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Augustus v. Rusteen

United States District Court, N.D. California

June 6, 2017

MICHAEL AUGUSTUS, Plaintiff,
v.
CHRISTOPHER RUSTEEN, Defendant.

          ORDER REASSIGNING CASE TO A DISTRICT JUDGE; REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION TO REMAND TO STATE COURT; ORDER GRANTING IN FORMA PAUPERIS APPLICATION RE: DKT. NOS. 1 & 2

          KANDIS A. WESTMORE United States Magistrate Judge

         On May 10, 2017, Defendant Christopher Rusteen removed this unlawful detainer action from Sonoma County Superior Court, and applied to proceed in forma pauperis. (Not. of Removal, Dkt. No. 1; IFP Appl., Dkt. No. 2.)

         As removal is clearly improper, and the parties have not consented to the undersigned, for the reasons set forth below, the Court reassigns this case to a district judge and recommends that the case be remanded to state court. Additionally, the Court grants Defendant's application to proceed in forma pauperis.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Michael Augustus commenced this unlawful detainer action against Defendant in Sonoma County Superior Court on or around April 14, 2017. (Not. of Removal, Dkt. No. 1 ¶ 2.) The complaint contains a single cause of action for unlawful detainer. Id. The case is a “limited civil case, ” in which Plaintiff seeks immediate possession of a certain property located in Santa Rosa, California, which Defendant occupies.

         On April 10, 2017, Plaintiff allegedly served a written notice on Defendant to pay rent or quit within three days. (Dkt. No. 1 at 11.) On April 14, 2017, Plaintiff filed the instant unlawful detainer suit in state court. (Compl., Dkt. No. 1 at 7.) On April 25, 2017, Defendant filed an answer. (Dkt. No. 1 at 13.) On May 10, 2017, Defendant removed the action to federal court on the grounds that it presents a federal question. (Not. of Removal at 2.)

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Federal courts exercise limited jurisdiction. A “federal court is presumed to lack jurisdiction in a particular case unless the contrary affirmatively appears.” Stock W., Inc. v. Confederated Tribes, 873 F.2d 1221, 1225 (9th Cir. 1989) (citation omitted). A defendant may remove a civil action from state court to federal court if original jurisdiction would have existed at the time the complaint was filed. See 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). “[R]emoval statutes are strictly construed against removal.” Luther v. Countrywide Homes Loans Servicing, LP, 533 F.3d 1031, 1034 (9th Cir. 2008). “Federal jurisdiction must be rejected if there is any doubt as to the right of removal in the first instance, ” such that courts must resolve all doubts as to removability in favor of remand. Gaus v. Miles, Inc., 980 F.2d 564, 566 (9th Cir. 1992). The burden of establishing that federal jurisdiction exists is on the party seeking removal. See Id. at 566-67.

         Federal district courts have original jurisdiction over actions that present a federal question or those based on diversity jurisdiction. See Wayne v. DHL Worldwide Express, 294 F.3d 1179, 1183 & n.2 (9th Cir. 2002). Federal district courts have federal question jurisdiction over "all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Federal question jurisdiction is governed by the well-pleaded complaint rule, which provides that the basis for federal jurisdiction must appear on the face of the properly pleaded complaint, either because the complaint directly raises an issue of federal law or because the plaintiff's "right to relief under state law requires resolution of a substantial question of federal law in dispute between the parties." Franchise Tax Bd. of Cal. v. Constr. Laborers Vacation Trust for S. Cal., 463 U.S. 1, 13 (1983). "[A] case may not be removed to federal court on the basis of a federal defense . . ., even if the defense is anticipated in the plaintiff's complaint . . . ." Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 393 (1987) (citation omitted).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Defendant removed this unlawful detainer action from state court on the grounds that the district court has jurisdiction because the case presents a federal question.

         A. Federal Question Jurisdiction

         Defendant claims that a federal question exists because Plaintiff allegedly served a defective three day notice to pay rent or quit, which he contends violates the Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act. (Not. of Removal ¶ 8.) Defendant's rights in an unlawful detainer action, however, depend on the interpretation of state law. Further, Defendant has not shown why the resolution of Plaintiff's unlawful detainer claim will turn on a substantial question of federal law. The complaint, therefore, fails to present a federal question or a substantial question of federal law.

         Moreover, the well-pleaded complaint rule prevents the Court from considering any additional claims, such that a defendant cannot create federal question jurisdiction by adding claims or defenses to a notice of removal. See Provincal Gov't of Marinduque v. Placer Dome, Inc., 582 F.3d 1083, 1086 (9th Cir. 2009); see also McAtee v. Capital One, F.S.B., 479 F.3d 1143, 1145 (9th Cir. 2007) (even previously asserted counterclaims raising federal issue will not permit removal). Accordingly, Defendant's claim that service of the three-day notice was defective does not ...


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