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Jefferson v. Westlake Financial Services, LLC

United States District Court, D. Maryland

April 3, 2018

SHAWN JEFFERSON, Plaintiff,
v.
WESTLAKE FINANCIAL SERVICES, LLC, d/b/a WESTLAKE FINANCIAL SERVICES, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM

          ELLEN LIPTON HOLLANDER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Self-represented plaintiff Shawn Jefferson filed suit against Westlake Financial Services, LLC, d/b/a Westlake Financial Services (“Westlake”). ECF 1 (Complaint).[1] It appears from the Complaint and from documents attached as exhibits that plaintiff obtained a car loan that was subsequently acquired by Westlake. See ECF 1-1 at 7. Plaintiff alleges “illegal repossession of [plaintiff's] vehicle, ” and asserts that defendant “charg[ed] more than [the] maximum rate of interest allowed” in Maryland. ECF 1-1 at 1 (Statement of Claim). Plaintiff seeks to “have the loan removed from [his] credit report, ” as well as $150, 000 in damages. ECF 1 at 7.

         Of importance here, plaintiff alleges federal question jurisdiction in his Complaint, but cites no federal statute in support of this allegation. Id. at 4. Instead, plaintiff cites two United States Supreme Court cases from the late nineteenth century, United States v. Sayward, 160 U.S. 493 (1895), and Fishback et al. v. Western Union Tel. Co., 161 U.S. 96 (1896).

         Defendant has moved to dismiss the Complaint under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. ECF 10. Westlake has also moved to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), for failure to state a claim. Id. The motion to dismiss is supported by a memorandum of law. ECF 10-1 (collectively, “Motion”). The Clerk sent a Rule 12/56 notice to plaintiff on January 12, 2018, advising plaintiff of his right to respond within 17 days, and that failure to respond might result in dismissal of the case. ECF 11. Plaintiff did not respond to the Motion.

         No hearing is necessary to resolve the Motion. See Local Rule 105.6. Because plaintiff has not adequately alleged the existence of subject matter jurisdiction, I shall grant the Motion, without prejudice.

         I. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         A. Legal Standard

         Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) governs motions to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. See Khoury v. Meserve, 628 F.Supp.2d 600, 606 (D. Md. 2003), aff'd, 85 F. App'x 960 (4th Cir. 2004). Under Rule 12(b)(1), the plaintiff bears the burden of proving, by a preponderance of evidence, the existence of subject matter jurisdiction. See Demetres v. East West Const, Inc., 776 F.3d 271, 272 (4th Cir. 2015); see also Evans v. B.F. Perkins Co., 166 F.3d 642, 647 (4th Cir. 1999). A challenge to subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) may proceed “in one of two ways”: either a facial challenge, asserting that the allegations pleaded in the complaint are insufficient to establish subject matter jurisdiction, or a factual challenge, asserting “‘that the jurisdictional allegations of the complaint [are] not true.'” Kerns v. United States, 585 F.3d 187, 192 (4th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted) (alteration in original); see also Beck v. McDonald, 848 F.3d 262, 270 (4th Cir. 2017).

         In a facial challenge, “the facts alleged in the complaint are taken as true, and the motion must be denied if the complaint alleges sufficient facts to invoke subject matter jurisdiction.” Kerns, 585 F.3d at 192; accord Clear Channel Outdoor, Inc. v. Mayor & City Council of Baltimore, 22 F.Supp.3d 519, 524 (D. Md. 2014). In a factual challenge, on the other hand, “the district court is entitled to decide disputed issues of fact with respect to subject matter jurisdiction.” Kerns, 585 F.3d at 192. In that circumstance, the court “may regard the pleadings as mere evidence on the issue and may consider evidence outside the pleadings without converting the proceeding to one for summary judgment.” Velasco v. Gov't of Indonesia, 370 F.3d 392, 398 (4th Cir. 2004); see also Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac R.R. Co. v. United States, 945 F.2d 765, 768 (4th Cir. 1991).

         Westlake raises a facial challenge to the Court's subject matter jurisdiction, based on the four corners of the Complaint.

         B. Discussion[2]

         Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(1) requires that a claim for relief include “a short and plain statement of the grounds for the court's jurisdiction.” Plaintiffs civil complaint form contains a section concerning the basis of jurisdiction for the suit. ECF 1 at 4. Two check-boxes are presented, for “Federal question” and “Diversity of citizenship.” Id. Plaintiff was directed to “check all that apply.” Id. Notably, he checked only the box for federal question jurisdiction. Id. When prompted to “[l]ist the specific federal statutes, federal treaties, and/or provisions of the United States Constitution that are at issue in this case” (id), plaintiff listed two Supreme Court cases. Those cases, United States v. Sayward, 160 U.S. 493 (1895), and Fishback et al. v. Western Union Tel. Co., 161 U.S. 96 (1896), discuss, inter alia, the amount-in-controversy requirement for diversity jurisdiction. It is unclear how they are relevant to this case. In any event, the cases are insufficient to confer federal question jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

         As defendant points out (ECF 10-1 at 3), 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 plaintiff's properly pleaded complaint.'” Rivet v. Regions Bank of La., 522 U.S. 470, 475 (1998) (citation omitted).

         There is no indication in plaintiff's Complaint that his claims arise under any federal statute, federal treaty, or provision of the Constitution. Plaintiff mentions a section of the Virginia code, Va. Code § 6.2-2217, which concerns the repossession and sale of motor vehicles. See ECF 1-1 at 1. Of course, this state statute does not afford a federal cause of action. And, plaintiff cites “as precedent” another case from this Court brought against Westlake, McDaniels v. Westlake Services, LLC et al., ELH-11-1837 (“McDaniels”). See ECF 1-1 at 1. Jurisdiction in McDaniels was based on diversity as to various claims under Maryland law. See McDaniels, ECF 1, ¶¶ 1, 21. But, it was also founded on a federal question because the case arose, inter alia, under the federal Class Action Fairness Act of 2005, codified in relevant part at 28 U.S.C. ยง 1332(d), and the Fair Debt ...


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