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Knott v. Caliber Home Loans Inc.

United States District Court, C.D. California

June 26, 2015

Anwar S. Knott,
v.
Caliber Home Loans Inc, et al.

CIVIL MINUTES - GENERAL

PERCY ANDERSON, District Judge.

Proceedings: IN CHAMBERS - COURT ORDER

Before the Court is a Notice of Removal filed by defendants Caliber Home Loans, Inc. and U.S. Bank Trust N.A., as trustee for LSF8 Master Participation Trust (erroneously sued as U.S. Bancorp Inc., dba U.S. Bank Trust N.A., as Trustee for LSF8 Master Participation Trust) (collectively, "Defendants"). In their Notice of Removal, Defendants assert that this Court has jurisdiction over the action brought against them by plaintiff Anwar S. Knott ("Plaintiff") based on the Court's diversity jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332.

I. Legal Standard

Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, having subject matter jurisdiction only over matters authorized by the Constitution and Congress. See, e.g., Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co., 511 U.S. 375, 377, 114 S.Ct. 1673, 1675, 128 L.Ed.2d 391 (1994). A suit filed in state court may be removed to federal court if the federal court would have had original jurisdiction over the suit. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). A removed action must be remanded to state court if the federal court lacks subject matter jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). "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 (U.S.) Inc., 167 F.3d 1261, 1265 (9th Cir. 1999). "Federal jurisdiction must be rejected if there is any doubt as to the right of removal in the first instance." Gaus v. Miles, Inc., 980 F.2d 564, 566 (9th Cir. 1992).

In attempting to invoke this Court's diversity jurisdiction, Defendants must prove that there is complete diversity of citizenship between the parties and that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000. 28 U.S.C. § 1332. To establish citizenship for diversity purposes, a natural person must be a citizen of the United States and be domiciled in a particular state. Kantor v. Wellesley Galleries, Ltd., 704 F.2d 1088, 1090 (9th Cir. 1983). Persons are domiciled in the places they reside with the intent to remain or to which they intend to return. See Kanter v. Warner-Lambert Co., 265 F.3d 853, 857 (9th Cir. 2001). "A person residing in a given state is not necessarily domiciled there, and thus is not necessarily a citizen of that state." Id . For the purposes of diversity jurisdiction, a national bank is "a citizen of the State in which its main office, as set forth in its articles of association, is located." Wachovia Bank v. Schmidt, 546 U.S. 303, 307, 126 S.Ct. 941, 945, 163 L.Ed.2d 797 (2006) (construing 28 U.S.C. § 1348). The citizenship of an LLC is the citizenship of its members. See Johnson v. Columbia Props. Anchorage, LP, 437 F.3d 894, 899 (9th Cir. 2006) ("[L]ike a partnership, an LLC is a citizen of every state of which its owners/members are citizens."); Marseilles Hydro Power, LLC v. Marseilles Land & Water Co., 299 F.3d 643, 652 (7th Cir. 2002) ("the relevant citizenship [of an LLC] for diversity purposes is that of the members, not of the company"); Handelsman v. Bedford Village Assocs., Ltd. P'ship, 213 F.3d 48, 51-52 (2d Cir. 2000) ("a limited liability company has the citizenship of its membership"); Cosgrove v. Bartolotta, 150 F.3d 729, 731 (7th Cir. 1998); TPS Utilicom Servs., Inc. v. AT & T Corp., 223 F.Supp.2d 1089, 1101 (C.D. Cal. 2002) ("A limited liability company... is treated like a partnership for the purpose of establishing citizenship under diversity jurisdiction.").

One exception to the complete diversity requirement is "nominal party" status. "Defendants who are nominal parties with nothing at stake may be disregarded in determining diversity, despite the propriety of their technical joinder." Strotek Corp. v. Air Transport Ass'n of America, 300 F.3d 1129, 1133 (9th Cir. 2002) (citing Prudential Real Estate Affiliates, Inc. v. PPR Realty, Inc., 204 F.3d 867, 873 (9th Cir. 2000)). "Removing Defendants bear the burden of proving a defendant is a nominal party." Latino v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 2011 WL 4928880, at *2 (E.D. Cal. Oct.17, 2011).

The Ninth Circuit has also recognized an exception to the complete diversity requirement where a non-diverse defendant has been "fraudulently joined." Morris v. Princess Cruises, Inc., 236 F.3d 1061, 1067 (9th Cir. 2001). If a plaintiff "fails to state a cause of action against a resident defendant, and the failure is obvious according to the settled rules of the state, the joinder of the resident defendant is fraudulent." McCabe v. Gen. Foods Corp., 811 F.2d 1336, 1339 (9th Cir. 1987). If the Court finds that the joinder of a non-diverse defendant is fraudulent, that defendant's presence in the lawsuit is ignored for the purposes of determining diversity. See, e.g., Morris, 236 F.3d at 1067.

"There is a presumption against finding fraudulent joinder, and defendants who assert that plaintiff has fraudulently joined a party carry a heavy burden of persuasion." Plute v. Roadway Package Sys., Inc., 141 F.Supp.2d 1005, 1008 (N.D. Cal. 2001). A claim of fraudulent joinder should be denied if there is any possibility that the plaintiff may prevail on the cause of action against the in-state defendant. See id. at 1008, 1012. "The standard is not whether plaintiffs will actually or even probably prevail on the merits, but whether there is a possibility that they may do so." Lieberman v. Meshkin, Mazandarani, No. C-96-3344 SI, 1996 WL 732506, at *3 (N.D. Cal. Dec. 11, 1996); see also Good v. Prudential Ins. Co. of Am., 5 F.Supp.2d 804, 807 (N.D. Cal. 1998) ("[T]he defendant must demonstrate that there is no possibility that the plaintiff will be able to establish a cause of action in State court against the alleged sham defendant."). "In determining whether a defendant was joined fraudulently, the court must resolve all disputed questions of fact and all ambiguities in the controlling state law in favor of the non-removing party.'" Plute, 141 F.Supp.2d at 1008 (quoting Dodson v. Spiliada, 951 F.2d 40, 42-43 (5th Cir. 1992)). A court should remand a case "unless the defendant shows that the plaintiff would not be afforded leave to amend his complaint to cure [the] purported deficiency.'" Padilla v. AT&T Corp., 697 F.Supp.2d 1156, 1159 (C.D. Cal. 2009) (quoting Burris v. AT&T Wireless, Inc., No. C 06-02904 JSW, 2006 WL 2038040, at *2 (N.D. Cal. July 19, 2006)).

II. Analysis

According to the Notice of Removal, there is complete diversity among the parties because defendant Cal-Western Reconveyance LLC ("Cal-Western") "is to be ignored for purposes of diversity jurisdiction analysis because it is... a nominal and fraudulently joined party." (Notice of Removal at 2.) However, Defendants' efforts to have this Court ignore the California citizenship of Cal-Western are insufficient to allow removal based on diversity jurisdiction. Further, Defendants have also failed to establish Plaintiff's citizenship.

A. Plaintiff's Citizenship

The Notice of Removal, citing the Complaint, alleges "Plaintiff is a citizen of California, Caliber is a citizen of Delaware and Texas, and U.S. Bank is a citizen of only Delaware." (Notice of Removal at 1.) The Complaint, however, only alleges Plaintiff's residence and ownership of a home in Bellflower, California. (Compl. ¶ 1.) The only support for Defendants' allegation of Plaintiff's citizenship is an allegation of residence. However, residence is not the same as citizenship. Therefore, the Notice of Removal's allegations are insufficient to establish Plaintiff's citizenship. "Absent unusual circumstances, a party seeking to invoke diversity jurisdiction should be able to allege affirmatively the actual citizenship of the relevant parties." Kanter, 265 F.3d at 857; Bradford v. Mitchell Bros. Truck Lines, 217 F.Supp. 525, 527 (N.D. ...


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