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Strategic Properties v. Washington

United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Atlanta Division

May 22, 2018

STRATEGIC PROPERTIES, Plaintiff,
v.
ASHLEY WASHINGTON, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          WILLIAM S. DUFFEY, JR., UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Ashley Washington's (“Ms. Washington”) “Complaint Preliminary and Permanent Injunction, Temporary Restraining Order against Writ of Possession field in the Magistrate Court of Fulton County” [1.1] (“Complaint”).

         I. DISCUSSION

         Sometime in early 2018, Plaintiff Strategic Properties (“Plaintiff”) initiated a dispossessory proceeding against its tenant, Ms. Washington, in the Magistrate Court of Fulton County, Georgia (the “Fulton County Action”).[1] On May 18, 2018, Ms. Washington, proceeding pro se, removed the Fulton County action to this Court by filing her Complaint. (See [1.1], [3]). Ms. Washington provides no explanation, argument, or facts to support the jurisdictional basis for her removal.

         Federal courts “have an independent obligation to determine whether subject-matter jurisdiction exists, even in the absence of a challenge from any party.” Arbaugh v. Y&H Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 501 (2006). The Eleventh Circuit consistently has held that “a court should inquire into whether it has subject matter jurisdiction at the earliest possible stage in the proceedings. Indeed, it is well settled that a federal court is obligated to inquire into subject matter jurisdiction sua sponte whenever it may be lacking.” Univ. of S. Ala. v. Am. Tobacco Co., 168 F.3d 405, 410 (11th Cir. 1999).

         “The 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. . . . The rule makes the plaintiff the master of the claim; he or she may avoid federal jurisdiction by exclusive reliance on state law.” Caterpillar, Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987) (citations omitted); see Novastar Mortg. Inc. v. Bennett, 173 F.Supp.2d 1358, 1361 (N.D.Ga. 2001) (“[T]he court must look only to the plaintiff's claim as a basis for federal jurisdiction.”). “[I]n removal cases, the burden is on the party who sought removal to demonstrate that federal jurisdiction exists.” Kirkland v. Midland Mortg. Co., 243 F.3d 1277, 1281 n.5 (11th Cir. 2001). “[U]ncertainties are resolved in favor of remand.” Burns v. Windsor Ins. Co., 31 F.3d 1092, 1095 (11th Cir. 1994).

         The Court finds that Plaintiff's Complaint does not present a federal question. Plaintiff's Complaint is a dispossessory action which is based solely on state law. No federal question is presented on the face of Plaintiff's Complaint. That Defendant asserts defenses or counterclaims based on federal law cannot confer federal subject matter jurisdiction over this action. See Beneficial Nat'l Bank v. Anderson, 539 U.S. 1, 6 (2003); Holmes Group, Inc. v. Vornado Air Circulation Sys., Inc., 535 U.S. 826, 830-32 (2002).

         The Court also lacks diversity jurisdiction over this action. Diversity jurisdiction exists over suits between citizens of different states where the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). Here, the record does not show the citizenship of the parties, and, even if there is complete diversity between the parties, the amount-in-controversy requirement cannot be satisfied because this is a dispossessory action. “[A] claim seeking only ejectment in a dispossessory action cannot be reduced to a monetary sum for the purposes of determining the amount in controversy.” Citimortgage, Inc. v. Dhinoja, 705 F.Supp.2d 1378, 1382 (N.D.Ga. 2010); Novastar Mortg., Inc. v. Bennett, 173 F.Supp.2d 1358, 1361 (N.D.Ga. 2001), aff'd, 35 Fed.Appx. 858 (11th Cir. 2002); cf. Fed. Home Loan Mortg. Corp. v. Williams, Nos. 1:07-cv-2864-RWS, 1:07-cv-2865-RWS, 2008 WL 115096, at *2 (N.D.Ga. Jan 29, 2008) (“[A] dispossessory proceeding under Georgia law is not an ownership dispute, but rather only a dispute over the limited right to possession, title to property is not at issue and, accordingly, the removing Defendant may not rely on the value of the property as a whole to satisfy the amount in controversy requirement.”). The amount-in-controversy requirement is not satisfied and removal is not proper based on diversity of citizenship.

         Because the Court lacks both federal question and diversity jurisdiction, this action is required to be remanded to state court. See 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c) (“If at any time before final judgment it appears that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the case shall be remanded.”).

         II. CONCLUSION

         For the foregoing reasons, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that this action is REMANDED to the Magistrate Court of Fulton County, Georgia.

         SO ORDERED.

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