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Powell v. Darling

United States District Court, E.D. California

May 22, 2017

MICHAEL POWELL, Plaintiff,
v.
TOMERY DARLING, Defendant.

          ORDER AND FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

          DEBORAH BARNES UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         On February 22, 2017, defendant Tomery Darling filed a notice of removal of this action from the Placer County Superior Court along with an application to proceed in forma pauperis. (ECF Nos. 1 & 2.)[1] Defendant Darling is proceeding pro se. Accordingly, the matter has been referred to the undersigned for all purposes encompassed by Local Rule 302(c)(21).

         On February 27, 2017, the undersigned issued an order to show cause ordering defendant to show cause in writing within twenty-one days as to why this action should not be summarily remanded to the Placer County Superior Court due to a lack of subject matter jurisdiction. (ECF No. 3.) The twenty-one day period has passed. Although defendant has filed motions to vacate judgment and dismiss, defendant has not responded to the February 27, 2017 order to show cause. (ECF Nos. 4, 6, 8.)

         Jurisdiction is a threshold inquiry that must precede the adjudication of any case before the district court. Morongo Band of Mission Indians v. Cal. State Bd. of Equalization, 858 F.2d 1376, 1380 (9th Cir. 1988). Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction and may adjudicate only those cases authorized by federal law. Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994); Willy v. Coastal Corp., 503 U.S. 131, 136-37 (1992). “Federal courts are presumed to lack jurisdiction, ‘unless the contrary appears affirmatively from the record.'” Casey v. Lewis, 4 F.3d 1516, 1519 (9th Cir. 1993) (quoting Bender v. Williamsport Area Sch. Dist., 475 U.S. 534, 546 (1986)).

         Lack of subject matter jurisdiction may be raised by the court at any time during the proceedings. Attorneys Trust v. Videotape Computer Prods., Inc., 93 F.3d 593, 594-95 (9th Cir. 1996). A federal court “ha[s] an independent obligation to address sua sponte whether [it] has subject-matter jurisdiction.” Dittman v. California, 191 F.3d 1020, 1025 (9th Cir. 1999). It is the obligation of the district court “to be alert to jurisdictional requirements.” Grupo Dataflux v. Atlas Global Group, L.P., 541 U.S. 567, 593 (2004). Without jurisdiction, the district court cannot decide the merits of a case or order any relief. See Morongo, 858 F.2d at 1380.

         It is well established that the statutes governing removal jurisdiction must be “strictly construed against removal.” Libhart v. Santa Monica Dairy Co., 592 F.2d 1062, 1064 (9th Cir. 1979) (citing Shamrock Oil & Gas Corp. v. Sheets, 313 U.S. 100, 108 (1941)); see also Syngenta Crop Prot., Inc. v. Henson, 537 U.S. 28, 32 (2002); Provincial Gov't of Martinduque v. Placer Dome, Inc., 582 F.3d 1083, 1087 (9th Cir. 2009). “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). “‘The burden of establishing federal jurisdiction falls on the party invoking removal.'” Harris v. Provident Life & Accident Ins. Co., 26 F.3d 930, 932 (9th Cir. 1994) (quoting Gould v. Mut. Life Ins. Co., 790 F.2d 769, 771 (9th Cir.1986)); see also Provincial Gov't of Martinduque, 582 F.3d at 1087.

         The basic federal jurisdiction statutes are 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1332, which confer “federal question” and “diversity” jurisdiction, respectively. Federal jurisdiction may also be conferred by federal statutes regulating specific subject matter. “[T]he existence of federal jurisdiction depends solely on the plaintiff's claims for relief and not on anticipated defenses to those claims.” ARCO Envtl. Remediation, LLC v. Dep't of Health & Envtl. Quality, 213 F.3d 1108, 1113 (9th Cir. 2000).

         District courts have diversity jurisdiction only over “all civil actions where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs, ” and the action is between: “(1) citizens of different States; (2) citizens of a State and citizens or subjects of a foreign state; (3) citizens of different States and in which citizens or subjects of a foreign state are additional parties; and (4) a foreign state . . . as plaintiff and citizens of a State or of different States.” 28 U.S.C. § 1332. “To demonstrate citizenship for diversity purposes a party must (a) be a citizen of the United States, and (b) be domiciled in a state of the United States.” Lew v. Moss, 797 F.2d 747, 749 (9th Cir. 1986). “Diversity jurisdiction requires complete diversity between the parties-each defendant must be a citizen of a different state from each plaintiff.” In re Digimarc Corp. Derivative Litigation, 549 F.3d 1223, 1234 (9th Cir. 2008).

         Moreover, the domestic relations exception “divests the federal courts of power to issue divorce, alimony and child custody decrees.” Ankenbrandt v. Richards, 504 U.S. 689, 703 (1992). “Even when a federal question is presented, federal courts decline to hear disputes which would deeply involve them in adjudicating domestic matters.” Thompson v. Thompson, 798 F.2d 1547, 1558 (9th Cir.1986), aff'd, 484 U.S. 174 (1988); see also Tree Top v. Smith, 577 F.2d 519 (9th Cir. 1978) (declining to exercise jurisdiction over habeas petition seeking custody of child who had been adopted by others). In this regard, courts “traditionally decline to exercise jurisdiction in domestic relations cases when the core issue involves the status of parent and child or husband and wife.” Coats v. Woods, 819 F.2d 236, 237 (9th Cir. 1987); see also Peterson v. Babbitt, 708 F.2d 465, 466 (9th Cir. 1983) (same). “For that matter, the whole subject of domestic relations and particularly child custody problems is generally considered a state law matter.” Peterson, 708 F.2d at 466.

         Here, it appears that the court does not have federal question or diversity jurisdiction over this action. Moreover, the core issue involved in this action concerns state law matters pertaining to divorce and child custody. (ECF No. 1 at 4; ECF No. 11 at 6-8.)

         Accordingly, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that the April 24, 2017 motion to dismiss (ECF No. 8) is denied without prejudice to renewal.[2]

         Also, IT IS HEREBY RECOMMENDED that:

1. Defendant's February 22, 2017 motion to proceed in forma pauperis (ECF ...

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