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Federal National Mortgage Association v. Lehr

United States District Court, D. Maryland

May 19, 2017

FEDERAL NATIONAL MORTGAGE ASSOCIATION, also known as Fannie Mae, Plaintiff
ALEXANDER LEHR and DOES I through X, Inclusive, Defendants


          James K. Bredar United States District Judge.

         Alexander Lehr, a resident of Baltimore, Maryland, filed a Notice of Removal on May 15, 2017. For the reasons below, the case must be remanded to its court of origin, the Superior Court of the State of California.

         Procedural History

         Lehr was sued in the Superior Court of California, County of Los Angeles, for unlawful detainer of a dwelling located at 1341 N. Mariposa Avenue, Los Angeles, California, in Case No. 16U13002. ECF 2. Plaintiff Federal National Mortgage Association (“Fannie Mae”) alleged it purchased the property at a Trustee's Sale on March 9, 2015, and Lehr refused to vacate the premises. Fannie Mae sought $47.37 per day from January 12, 2016, until it obtained occupancy, and indicated that the amount of damages requested did not exceed $10, 000.00. ECF 2 at pp. 1-2. The action was filed on November 8, 2016. ECF 2 at p. 1.

         The record does not reflect when Lehr was served with the complaint.[1] Six months later, Lehr filed a Notice of Removal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441, citing jurisdiction based on 28 U.S.C. § 1332 (the “diversity statute”) and 28 U.S.C. § 1343 (violation of civil rights and elective franchise). Lehr also moved to proceed in forma pauperis under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1), which permits an indigent litigant to commence an action in this court without prepaying the filing fee. Because he appears to be indigent, Lehr's motion to proceed in forma pauperis (ECF 3) shall be granted.


         To guard against possible abuses of the privilege, the in forma pauperis statute requires dismissal of any claim that is frivolous or malicious, or fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) and (ii). This court is mindful, however, of its obligation to liberally construe self-represented pleadings. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). In evaluating such cases, the factual allegations are assumed to be true. Id. at 93 (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007)). Nonetheless, liberal construction does not mean that a district court can ignore a clear failure in the pleading to allege facts that set forth a cognizable claim. See Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387 (4th Cir. 1990); see also Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985) (stating a district court may not “conjure up questions never squarely presented.”). In making this determination, ''[t]he district court need not look beyond the complaint's allegations . . . . It must hold the pro se complaint to less stringent standards than pleadings drafted by attorneys and must read the complaint liberally.'' White v. White, 886 F.2d 721, 722-723 (4th Cir. 1989). The Court applies this standard to Lehr's Notice of Removal (ECF No. 1) in evaluating the propriety of removal.

         Even under this standard of review, it is apparent that jurisdictional deficiencies exist in this case. Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction and “may not exercise jurisdiction absent a statutory basis, ” Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Allapattah Servs., Inc., 545 U.S. 546, 552 (2005), and must independently determine whether subject-matter jurisdiction exists, even when no party challenges it. Hertz Corp. v. Friend, 559 U.S. 77, 94 (2010); see also Sucampo Pharmaceuticals, Inc. v. Astellas Pharma, Inc., 471 F.3d 544, 548 (4th Cir. 2006). Under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, federal district courts have “original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.” Of import here, “'[t]he 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 plaintiffs properly pleaded complaint.” Rivet v. Regions Bank of La., 522 U.S. 470, 475 (1998) (citation omitted). Although Fannie Mae is a federally chartered corporation, its presence in a lawsuit does not necessarily create an independent basis for federal jurisdiction. See Federal Nat. Mort. Ass'n v. Napoles, 2014 WL 68877, *1 (E.D. Cal. Jan. 7, 2014) (no federal question presented in case alleging unlawful detainer under state law); Fed. Nat'l Mort. Ass'n v. Bridgeman, et al, 2010 WL 5330499, *4, 6 (E.D. Cal Dec. 20, 2010) (same). Even if Fannie Mae is subject to suit as a federal entity, however, venue would dictate this suit be brought in the appropriate California federal court, wherein the cause of action arose. See 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a); see also Seven Oaks, Inc. v. Federal Housing Administration, et al, 171 F.2d 947, 948-49 (4th Cir. 1948).

         Title 28, United States Code, § 1343(a)(1), in relevant part, confers original jurisdiction in the federal district courts of any civil action authorized by law to be commenced by any person (1) to recover damages for injury to his person or property, or because of the deprivation of any right or privilege of a citizen of the United states, by any act done in furtherance of any conspiracy mentioned in 42 U.S.C. § 1985. The civil rights statute limits what constitutes a conspiracy to violate constitutional rights; it is designed to protect citizens in the following instances:

(1) Preventing officer from performing duties
If two or more persons in any State or Territory conspire to prevent, by force, intimidation, or threat, any person from accepting or holding any office, trust, or place of confidence under the United States, or from discharging any duties thereof; or to induce by like means any officer of the United States to leave any State, district, or place, where his duties as an officer are required to be performed, or to injure him in his person or property on account of his lawful discharge of the duties of his office, or while engaged in the lawful discharge thereof, or to injure his property so as to molest, interrupt, hinder, or impede him in the discharge of his official duties;
(2) Obstructing justice; intimidating party, witness, or juror
If two or more persons in any State or Territory conspire to deter, by force, intimidation, or threat, any party or witness in any court of the United States from attending such court, or from testifying to any matter pending therein, freely, fully, and truthfully, or to injure such party or witness in his person or property on account of his having so attended or testified, or to influence the verdict, presentment, or indictment of any grand or petit juror in any such court, or to injure such juror in his person or property on account of any verdict, presentment, or indictment lawfully assented to by him, or of his being or having been such juror; or if two or more persons conspire for the purpose of impeding, hindering, obstructing, or defeating, in any manner, the due course of justice in any State or Territory, with intent to deny to any ...

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