

United States District Court, E.D. California

June 6, 2014

ARMANDO RAMIREZ, et al., Defendants.


JENNIFER L. THURSTON, Magistrate Judge.

Armando Ramirez seeks removal of an unlawful detainer action filed in Kern County Superior Court. (Doc. 1). Because the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the complaint, the action is REMANDED to Kern County Superior Court.

1. Factual and Procedural History

On December 31, 2013, Plaintiff Con Am Management Corporation filed a complaint against Armando Ramirez and Socorro Reina Maduena for unlawful detainer in Kern County Superior Court, Case No. D-1503-CL-14015.[1] The defendants failed to file an answer or otherwise respond to the complaint. ( See Doc. 1 at 2.) Therefore, Plaintiff requested the entry of default on February 11, 2014. ( See Doc. 1 at 7-8.) The Clerk of Court granted default judgment, and a writ of possession for the property was issued. ( See Doc. 1 at 5.)

On June 5, 2014, Armando Ramirez ("Defendant") filed a Notice of Removal and a motion to proceed in forma pauperis, thereby attempting to initiate the action in this Court. (Docs. 1-2.)

II. Removal Jurisdiction

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a), a defendant has the right to remove a matter to federal court where the district court would have original jurisdiction. Caterpillar, Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 286, 392 (1987). Specifically,

Except otherwise expressly provided by Act of Congress, 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 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). District courts have "original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States." Id. at § 1331.

A party seeking removal must file a notice of removal of a civil action within thirty days of receipt of a copy of the initial pleading. Id. at § 1446(b). Removal statutes are to be strictly construed, and any doubts are to be resolved in favor of state court jurisdiction and remand. See Gaus v. Miles, 980 F.2d 564, 566 (9th Cir. 1992). The party seeking removal bears the burden of proving its propriety. Duncan v. Stuetzle, 76 F.3d 1480, 1485 (9th Cir. 1996); Abrego v. Dow Chem. Co., 443 F.3d 676, 683-85 (9th Cir. 2006); see also Calif. ex. rel. Lockyer v. Dynegy, Inc., 2274 F.3d 831, 838 ("the burden of establishing federal jurisdiction falls to the party invoking the statute"). If there is any doubt as to the right of removal, "federal jurisdiction must be rejected." Duncan, 76 F.3d at 1485.

The 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, 967 (9th Cir. 2004); see also Kelton Arms Condo. Homeowners Ass'n v. Homestead Ins. Co., 346 F.3d 1190, 1192-93 (9th Cir. 2003) (noting a distinction between procedural and jurisdictional defects and holding that a "district court must remand if it lacks jurisdiction"). Thus, the Sixth Circuit explained a 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).

III. Discussion and Analysis

A. The Court lacks jurisdiction over the complaint

The determination of subject matter 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." Caterpillar, 482 U.S. at 392. Therefore, the complaint must establish "either that [1] federal law creates the cause of action or that [2] the plaintiff's right to relief necessarily depends on resolution of a substantial question of federal law." Williston Basin Interstate Pipeline Co. v. An Exclusive Gas Storage Leasehold & Easement, 524 F.3d 1090, 1100 (9th Cir. 2008) (quoting Franchise Tax Bd. v. Constr. Laborers Vacation Trust, 463 U.S. 1, 27-28 (1983)).

Here, Defendant has not provided a copy of the complaint filed by Con Am Management Corporation. However, the Kern County Superior Court case docket indicates the case was for "unlawful detainer, " as does Defendant's Notice of Removal. ( See Doc. 1 at 2.) Significantly, an unlawful detainer action does not arise under federal law, but arises instead under state law. See Fannie Mae v. Suarez, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 82300, at *6 (E.D. Cal. July 27, 2011) ("Unlawful detainer actions are strictly within the province of state court"); Deutsche Bank Nat'l Trust Co v. Leonardo, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 83854, at *2 (C.D. Cal. Aug. 1, 2011) ("the complaint only asserts a claim for unlawful detainer, a cause of action that is purely a matter of state law").

Defendant attempts to invoke this Court's removal jurisdiction under 28 USC § 1443. This section reads,

Any of the following civil actions or criminal prosecutions, commenced in a State court may be removed by the defendant to the district court of the United States for the district and division embracing the place wherein it is pending:
(1) Against any person who is denied or cannot enforce in the courts of such State a right under any law providing for the equal civil rights of citizens of the United States, or of all persons within the jurisdiction thereof;
(2) For any act under color of authority derived from any law providing for equal rights, or for refusing to do any act on the ground that it would be inconsistent with such law.

(Emphasis added) The mere fact that Mendoza asserts that he was not served with the summons and complaint in the state court action is insufficient to invoke this Court's jurisdiction. Defendant must dispute this within the state court system either through application to the trial court or to the Court of Appeal. Notably, Defendant has not shown-and cannot show-that his rights cannot be vindicated in the state court.

On the other hand, "the equal rights of citizens, " in the section recited above, refers to specific laws which assure racial equality; it does not refer to every right guaranteed under federal law. Neal v. Wilson, 920 F.Supp. 976, 984 (D.Ark.1996); Friend v. Kreger, 1998 WL 242685 at *1 (N.D. Cal. May 7, 1998). Thus, a denial of due process alone does implicate federal court jurisdiction. Therefore, because Plaintiff's complaint did not raise a claim that invokes federal subject matter jurisdiction, removal is improper.

B. Relief may not be granted under the Rooker-Feldman Doctrine

Under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, a party may not seek appellate review in federal court of a decision or judgment made by a state court. See Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413 (1923); D.C. Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462 (1983). The Ninth Circuit explained,

Typically, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine bars federal courts from exercising subject-matter jurisdiction over a proceeding in which a party losing in state court seeks what in substance would be appellate review of the state judgment in a United States district court, based on the losing party's claim that the state judgment itself violates the losers federal rights.

Doe v. Mann, 415 F.3d 1038, 1041-42 (9th Cir. 2005); see also Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 284 (2005) (the Rooker-Feldman doctrine precludes a district court from appellate review of "cases brought by state-court losers complaining of injuries caused by state-court judgments rendered before the district court proceeding commenced..."). Accordingly, the district court lacks jurisdiction over "claims... inextricably intertwined' with the state court's decision such that the adjudication of the federal claims would undercut the state ruling." Bianchi v. Rylaarsdam, 334 F.3d 895, 898 (9th Cir. 2003) (citing Feldman, 460 U.S. at 483, 485)).

Here, judgment was entered against Defendant by the state court. Defendant claims that during the trial court proceedings, he was denied due process. However, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine "prohibits a federal district court from exercising subject matter jurisdiction over a suit that is a de facto appeal from a state court judgment." Reusser v. Wachovia Bank, N.A., 525 F.3d 855, 859 (9th Cir. 2008) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). Consequently, the Court lacks in this matter.

IV. Conclusion and Order

Because the Court does not have subject matter jurisdiction over the action for unlawful detainer, the matter must be remanded. See 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c) ("If at any time before final judgment it appears that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the case shall be remanded"); see also Kelton Arms Condo. Homeowners Ass'n, 346 F.3d at 1192-93 ("district court must remand if it lacks jurisdiction"). Accordingly, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED:

1. The matter is REMANDED to the Superior Court of Kern County; and
2. Defendant's motion to proceed in forma pauperis is terminated as MOOT; and
3. The Clerk of Court is DIRECTED to close this matter, because this Order terminates the action in its entirety.


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