United States District Court, E.D. California
ORDER SUA SPONTE REMANDING ACTION TO KERN COUNTY
an unlawful detainer action brought under California state
law by plaintiffs Mandeep Kaur and Parminder Bajwa
(collectively “plaintiffs”) against defendants
David and Latunja Johnson (collectively
“defendants”). On October 30, 2019, pro
se defendants removed this case to this federal court
from the Kern County Superior Court. (Doc. No. 1.) Defendants
assert that the basis for removal is the presence of federal
question jurisdiction, because defendants are bona fide
tenants under the Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act
(“PTFA”). (Id. at ¶ 3.) Defendants
argue that plaintiffs were required to state a cause of
action under the PTFA but sought to avoid providing the
defendants the protections of that statute by filing this
action as an unlawful detainer in state court. (Id.
at ¶ 7.)
district court has “a duty to establish subject matter
jurisdiction over the removed action sua sponte,
whether the parties raised the issue or not.”
United Investors Life Ins. Co. v. Waddell &
Reed, Inc., 360 F.3d 960, 967 (9th Cir. 2004). The
removal statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1441, is strictly construed
against removal jurisdiction. Geographic Expeditions,
Inc. v. Estate of Lhotka, 559 F.3d 1102, 1107 (9th Cir.
2010); Provincial Gov't of Marinduque v. Placer Dome,
Inc., 582 F.3d 1083, 1087 (9th Cir. 2009). It is
presumed that a case lies outside the limited jurisdiction of
the federal courts, and the burden of establishing the
contrary rests upon the party asserting jurisdiction.
Geographic Expeditions, 559 F.3d at 1106-07;
Hunter v. Philip Morris USA, 582 F.3d 1039, 1042
(9th Cir. 2009). In addition, “the 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). “The strong presumption against removal
jurisdiction” means that “the court resolves all
ambiguity in favor of remand to state court.”
Hunter, 582 F.3d at 1042; Gaus v. Miles,
Inc., 980 F.2d 564, 566 (9th Cir. 1992). That is,
federal jurisdiction over a removed case “must be
rejected if there is any doubt as to the right of removal in
the first instance.” Geographic Expeditions,
559 F.3d at 1107; Duncan v. Stuetzle, 76 F.3d 1480,
1485 (9th Cir. 1996); Gaus, 980 F.2d at 566.
“If at any time prior to judgment it appears that the
district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the case
shall be remanded.” 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c);
Gibson v. Chrysler Corp., 261 F.3d 927, 932 (9th
Cir. 2001). Remand under 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c) “is
mandatory, not discretionary.” Bruns v. NCUA,
122 F.3d 1251, 1257 (9th Cir. 1997); see also California
ex. rel. Lockyer v. Dynegy, Inc., 375 F.3d 831, 838 (9th
Cir. 2004). Where it appears, as it does here, that the
district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over a
removed case, “the case shall be remanded.” 28
U.S.C. § 1447(c).
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.”
California v. United States, 215 F.3d 1005, 1014
(9th Cir. 2000); see also Dynegy, 375 F.3d at 838;
Duncan, 76 F.3d at 1485. Under the well-pleaded
complaint rule, courts look to what “necessarily
appears in the plaintiff's statement of his own claim in
the bill or declaration, unaided by anything in anticipation
of avoidance of defenses which it is thought the defendant
may interpose.” California, 215 F.3d at 1014.
Accordingly, “a case may not be removed on the basis of
a federal defense . . . even if the defense is anticipated in
the plaintiff's complaint and both parties concede that
the federal defense is the only question truly at
issue.” Caterpillar, Inc. v. Williams, 482
U.S. 386, 392 (1987); Wayne v. DHL Worldwide
Express, 294 F.3d 1179, 1183 (9th Cir. 2002); see
also Vaden v. Discover Bank, 556 U.S. 49, 70 (2009)
(“It does not suffice to show that a federal question
lurks somewhere inside the parties' controversy, or that
a defense or counterclaim, or that a defense or counterclaim
would arise under federal law.”).
defendants have not shown that removal of this action to this
federal court is appropriate. Plaintiffs' complaint is a
straightforward unlawful detainer action that is based
entirely on state law. Despite defendants' assertion that
plaintiffs were required to state a cause of action under the
PTFA, (Doc. No. 1 at ¶ 7), plaintiffs are the
“master[s] of [their] complaint” and “may
generally avoid federal jurisdiction by pleading solely
state-law claims.” Valles v. Ivy Hill Corp.,
410 F.3d 1071, 1075 (9th Cir. 2005). Even if plaintiffs'
complaint did reference a federal statute, “the mere
presence of a federal issue in a state cause of action does
not automatically confer federal-question
jurisdiction.” Merrell Dow Pharm. Inc. v.
Thompson, 478 U.S. 804, 813 (1986). The cause of action
brought by plaintiffs here is plainly based on state law.
Assuming, arguendo, defendants correctly aver that the PTFA
preempts plaintiffs' state law claim, (Doc. No. 1 at
¶ 6), this would still be insufficient to establish
federal question jurisdiction. See St. Regis Properties,
LLC v. Scott, No. 18-cv-02616-JSC, 2018 WL 4377807, at
*2 (N.D. Cal. May 18, 2018) (“[T]he PTFA does not
completely preempt Plaintiff's California unlawful
detainer claim such that removal would be proper.”),
report and recommendation adopted, No.
18-cv-02616-EMC, 2018 WL 4377798 (N.D. Cal. June 8, 2018).
Finally, to the extent that defendants rely on the PTFA as a
defense against plaintiffs' state law claims, this does
not suffice to confer jurisdiction on this court because the
defensive invocation of federal law cannot form the basis of
this court's jurisdiction. See Vaden, 556 U.S.
at 70; Caterpillar, 482 U.S. at 392; Wayne,
294 F.3d at 1183; California, 215 F.3d at 1014.
there is no federal question appearing in plaintiffs'
complaint in this case, defendants have failed to properly
invoke this court's jurisdiction. Remand to the Kern
County Superior Court is therefore appropriate and mandatory.
28 U.S.C. § 1447(c); Wescom Credit Union v.
Dudley, No. cv 10-8203 GAF SSX, 2010 WL 4916578, at *3
(CD. Cal. Nov. 22, 2010) (remanding an unlawful detainer
action to state court where the defendant sought to invoke
the PTFA to establish federal question jurisdiction).
Accordingly, 1. This action is remanded forthwith to the Kern