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Talley v. Ocwen Loan Servicing, LLC

United States District Court, D. Maryland

June 6, 2018

OCWEN LOAN SERVICING, LLC, et al., Defendants.


          Timothy J. Sullivan United States Magistrate Judge.

         Pending before the Court is self-represented Plaintiff Rochell Talley's (“Talley”) “Motion to Move or Return Civil Action No. CAE17-38277 Back to the Circuit Court for Prince George's County, Maryland” (“Motion”) (ECF No. 21), which will be construed as a motion to remand pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1447.[1] Having considered the submissions of the parties (ECF Nos. 21, 30, 31 & 32), I find that a hearing is unnecessary. See Loc. R. 105.6. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion will be denied.

         I. Background

         Talley filed this lawsuit in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County, Maryland, on November 28, 2017. (ECF No. 2.) Although the Complaint is difficult to understand, Talley asserts that his sole claim is for quiet title, and that he does not seek monetary damages. (See ECF Nos. 21 & 32.) On January 5, 2018, Defendant Ocwen Loan Servicing, LLC (“Ocwen”) removed the case to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441 on the basis of federal question and diversity jurisdiction. (ECF No. 1.) On January 26, 2018, Talley filed his Motion. (ECF No. 21.) Talley argues that this case must be remanded to the Circuit Court for Prince George's County because the real property that is the subject of Talley's quiet title claim is located in Prince George's County, and because the amount in controversy does not exceed $75, 000. (ECF Nos. 21 & 32.)

         II. Propriety of Removal

         A defendant may remove a case from state court to federal court in instances where the federal court is able to exercise original jurisdiction over the matter. 28 U.S.C. § 1441. Federal courts have original jurisdiction over primarily two types of cases: (1) those involving federal questions under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and (2) those involving citizens of different states where the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000.00, exclusive of interests and costs, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). The party “removing a case to federal court bears the burden of establishing the court's subject-matter jurisdiction over the case.” Bartels by & through Bartels v. Saber Healthcare Grp., LLC, 880 F.3d 668, 680 (4th Cir. 2018). Because “removal jurisdiction raises significant federalism concerns, ” it is strictly construed. Mulcahey v. Columbia Organic Chemicals Co., 29 F.3d 148, 151 (4th Cir. 1994). If federal jurisdiction is doubtful, remand is required. Id. This standard reflects the reluctance of federal courts “to interfere with matters properly before a state court.” Quintana v. J.P. Morgan Chase Bank, N.A., No. DKC-14-1586, 2015 WL 1321436, at *1 (D. Md. Mar. 23, 2015).

         Because Ocwen removed this case to federal court, it bears the burden of establishing the Court's subject matter jurisdiction.[2] Ocwen argues that this Court has subject matter jurisdiction because Talley's claim arises under the laws of the United States, see 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and because there is complete diversity of the parties and the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000, see 28 U.S.C. § 1332.

         III. Federal Question

         Federal district courts “have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 1331. In deciding whether a plaintiff's claim arises under federal law, courts “ordinarily . . . look no further than the plaintiff's [properly pleaded] complaint in determining whether a lawsuit raises issues of federal law capable of creating federal-question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331.” Pinney v. Nokia, Inc., 402 F.3d 430, 442 (4th Cir. 2005). If federal law creates the cause of action, removal is unquestionably proper. Mulcahey, 29 F.3d at 151. Otherwise, “there is only federal jurisdiction when Plaintiff's claim raises ‘a federal issue, actually disputed and substantial, which a federal forum may entertain without disturbing any congressionally approved balance of federal and state judicial responsibilities.'” Papadopoulos v. Eagle Bank, No. GJH-17-2177, 2017 WL 6550672, at *2 (D. Md. Dec. 21, 2017) (quoting Grable & Sons Metal Products, Inc. v. Darue, 545 U.S. 308, 314 (2005)). Federal courts may exercise federal question jurisdiction over state law claims that “turn on substantial questions of federal law” and require the “experience, solicitude, and hope of uniformity that a federal forum offers, ” but this represents a “special and small category” of federal question jurisdiction. Papadopoulos, 2017 WL 6550672, at *2 (internal citations omitted). The Supreme Court articulated a four-prong test in Grable for determining whether this standard is met. The federal issue must be: “(1) necessarily raised, (2) actually disputed, (3) substantial, and (4) capable of resolution in federal court without disrupting the federal-state balance approved by Congress.” Gunn v. Minton, 568 U.S. 251, 258 (2013) (quoting Grable, 545 U.S. at 313-14).

         Talley's sole claim is for quiet title pursuant to Md. Code, Real Prop. § 14-108. Ocwen argues that because Talley alleges that it violated the Truth in Lending Act (“TILA”), 15 U.S.C. §§ 1601-1667f, and related federal regulations, this case arises under federal law. Under the first prong of the Grable test, a federal issue is necessarily raised “only when every legal theory supporting the claim requires the resolution of a federal issue.” Dixon v. Coburg Dairy, Inc., 369 F.3d 811, 816 (4th Cir. 2004). “[I]f the plaintiff can support his claim with even one theory that does not call for an interpretation of federal law, his claim does not ‘arise under' federal law for purposes of § 1331.” Id. Under the third prong of the Grable test, “[w]hether a federal issue is sufficiently substantial turns on the degree to which federal law must be in the forefront of the case and not collateral, peripheral or remote.” Packett v. University of Maryland Med. Ctr., No. RDB-17-1630, 2017 WL 5903759, at *5 (D. Md. Nov. 30, 2017) (internal quotation marks omitted). Determining whether a federal issue is sufficiently substantial requires sensitivity to “whether the existence of federal judicial power is both appropriate and pragmatic.” Id. (quoting Ormet Corp. v. Ohio Power Co., 98 F.3d 799, 807 (4th Cir. 1996)). The court “must determine whether the dispute is one that Congress intended federal courts to resolve, taking into account the historical reasons for establishing federal courts.” Ormet, 98 F.3d at 807.

         In Maryland, a quiet title action enables a plaintiff possessing real property to challenge the validity of a defendant's claim “to hold any lien encumbrance” on that same property, provided that there is not already a pending lawsuit to enforce the lien. Mickerson v. Am. Brokers Conduit, No. TDC-17-1106, 2018 WL 1083640, at *4 (D. Md. Feb. 28, 2018) (citing Md. Code, Real Prop. § 14-108(a)). To prevail in a quiet title action, a plaintiff must make two showings. First, the “plaintiff must show that the defendant with a competing claim has an interest that is ‘actually defective, invalid, or ineffective.'” Deibler v. Quicken Loans, Inc., No. TDC-15-2286, 2016 WL 393308, at *3 (D. Md. Feb. 1, 2016) (quoting Kasdon v. G. W Zierden Landscaping, Inc., 541 F.Supp. 991, 995 (D. Md. 1982)). Second, the plaintiff must show “a valid claim of entitlement to the property at issue, ” which requires the plaintiff to establish “possession of the property and legal title by clear proof.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).

         I find that Talley's claim does not turn on substantial questions of federal law for two reasons. First, although Talley's Complaint refers to the TILA and related federal regulations, it is not clear that every legal theory supporting his claim requires a resolution of federal law. Second, the federal issues that do arise from the allegations in Talley's Complaint are not sufficiently substantial. The resolution of Talley's quiet title claim will not turn on an interpretation of federal law. Talley's numerous references to the TILA and related federal regulations are “collateral, peripheral, [and] remote” to what must be decided to resolve his claim. See McKenna v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 693 F.3d 207, 211 (1st Cir. 2012) (finding no federal question jurisdiction despite complaint's “passing reference to the federal TILA” when the claims were all styled as state-law claims); Low v. Vantagesouth Bank, No. 13-3396-BHH, 2014 WL 8239419, at *6 (D.S.C. July 16, 2014), report and recommendation adopted, 2015 WL 1275396 (D.S.C. Mar. 18, 2015) (finding that a dispute regarding a violation of TILA disclosure requirements did not involve a substantial federal question); Whittington v. U.S. Bank Nat. Ass'n, No. 12-03167-MGL, 2013 WL 2285943, at *10 (D.S.C. May 23, 2013) (finding no federal question jurisdiction where complaint made only passing reference to the TILA). Accordingly, I find that removal was not proper on the basis of federal question jurisdiction.

         IV. Diversity

         District courts have jurisdiction over civil actions “where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs, and is between citizens of different states.” 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1). For diversity jurisdiction to exist there must be complete diversity, meaning that “no party shares common citizenship with any party on the other side.” Mayes v. Rapoport, 198 F.3d 457, 461 (4th Cir. 1999). Diverse parties also “must be real and substantial parties to the controversy. Thus, a federal court must disregard nominal or formal parties and rest jurisdiction only upon the citizenship of real parties to the controversy.” Navarro Sav. Ass'n v. Lee, 446 U.S. 458, 460 (1980). A “nominal party” is a party with “no immediately apparent stake in the litigation either prior or subsequent to the act of ...

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