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Piazza Realty Property Management Inc. v. Matthews

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

January 3, 2018

DALE MATTHEWS, et al., Defendants.




         This matter comes before the court sua sponte. Having examined the complaint (Compl. (Dkt. # 2-1)), the notice of removal from the Superior Court of Skagit County, Washington, (Not. of Removal (Dkt. # 2)), the motion for temporary restraining order (Mot. for TRO (Dkt. # 4)), and the relevant law, the court finds that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction over this action and remands the case to the state court.


         Plaintiffs Piazza Realty Property Management, Inc. obo Dave and Wilma Torretta (collectively, "Piazza"), own the premises at 106 N. Central Avenue, Sedro Woolley, Skagit County, Washington ("the premises"). (Compl. ¶ 1.) Defendants Dale and Angela Matthews (collectively, "the Matthews") have rented the premises since April 10, 2011. (Id. ¶ 2.) The Matthews failed to pay their monthly rent of $1, 450.00 in October 2017 and November 2017, as well as the corresponding utility and late fees. (Id. ¶¶ 3-4.) On November 28, 2017, Piazza brought an action against the Matthews in the Skagit County Superior Court, requesting an order of default, a writ of restitution, and a judgment against the Matthews for unpaid rent and fees. (See generally id.) On December 11, 2017, the Skagit County Superior Court entered the order, writ, and judgment. (See State Ct. Order (Dkt. # 2-2).)

         On December 14, 2017, the Matthews filed a notice of removal in this court. (See Not. of Removal.) The Matthews claim this court has subject matter jurisdiction over the case because the complaint presents a federal question. (Id. ¶ 5.) The Matthews argue that the complaint "intentionally fails to allege compliance with the Civil Rights Act of 1968, " that "Defendant has multiple habitability issues such as mold and the roof leaking, " that "Defendant is a members [sic] of a protected class of whom the statue [sic], the 'Civil Rights Act of 1968' was created, " and that "The Federal Cause of Action in ejectment is the basis for this action, irrespective of artful pleading, such that action could have been brought in Federal District Court." (Id. ¶¶ 6, 10-11.) The notice of removal identifies no other grounds for federal subject matter jurisdiction. (See generally id.)

         On December 18, 2017, the Matthews filed a motion for temporary restraining order. (See Mot. for TRO.) After reviewing the complaint, the notice of removal, and the motion for temporary restraining order, the court determined that the Matthews had failed to provide an adequate basis for subject matter jurisdiction over this action. (See Order to Show Cause (Dkt # 5) at 1.) Therefore, on December 19, 2017, the court ordered the Matthews to show cause within seven (7) days as to why the court should not remand this matter to state court. (Id.) More than seven days have elapsed, and the court has received no new filings from the Matthews.


         A. Standards

         Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. See e.g., Owen Equip. & Erection Co. v. Kroger, 437 U.S. 365, 374 (1978); Rodriguez v. AT & TMobility Servs. LLC, 728 F.3d 975, 980 (9th Cir. 2013); K2 Am. Corp. v. Roland Oil & Gas, LLC, 653 F.3d 1024, 1027 (9th Cir. 2011); Gen. Atomic Co. v. United Nuclear Corp., 655 F.2d 968, 968 (9th Cir. 1981). In general, federal jurisdiction exists when a claim either (1) arises under the Constitution and laws of the United States, or (2) arises between citizens of different states and the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000.00. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1332; see also Erwin Chemerinsky, Federal Jurisdiction § 5.1 (5th ed. 2001) (listing other categories of federal subject matter jurisdiction).

         Any civil action brought in a state court may be removed to a federal district court if the federal district court could have exercised original jurisdiction over the action. See 28 U.S.C. § 1441. "A suit may be removed to federal court under 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a) only if it could have been brought there originally." Infuturia Global Ltd. v. Sequus Pharm., Inc., 631 F.3d 1133, 1135 n.1 (9th Cir. 2011) ("[A] federal court must have both removal and subject matter jurisdiction to hear a case removed from state court."); Sullivan v. First Affiliated Sec, Inc., 813 F.2d 1368, 1371 (9th Cir. 1987). The removal statute is strictly construed against removal jurisdiction, and a removing party bears the burden of establishing the existence of federal subject matter jurisdiction. Cal. ex rel. Lockyer v. Dynegy, Inc., 375 F.3d 831, 838 (9th Cir. 2004).

         Federal jurisdiction must be rejected if there is any doubt as to the right of removal in the first instance. Duncan v. Stuetzle, 76 F.3d 1480, 1485 (9th Cir. 1996) (quoting Gaus v. Miles, Inc., 980 F.2d 564, 566 (9th Cir. 1992)); see also Carlyle Inv. Mgmt. LLC v. Moonmouth Co. SA, 779 F.3d 214, 218 (3d Cir. 2015) ("The federal removal statute ... is strictly construed, requiring remand if any doubt exists over whether removal was proper"); Mumfrey v. CVS Pharmacy, Inc., 719 F.3d 392, 397 (5th Cir. 2013) ("Any ambiguities are construed against removal and in favor of remand to state court"); Durham v. Lockheed Martin Corp., 445 F.3d 1247, 1252 (9th Cir. 2006); Mulcahey v. Columbia Organic Chemicals Co., 29 F.3d 148, 151 (4th Cir. 1994); Libhart v. Santa Monica Dairy Co., 592 F.2d 1062, 1064 (9th Cir. 1979). If at anytime before final judgment a federal court determines that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction over a removed action, the court must remand the action to state court. See 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c).

         The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that "in order for a claim to arise 'under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States, ' 'a right or immunity created by the Constitution or laws of the United States must be an element, and an essential one, of the plaintiffs cause of action.'" Philips Petroleum Co. v. Texaco Inc., 415 U.S. 125, 127 (1974) (quoting Gully v. First Nat'l Bank, 299 U.S. 109 (1936)). This essential federal element must appear from the plaintiffs own statement of her cause of action. Louisville & N.R. Co. v. Mottley, 211 U.S. 149, 152 (1908); see also Franchise Tax Bd. of State of Cal. v. Constr. Laborers Vacation Trust for S. Cal, 463 U.S. 1 (1983). Whether a complaint raises a federal question is determined by use of the "well-pleaded complaint rule, " which provides that federal jurisdiction exists only when a federal question is present on the face of the plaintiffs properly pleaded complaint. Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386 (1987). Further, it must be clear that a federal question is presented by the complaint. Duncan, 76 F.3d at 1485. "The rule makes the plaintiff the master of the claim; he or she may avoid federal jurisdiction by exclusive reliance on state law." Caterpillar, Inc., 482 U.S. at 392.

         B. Because Piazza's complaint does not raise a federal ...

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