United States District Court, S.D. California
ORDER: (1) REMANDING ACTION FOR LACK OF SUBJECT
MATTER JURISDICTION; AND (2) TERMINATING MOTION TO PROCEED IN
FORMA PAUPERIS (ECF NO. 2)
CYNTHIA BASHANT, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
February 22, 2018, Alexia Martinez removed this matter to
federal court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1441 and
1446 based on federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C.
§ 1331. (ECF No. 1.) On the same day, Ms. Martinez filed
a motion seeking leave to proceed in forma pauperis.
(ECF No. 2.)
addresses the issue of subject matter jurisdiction first, as
“[t]he requirement that jurisdiction be established as
a threshold matter ‘spring[s] from the nature and
limits of the judicial power of the United States and is
‘inflexible and without exception.'”
Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env't, 523
U.S. 83, 94-95 (1998) (quoting Mansfield, C. & L.M.
Ry. Co. v. Swan, 111 U.S. 379, 382 (1884)).
“Federal courts are courts of limited
jurisdiction.” Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co.
of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). “They possess
only that power authorized by Constitution and statute, which
is not to be expanded by judicial decree.” Id.
(internal citations omitted). “It is to be presumed
that a cause lies outside this limited jurisdiction, and the
burden of establishing the contrary rests upon the party
asserting jurisdiction.” Id. (internal
citations omitted); see also Abrego Abrego v. Dow Chem.
Co., 443 F.3d 676, 684 (9th Cir. 2006).
with the limited jurisdiction of federal courts, the removal
statute is strictly construed against removal jurisdiction.
Gaus v. Miles, Inc., 980 F.2d 564, 566 (9th Cir.
1992); see also Sygenta Crop Prot. v. Henson, 537
U.S. 28, 32 (2002); O'Halloran v. Univ. of
Wash., 856 F.2d 1375, 1380 (9th Cir. 1988). “The
‘strong presumption' against removal jurisdiction
means that the defendant always has the burden of
establishing that removal is proper.” Gaus,
980 F.2d at 566; see also Nishimoto v. Federman-Bachrach
& Assoc., 903 F.2d 709, 712 n.3 (9th Cir. 1990);
O'Halloran, 856 F.2d at 1380. “Federal
jurisdiction must be rejected if there is any doubt as to the
right of removal in the first instance.” Gaus,
980 F.2d at 566.
well-established that “a district court's duty to
establish subject matter jurisdiction is not contingent upon
the parties' arguments.” See United Inv'rs
Life Ins. Co. v. Waddell & Reed Inc., 360 F.3d 960,
966 (9th Cir. 2004). Courts may consider the issue sua
sponte. Demery v. Kupperman, 735 F.2d 1139,
1149 n.8 (9th Cir. 1984). Indeed, the Supreme Court has
emphasized that “district courts have an
‘independent obligation to address subject-matter
jurisdiction sua sponte.'” Grupo
Dataflux v. Atlas Glob. Grp., L.P., 541 U.S. 567, 593
(2004) (quoting United States v. S. Cal. Edison Co.,
300 F.Supp.2d 964, 972 (E.D. Cal. 2004)).
case removed here is a residential unlawful detainer action.
(Compl. - Unlawful Detainer, Notice of Removal Ex. A, ECF No.
1-3.) It contains one cause of action for unlawful detainer
brought pursuant to California Code of Civil Procedure
section 1161. (Id.) Ms. Martinez, however, is not
specifically named as a defendant in the Complaint. (See
id.) The removal statute provides that an action
“may be removed by the defendant or the
defendants.” 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). Therefore, if
Ms. Martinez is not a defendant, she cannot use the removal
statute. See id.; see also, e.g.,
Concilio Evangelico de Puerto Rico v. Negron, 178
F.Supp.2d 49, 52 (D.P.R. 2001) (noting whether the party
seeking to remove the case is a defendant “is crucial,
for only a defendant may properly remove a case to federal
being said, the Complaint names unidentified “Doe
Defendants.” (Compl. - Unlawful Detainer.) It appears
Ms. Martinez is one. (See Notice of Removal
¶¶ 1, 17.) She alleges she has the right to possess
the property because she was a tenant of the property's
prior owner-Defendant David Lababit. (Id.; see
also Prejudgment Claim of Right of Possession, ECF No.
1-3 at 10-12.) Thus, given that Plaintiff's Complaint
seeks to evict any person who is in possession of the
premises, the Court construes the Complaint as naming Ms.
Martinez as one of the unidentified Doe Defendants.
that issue addressed, the Court notes that Ms. Martinez seeks
to remove this action from state court based upon federal
question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Section
1331 provides that “district courts shall have original
jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the
Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.”
28 U.S.C. § 1331. “[T]he presence or absence of
federal-question jurisdiction is governed by the
‘well-pleaded complaint rule, ' which provides that
federal jurisdiction exists only when a federal question is
presented on the face of the plaintiff's properly pleaded
complaint.” Rivet v. Regions Bank of La., 522
U.S. 470, 475 (1998) (quoting Caterpillar Inc. v.
Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987)). A federal
“defense is not part of a plaintiff's properly
pleaded statement of his or her claim.” Id.
(citing Metro. Life Ins. Co. v. Taylor, 481 U.S. 58,
(1987)). A case, therefore, may not be removed to federal
court based on a federal defense “even if the defense
is anticipated in the plaintiff's complaint, and even if
both parties admit that the defense is the only question
truly at issue in the case.” Franchise Tax Bd.
of Cal. v. Constr. Laborers Vacation Tr. for S.
Cal., 463 U.S. 1, 14 (1983); see also Rivet,
522 U.S. at 475.
mentioned, this case is a residential unlawful detainer
action. Hence, the action arises exclusively under California
state law. Ms. Martinez argues in her Notice of Removal that
a federal question exists because she believes federal law
prevents her eviction. (Notice of Removal ¶¶ 5-14.)
The Court is not convinced that federal question jurisdiction
exists. Plaintiff's Complaint does not raise a federal
issue. At best, Ms. Martinez raises a federal defense to
Plaintiff's action. But, even if true, this Court lacks
federal question jurisdiction under the well-pleaded
complaint rule. See Rivet, 522 U.S. at 475; see
also, e.g., Wells Fargo Bank NA v. Zimmerman,
No. 2:15-cv-08268-CAS-MRWx, 2015 WL 6948576, at *4 (C.D. Cal.
Nov. 10, 2015) (remanding unlawful detainer action to state
court); McGee v. Seagraves, No.
06-CV-0495-MCE-GGH-PS, 2006 WL 2014142, at *3 (E.D. Cal. July
17, 2006) (same). Plaintiff can raise her defense in state
court, but she cannot rely on it to remove this action to
this Court. See, e.g., Aurora Loan Servs., LLC.
v. Martinez, No. C10-01260 HRL, 2010 WL 1266887, at *1
(N.D. Cal. Mar. 29, 2010).
Ms. Martinez fails to meet her burden of establishing this
Court's jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Thus,
the Court REMANDS this action to the San Diego Superior Court
for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. See 28
U.S.C. § 1447(c) (“If at any time before final
judgment it appears that the district court lacks subject
matter jurisdiction, the case shall be remanded.”).
Further, because the Court lacks jurisdiction over this case,
the Court TERMINATES Ms. Martinez's motion to proceed
in forma pauperis (ECF No. 2).
addition, the Court warns Ms. Martinez that any further
attempt to remove this action without an “objectively
reasonable basis for removal” may result in an award of
attorneys' fees for Plaintiff. See Martin v.
Franklin Capital Corp., 546 U.S. 132, 136 (2005); 28
U.S.C. § 1447(c); see also Wells Fargo Bank
Nat'l Ass'n v. Vann, No. 13-cv-01148-YGR, 2013
WL 1856711, at *2 (N.D. Cal. May 2, 2013) (awarding $5,
000.00 in attorneys' fees pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §