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Artis v. T-Mobile USA, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

February 14, 2019

PARIS A. ARTIS Plaintiff
v.
T-MOBILE USA, INC., et al. Defendants

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          PETER J. MESSITTE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Paris A. Artis (“Artis”), pro se, filed this action in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County, Maryland on April 27, 2018 against Defendants T-Mobile USA, Inc. (“T-Mobile”) and Receivables Performance Management, Inc. (“RPM”). RPM filed a Notice of Removal to this Court on August 20, 2018 (ECF No. 1). Artis has filed a Motion to Remand the case to the Circuit Court for Prince George's County (ECF No. 8). For the following reasons, the Motion is DENIED.

         I.

         This action arises out of a debt that Artis allegedly owes to T-Mobile that T-Mobile retained RPM to collect. ECF No. 1-3 at ¶¶ 1-5. At some point in time prior to the beginning of this case, Artis was a customer of T-Mobile, but he alleges he “canceled his account . . . due to lousy and non-responsive service.” Id. at ¶ 11. Artis says he “paid his bill in full, with due prorated reimbursement, at the time of cancellation.” Id. However, he claims that after he canceled his account, T-Mobile “continued to send billings to [him] and added on charges for ‘unreturned equipment.'” Id. at ¶ 13. According to the Complaint, T-Mobile purportedly retained RPM to collect Artis's debt, and that RPM incorrectly informed credit bureaus that Artis owed T-Mobile $569.00 in unpaid charges on his account. Id. at ¶¶ 4, 15.

         In his Complaint before the Circuit Court for Prince George's County, Maryland, Artis claimed Defendants violated the Maryland Consumer Protection Act, the Maryland Consumer Debt Collection Act, and committed various common law transgressions. He named both T-Mobile and RPM as Defendants, stating that they “are believed to be interstate companies whose licenses to conduct business within the State of Maryland is [sic] unknown but which status is demanded to be made known to Plaintiff.” Id. at ¶ 10. On or about June 29, 2018, Artis served a copy of the Summons and Complaint by certified mail on David Abadir, Corporate Counsel for Legal Affairs for T-Mobile, and upon Mark T. Case, General Counsel for RPM. ECF No. 8-3. Both individuals were served at addresses in Washington State. Id. at 3. Copies of the Summons and Complaint served by Artis were noted as received on July 2, 2018. ECF No. 8-4.

         On August 7, 2018, Artis filed a Notice of Voluntary Dismissal of Defendant T-Mobile in the Circuit Court case. ECF No. 9-1. On August 20, 2018, RPM, as the only remaining Defendant in the case, removed the case to this Court on the basis of diversity of citizenship jurisdiction. ECF No. 1.

         On September 14, 2018, Artis filed the present Motion to Remand the case to Circuit Court, arguing that RPM's removal was untimely. ECF No. 8. RPM filed its Opposition on September 28, 2018, ECF No. 9, and Artis filed his Reply on October 12, 2018. ECF No. 10.

         II.

         Generally, a notice of removal must be filed within the shorter period of either “30 days after the receipt by the defendant, through service or otherwise, of a copy of the initial pleading setting forth the claim for relief upon which such action or proceeding is based” or “30 days after the service of summons upon the defendant if such initial pleading has then been filed in court and is not required to be served on the defendant.” 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b)(1). However, if the initial pleadings in the case do not suggest, on their face, that the case is removable, the thirty-day-period for removal may be delayed until the defendant has received, through appropriate service or otherwise, “a copy of an amended pleading, motion, order or other paper from which it may first be ascertained that the case is one which is or has become removable.” 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b)(3).

         The thirty-day window for removal begins when grounds for removal first appear “within the four corners of the initial pleading” or in subsequent documents. Lovern v. General Motors Corp., 121 F.3d 160, 162-63 (4th Cir. 1997). Courts rely on the facial allegations in the pleadings and other documents to determine when grounds for removal become apparent, since an inquiry into the defendant's subjective knowledge “could degenerate into a mini-trial.” Id. The facial grounds for removal may be based on “‘any information received by the defendant, whether communicated in a formal or informal manner.'” Northrop Grumman Tech. Servs., Inc. v. DynCorp Int'l, LLC, 865 F.3d 181, 186-87 (4th Cir. 2017) (quoting Yarnevic v. Brink's, Inc., 102 F.3d 753, 755 (4th Cir. 1996)). Therefore, removal is timely if effected within thirty days of ascertaining grounds for removal. See Lovern, 121 F.3d at 163 (holding that removal was timely, even though defendant removed the case eighty-eight days after service of the complaint, because defendant removed within thirty days of receiving documents that established the complete diversity of citizenship between the parties).[1]

         III.

         RPM removed this case to federal district court based on diversity jurisdiction, asserting that Artis was a citizen of Maryland, RPM was a citizen of the State of Washington, and the amount in controversy requirement was satisfied by the amount in damages Artis is seeking. See ECF No. 1 at 2. The only subject matter jurisdiction that the Court could exercise over the case is based on the diversity of the parties, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332, because the Complaint only alleges violations of Maryland state law and common law, not federal law. See ECF No. 1-3. Diversity jurisdiction requires that the parties be completely diverse-no defendant may be a citizen of the same state as any plaintiff, and no defendant may be a citizen of the forum state. See Hughes v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 617 Fed.Appx. 261, 263 (4th Cir. 2015) (citing Lincoln Prop. Co. v. Roche, 564 U.S. 81, 89 (2005)).

         For the purposes of determining jurisdiction based on diversity of citizenship, a corporation “shall be deemed to be a citizen of every State and foreign state by which it has been incorporated and of the State or foreign state where it has its principal place of business, ” except in direct actions against an insurer. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(c)(1). In a case with multiple defendants, a defendant who is not resident in the forum state cannot remove an action to federal court if the citizenship of any co-defendant, joined by the plaintiff in good faith, destroys complete diversity, regardless of whether the plaintiff has served the co-defendant. See New York Life Ins. Co. v. Deshotel, 142 F.3d 873, 883 (5th Cir. 1998).

         Artis argues that the thirty-day period for RPM to remove this case to federal court began to run on July 2, 2018, when both T-Mobile and RPM received a copy of the Complaint and Summons by certified mail. Because RPM did not remove the case until August 20, 2018, well after thirty days had elapsed since receiving the ...


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