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Dyer v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A.

United States District Court, C.D. California

July 28, 2016

Victor Dyer
v.
Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., et al.

          Present: The Honorable PERCY ANDERSON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

          IN CHAMBERS - COURT ORDER

          The Honorable PERCY ANDERSON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is a Notice of Removal filed by defendant Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., successor by merger with Wells Fargo Bank Southwest, N.A., f/k/a Wachovia Mortgage, FSB, f/k/a World Savings Bank, FSB (“Wells Fargo”). In its Notice of Removal, Wells Fargo asserts that this Court has jurisdiction over the action brought against it by plaintiff Victor Dyer (“Plaintiff”) based on the Court’s diversity jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332.

         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, Wells Fargo 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”).

         The Notice of Removal alleges that “Plaintiff is a California citizen, based on domicile, as he pleads ownership of a home . . . [in] Inglewood, California . . . . (Comp. ¶¶ 2, 3, 39).” (Notice of Removal: 2:20-22.) The Notice of Removal additionally alleges that Plaintiff maintained a Wells Fargo checking account listing his Inglewood address and that, “[u]pon information and belief, ” Plaintiff “resides in California with the intention to remain indefinitely.” (Notice of Removal: 3:1-5.) As the Notice of Removal indicates, the Complaint, alleges only Plaintiff’s residence and ownership of a home in Inglewood, California. Because the only support for Wells Fargo’s allegation of Plaintiff’s citizenship is an allegation of residence, and residence is not the same as citizenship, 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. Cal. 1963) (“A petition [for removal] alleging diversity of citizenship upon information and belief is insufficient.”). As a result, Wells Fargo’s allegations are insufficient to invoke this Court’s diversity jurisdiction.

         The Court additionally notes that Wells Fargo’s efforts to have this Court ignore the California citizenship of defendant Morgan Picks1, LLC, are insufficient to allow removal based on diversity jurisdiction. According to the Notice of Removal, the Complaint alleges that Morgan Picks1 maintains its principal place of business in California. (Notice of Removal 6:12-14.) While this allegation does not properly allege the citizenship of the LLC, Wells Fargo assumes that Morgan Picks1 is a California citizen but nevertheless contends that the Court should ignore the presence of Morgan Picks1 because it has been fraudulently joined. The Ninth Circuit has 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)).

         At least on this record, this Court cannot conclude that Plaintiff would not be afforded leave to amend his Complaint to state a viable claim against Morgan Picks1. Wells Fargo has therefore failed to meet its burden to establish that Morgan Picks1 is fraudulently joined, and the Court will not ignore its citizenship for purposes of evaluating whether diversity jurisdiction exists. Because the Court cannot ignore its citizenship as a purported nominal defendant, the Court concludes that Wells Fargo has not established that the citizenship of Morgan Picks1 is diverse from Plaintiff.

         For all of the foregoing reasons, Wells Fargo has failed to meet its burden to demonstrate the Court’s diversity jurisdiction. Accordingly, the Court remands this action to Los Angeles ...


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