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Plexico v. Scott

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Rock Hill Division

October 19, 2018

Lynn Plexico, Plaintiff,
v.
Whitney Scott, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          PAIGE J. GOSSETT, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Defendant Whitney Scott seeks removal of this action from the York County Magistrate's Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441 and 28 U.S.C. § 1915.[1] This matter is before the court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2) (D.S.C.). Having reviewed the pleadings in accordance with applicable law, the court concludes this matter should be remanded for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         Scott indicates that Plaintiff Lynn Plexico instituted this eviction action against her in the Catawba/Ebenezer Magistrate's Court in York County due to Scott's purported failure to pay rent. (ECF No. 1-1 at 1.) Scott claims Plexico is attempting to collect this debt in violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1692, et seq. (ECF No. 1 at 1-2.)

         II. Discussion

         A. Standard of Review

         Under established local procedure in this judicial district, a careful review has been made of the pro se notice of removal. The notice of removal has been filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915, which permits an indigent litigant to commence an action in federal court without prepaying the administrative costs of proceeding with the lawsuit. This statute allows a district court to dismiss the case upon a finding that the action “is frivolous or malicious, ” “fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, ” or “seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

         This court is required to liberally construe pro se pleadings, which are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by attorneys. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); King v. Rubenstein, 825 F.3d 206, 214 (4th Cir. 2016). Nonetheless, the requirement of liberal construction does not mean that the court can ignore a clear failure in the pleading to allege facts which set forth a claim cognizable in a federal district court. See Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387 (4th Cir. 1990); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 684 (2009) (outlining pleading requirements under Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for “all civil actions”).

         B. Analysis

         Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, see Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994), and a district court is charged with ensuring that all cases before it are properly subject to such jurisdiction. In re Bulldog Trucking, Inc., 147 F.3d 347, 352 (4th Cir. 1998). Generally, a case can be filed in federal district court if there is diversity of citizenship under 28 U.S.C. § 1332, or if there is federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. The removal statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1441, allows a state court defendant to remove a case to a federal district court if the state court action could have been originally filed there. See Darcangelo v. Verizon Commc'ns, Inc., 292 F.3d 181, 186 (4th Cir. 2002). However, the removing defendant has the burden of establishing subject matter jurisdiction, Mulcahey v. Columbia Organic Chems. Co., Inc., 29 F.3d 148, 151 (4th Cir. 1994), and a district court may sua sponte remand a case to state court if federal jurisdiction is lacking. See Ellenburg v. Spartan Motors Chassis, Inc., 519 F.3d 192, 196 (4th Cir. 2008).

         The United States Supreme Court has commanded that, when considering jurisdiction over a removed case, federal courts must “scrupulously confine their own jurisdiction to the precise limits which the statute has defined.” Shamrock Oil & Gas Corp. v. Sheets, 313 U.S. 100, 109 (1941) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). In addition, “[r]emoval statutes must be strictly construed against removal, ” Scott v. Greiner, 858 F.Supp. 607, 610 (S.D. W.Va. 1994), and a federal court must “resolve all doubts about the propriety of removal in favor of retained state court jurisdiction.” Marshall v. Manville Sales Corp., 6 F.3d 229, 232 (4th Cir. 1993); see also Palisades Collections LLC v. Shorts, 552 F.3d 327, 333-34 (4th Cir. 2008); Mulcahey, 29 F.3d at 151 (“If federal jurisdiction is doubtful, a remand is necessary.”). In the case at bar, the court finds Scott has failed to establish jurisdiction based on a federal question or diversity of citizenship, and no other source of jurisdiction is apparent from the pleadings.

         It is well settled that a federal question must be presented on the face of a plaintiff's complaint to satisfy federal question jurisdiction. Harless v. CSX Hotels, Inc., 389 F.3d 444, 450 (4th Cir. 2004) (discussing the well-pleaded complaint rule). Further, a plaintiff may avoid federal jurisdiction by exclusively relying on state law. Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386 (1987). In the present case, Scott seeks to remove a state law eviction action, but the state court documents contain no federal question on their face. To the extent Scott attempts to raise defenses to the eviction action based on a federal law, such defenses do not establish federal question jurisdiction. See Merrell Dow Pharm., Inc. v. Thompson, 478 U.S. 804, 808 (1986); Cook v. Georgetown Steel Corp., 770 F.2d 1272, 1275 (4th Cir. 1985) (“A federal defense to a state cause of action is not sufficient to invoke federal jurisdiction.”). Nor would an attempt to raise a counterclaim based on a federal statute invoke federal question jurisdiction. See Holmes Grp., Inc. v. Vornado Air Circulation Sys., Inc., 535 U.S. 826, 830-32 (2002). Accordingly, federal question jurisdiction is lacking in this case.

         Moreover, removal based on diversity of citizenship is not proper here because the pleadings indicate both parties are residents of the forum state. Federal court jurisdiction based on diversity of citizenship requires complete diversity of citizenship of the parties and an amount in controversy in excess of seventy-five thousand dollars ($75, 000.00):

(a) The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000, exclusive of ...

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