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Jordan v. Nationstar Mortgage, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

September 9, 2014

LAURA ZAMORA JORDAN, as her separate estate, and on behalf of others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
v.
NATIONSTAR MORTGAGE, LLC, a Delaware limited liability company, Defendant.

ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO REMAND

THOMAS O. RICE, District Judge.

BEFORE THE COURT is Plaintiff's Motion to Remand (ECF No. 10). This matter was heard with oral argument on September 9, 2014. Clay M. Gatens and Michael D. Daudt appeared on behalf of Plaintiff. Jan T. Chilton and John A. Knox (telephonically) appeared on behalf of Defendant. The Court has reviewed the briefing and the record and files herein, and is fully informed.

BACKGROUND

On April 3, 2012, Plaintiff, Laura Zamora Jordan, filed and served her Complaint in Chelan County Superior Court against Defendant, Nationstar Mortgage, LLC, alleging numerous state law causes of action, including trespass, breach of contract, and violation of the Washington Consumer Protection Act, as well as violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA"). ECF No. 2-4. The federal cause of action alleged in the Complaint appeared as follows: "Nationstar's and/or its agents' actions violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act 15 U.S.C. et seq." Id. at 5.

Plaintiff subsequently filed and served a First Amended Complaint on September 14, 2012. ECF No. 2-13. Plaintiff again alleged numerous state law claims, including trespass, breach of contract, and violation of Washington's Consumer Protection Act, as well as violation of FDCPA. Id. In this amended Complaint, Plaintiff provided a more detailed assertion of her federal cause of action, including the relevant facts to support her claim under the FDCPA. Id. at 7-8. Defendant did not remove the case to federal court at that time.

On January 3, 2013, Plaintiff filed her Second Amended Complaint. ECF No. 2-19. In this Complaint, Plaintiff changed the nature of her suit from one captioned on her behalf and "on behalf of others similarly situated" to one that fully expressed a class action suit against Defendant. Id. Plaintiff did not allege a specific amount in controversy in this Complaint; rather, the prayer for relief requested "damages in an amount to be proven at trial." Id. at 15. The Second Amended Complaint again asserted a federal cause of action under the FDCPA. Id. at 11-12. Defendant did not remove the case to federal court at that time.

On May 9, 2014, the Chelan County Superior Court granted Plaintiff's motion for class certification.[1] ECF No. 1-3. According to Defendant, on June 3, 2014, Plaintiff served responses to Defendant's fifth set of interrogatories and requests for admissions which revealed for the first time in writing that Plaintiff contended the amount in controversy exceeded $5, 000, 000. ECF No. 1 at 4; ECF No. 1-4 at 4 and 11. Within thirty days thereafter, on June 5, 2014, Defendant removed the case to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1441, 1446, and 1453. ECF No. 1.

Plaintiff now moves to remand this case on grounds that notice of removal was not timely filed. ECF No. 10.

DISCUSSION

Plaintiff moves the Court to remand this case, arguing that Defendant filed its notice of removal more than two years after Plaintiff's initial pleading in violation of the removal statute. ECF No. 10. In opposition, Defendant asserts that the thirty-day window to remove "reopened" when the case first became removable under the Class Action Fairness Act ("CAFA"). ECF No. 14. The parties disagree as to when Defendant could have reasonably ascertained the amount in controversy, which is only relevant to triggering the removal time clock under CAFA.[2] For the following reasons, the Court agrees with Plaintiff that removal is time-barred.

A. Timeliness of Removal

Title 28 United States Code Section 1441 governs removal of cases from state court to federal court. Generally, a defendant may remove a case to federal court if the federal court would have subject-matter jurisdiction over one or more of the plaintiff's claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 (federal question) or 1332 (diversity of citizenship). See 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a), (b).

Under federal question jurisdiction, federal district courts have original jurisdiction over all claims "arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Whether a suit arises under federal law is determined 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." Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987). When federal law creates the cause of action asserted, the case arises under federal law and will allow for removal under Section 1331. Gunn v. Minton, ___ U.S. ___, 133 S.Ct. 1059, 1064 (2013).

Under CAFA, a class action may be removed to federal court based on diversity jurisdiction if the three requisite elements for removal are met: there must be minimal diversity of citizenship between the parties, the proposed class must have at least one hundred members, and the amount in controversy must exceed $5 million. 28 U.S.C. ...


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