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Deutsch Bank National Trust Co. v. Harrell

United States District Court, N.D. California

September 1, 2017

WALTER HARRELL, et al., Defendants.



         On August 28, 2017, Defendant Walter Harrell removed this unlawful detainer action from San Mateo 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.


         Plaintiff Deutsche Bank National Trust Company commenced this unlawful detainer action against Defendant in San Mateo County Superior Court on or around June 5, 2017. (Not. of Removal at 8.[1]) 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 Montara, California, which Defendant occupies.

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendants Walter Harrell and Bonnie Harrell defaulted on the payment of a promissory note, resulting in the property being sold to Plaintiff at public auction on January 17, 2017 to satisfy the obligations secured by the deed of trust. Id. at 9. On April 17, 2017, after Plaintiff's title was perfected, Plaintiff allegedly served a written notice on Defendants to quit within three days. Id. at 10. On June 5, 2017, Plaintiff filed the instant unlawful detainer suit in state court, and summons was issued. (Not. of Removal at 8.) On August 28, 2017, Defendant Walter Harrell removed the action to federal court on the grounds that it presents a federal question. (Id. at 2.)


         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).


         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 violated the federal Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act ("RESPA"). (Not. of Removal at 2.) Defendant purports to bring a lawsuit against Plaintiff based on this violation. Id. Defendant's counterclaims in an unlawful detainer action, however, are irrelevant for purposes of determining federal question jurisdiction. 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 Plaintiff violated RESPA does not establish federal question jurisdiction in this matter. Thus, Defendant's contention that there are federal questions at issue in this litigation is misplaced.

         Lastly, the limited scope of unlawful detainer proceedings precludes cross-complaints or counterclaims. See Knowles v. Robinson, 60 Cal. 2d 620, 626-27 (1963). Thus, to the extent that Defendants' assertions could be contained in any such filing, they ...

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