United States District Court, D. Maryland
February 12, 2014
BISHOP'S BEQUEST SINGLE FAMILY ASSOC. INC., et. al., Plaintiffs,
CHARLES C. HEYWARD, Defendant.
PETER J. MESSITTE, District Judge.
Charles C. Heyward, who was sued by Bishop's Bequest Single Family Association, Inc. ("Bishop's Bequest") in the District Court for Prince George's County, removed the case to this Court. Prior to the removal, Heyward had filed in the state court a Motion to Vacate/Set Aside Judgment, Fraud on the Court and Motion for Sanction (Paper No. 3), which apparently had not been acted upon by the state court before the case arrived in this Court. In this Court, Bishop's Bequest has filed a Motion to Strike Defendant's Response to Standing Order Concerning Removal (Paper No. 7). For the reasons that follow, both Motions are deemed MOOT and the Court sua sponte REMANDS the case in its entirety to the District Court for Prince George's County.
Although Heyward has failed to provide the Court with a full copy of the Complaint, as required by 28 U.S.C. §1446(a), the Court has pieced together what appears to be the gist of the Complaint from various documents filed in the case.
According to the single page of the Complaint filed with the Court, Heyward is or was a member of a homeowners association governed by a recorded Declaration of Covenants and Bylaws. He allegedly failed or refused to pay duly levied assessments pursuant to the Declaration, whereupon Bishop's Bequest filed suit in the District Court for Prince George's County, asserting that Heyward was indebted to Bishop's Bequest, pursuant to the Declaration and the Maryland Contract Lien Act. The state court docket for the case indicates that judgment was entered in favor of Bishop's Bequest.
In his Notice of Removal Heyward asserts that this Court has diversity jurisdiction in that he is a citizen of Maryland and that Bishop's Bequest is headquartered in Prince George's County, Maryland. He further submits that his own counterclaim of $100, 000 satisfies the amount of controversy requirement. His counterclaim, however, has not been filed with the Court. In the civil cover sheet accompanying his filing here, Heyward also asserts that there is federal question jurisdiction pursuant to a "violation of False Claims Act, Fraud, violation of the Fair Debt Collection Act".
In his Motion to Vacate/Set Aside Judgment, Heyward asks the Court to set aside the state court judgment basically on the grounds that it was obtained by fraud. Bishop's Bequest's Motion to Strike argues that the Court should strike Heyward's filing because he has not stated a colorable reason for federal jurisdiction over this case.
The right to remove a case from state to federal court derives from 28 U.S.C. § 1441. In light of federalism concerns, the removal statute is strictly construed. Mulcahey v. Columbia Organic Chem. Co., Inc., 29 F.3d 148, 151 (4th Cir.1994) (citing Shamrock Oil & Gas Corp. v. Sheets, 313 U.S. 100, 108-09 (1941)). "If federal jurisdiction is doubtful, a remand [to state court] is necessary." Id. "The party seeking removal bears the burden of demonstrating that removal jurisdiction is proper." In re Blackwater Sec. Consulting, LLC, 460 F.3d 576, 583 (4th Cir. 2006).
"If at any time before final judgment it appears that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the case shall be remanded." 21 U.S.C. § 1447(c). "[B]ecause the lack of subject matter jurisdiction may be noticed by the district court sua sponte or by any party, the court may enter a remand order sua sponte. " Ellenburg v. Spartan Motors Chassis, Inc., 519 F.3d 192, 196 (4th Cir. 2008). "[A]n irregularity in removal of a case to federal court is to be considered jurisdictional' only if the case could not initially have been filed in federal court." Korea Exch. Bank, New York Branch v. Trackwise Sales Corp., 66 F.3d 46, 50 (3d Cir. 1995).
The only basis for jurisdiction by this Court over a breach of contract claim would be diversity jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. §1332. Both Bishop's Bequest and Heyward are residents of Maryland; accordingly, there is no diversity jurisdiction here.
Although Heyward tries to assert, at least in his civil cover sheet, that federal question jurisdiction is available, see 28 U.S.C. §§1331, 1441, the Court finds no count that alleges any federal law claims. The Complaint against Heyward alleged only breach of contract and state law claims. He may not remove based on a counterclaim asserting a federal cause of action. See Holmes Group, Inc. v. Vornado Air Circulation Sys., Inc., 535 U.S. 826, 831 (2002).
Most importantly, Heyward attempts to remove this case in order to appeal the judgment of the District Court for Prince George's County. An appeal from a state court judgment is not grounds for removal to federal court. See 28 U.S.C. § 1441; Maryland Rule 7-103 (listing the types of cases that may be appealed from district court to a circuit court in Maryland).
For the foregoing reasons, Heyward's Motion to Vacate/Set Aside Judgment, Fraud on the Court and Motion for Sanction (Paper No. 3) is MOOT, Bishop's Bequest's Motion to Strike Defendant's Response to Standing Order Concerning Removal (Paper No. 7) is MOOT, and this case shall be REMANDED in its entirety to the District Court for Prince George's County.
A separate Order will ISSUE.