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Federal National Mortgage Association, Aka Fannie Mae, A v. Oliver Palmer and Barbara Palmer

November 28, 2011

FEDERAL NATIONAL MORTGAGE ASSOCIATION, AKA FANNIE MAE, A
CORPORATION CREATED BY THE CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
OLIVER PALMER AND BARBARA PALMER, HUSBAND AND WIFE; AND
DOES I THROUGH X, UNKNOWN OCCUPANTS OF THE PROPERTY COMMONLY KNOWN AS 115 RIVERSIDE DRIVE, HORSESHOE BEND, BOISE COUNTY, IDAHO, DEFENDANTS.
OLIVER PALMER AND BARBARA PALMER, HUSBAND AND WIFE, COUNTERCLAIMANTS,
v.
FEDERAL NATIONAL MORTGAGE ASSOCIATION, AKA FANNIE MAE, A CORPORATION CREATED BY THE CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES, COUNTERDEFENDANT.



MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

The Court has before it Plaintiff's Motion to Remand. (Dkt. 9.) The parties have fully briefed the motion and it is ripe for the Court's consideration. Having reviewed the parties' briefing, as well as the record in this case, the Court finds that the facts and legal arguments are adequately presented in the briefs and record. Accordingly, in the interest of avoiding further delay, and because the Court conclusively finds that the decisional process would not be aided significantly by oral argument, the motion will be decided on the record before this Court without oral argument. Dist. Idaho Loc. Civ. R. 7.1(d).

The Court finds, as more fully explained below, that Plaintiff's Motion to Remand should be granted.*fn1

BACKGROUND

On May 6, 2011, Plaintiff Federal National Mortgage Association ("Fannie Mae") filed a complaint in the Fourth Judicial District Court, Magistrate Division, of the State of Idaho, in Boise County, to evict Defendants Oliver and Barbara Palmer from residential real property located in Horseshoe Bend, Idaho (the "Property"). Fannie Mae alleged that it held title to the Property pursuant to a foreclosure Trustee's Deed, which reflected that on January 28, 2011, Fannie Mae purchased all right, title and interest to the Property by being the highest bidder at a Trustee's sale.

Fannie Mae recorded the Trustee's Deed on February 10, 2011, as Instrument No. 230451 in the recorder's office of Boise County, Idaho. (Compl. Ex. A, Dkt. 1-1.) The Palmers, however, were still residing in the Property. Fannie Mae asserted its rights to possession of the property pursuant to Idaho Code § 45-1506(11), and sought possession of the Property and eviction of the Palmers pursuant to Idaho Code § 6-310. No monetary damages were claimed other than Fannie Mae's costs and attorney fees in the amount of $350.00 if the action was not contested.

On May 23, 2011, the Palmers removed the state court action to this Court, contending that Fannie Mae is not the true owner of the property, the foreclosure sale was invalid, and therefore Fannie Mae had no basis upon which to bring the action for eviction. The Palmers contend this Court has jurisdiction on the basis of diversity of citizenship, 28 U.S.C. § 1332, because the value of the Property exceeds $75,000 in value.

On July 12, 2011, Fannie Mae filed its motion to remand the action to state court. (Dkt. 9.) Fannie Mae contends that the Palmer's removal action is simply a delay tactic because the Complaint did not satisfy the minimum amount in controversy to establish diversity jurisdiction. Fannie Mae explained it was not seeking any damages, other than attorney fees, pursuant to the expedited eviction proceedings authorized by Idaho Code § 6-310. Fannie Mae argues that the Palmer's anticipated counterclaim for wrongful foreclosure cannot satisfy the amount in controversy requirement of 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Fannie Mae argues also that no federal question is apparent from the face of its Complaint. Finally, Fannie Mae requests an award of attorney fees pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c) on the grounds that the Palmer's removal action lacked a reasonable basis.

In response, the Palmers filed their Answer and Counterclaim and a memorandum refuting Fannie Mae's claims. (Dkt. 13.) The Palmers dispute that a valid trustee's sale occurred. Their counterclaim seeks to quiet title in the Property, and give the Palmers all right and title to the Property free and clear of any liens. The Palmers argue, therefore, that jurisdiction on the basis of diversity exists, because the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000 considering the Property has over $75,000 in value. In addition, the Palmers assert that, on the basis of their counterclaim for quiet title, this Court has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1349, which the Palmers allege confers jurisdiction over Fannie Mae on the grounds that Fannie Mae is a corporation in which the United States holds a majority ownership interest.*fn2 Alternatively, the Palmers argue that the Court has jurisdiction because Fannie Mae has been under a conservatorship by the Federal Housing and Finance Agency ("FHFA"), and therefore the FHFA is the only legal entity to assert any rights or powers belonging to Fannie Mae regarding ownership and possession of the Property.

In reply, Fannie Mae argues that the above arguments are without merit, and that the Palmers cannot manufacture jurisdiction on the basis of their defenses or their counterclaim.

DISPOSITION

1. Legal Standards for Jurisdiction of a Removed Action

Under 28 U.S.C. § 1441, a defendant may remove an action originally filed in state court to federal court if the federal court would have had original jurisdiction when the action first commenced.28 U.S.C. §1332(a)(2) provides the basis for federal jurisdiction of "all civil actions where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75,000, exclusive of interests and costs, and is between citizens of a state and citizens or subjects of a foreign state." The sum or amount in controversy is determined by the amount of damages in dispute, which may include punitive damages and attorney's fees. Kroske v. U.S. Bank Corp., 432 F.3d 976, 980 (9th Cir. 2005); Ridder Bros., Inc. v. Blethen, 142 F.2d 395, 399 (9th Cir. 1944). Alternatively, the Court's jurisdiction may be based upon a "federal question" as disclosed on the face of the complaint. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a); Sparta Surgical Corp. v. Nat'l Ass'n of Securities Dealers, Inc., 159 F.3d 1209, 1211 (9th Cir. 1998).

28 U.S.C. § 1441is strictly construed against removal jurisdiction; if there is any doubt to the right of removal in the first instance, federal jurisdiction must be rejected. Prize Frize, Inc. v. Matrix Inc., 167 F.3d 1261, 1265 (9th Cir. 1999), rev'd in part by Abrego Abrego v. The Dow Chem. Co., 443 F.3d 676 (9th Cir. 2006); Gaus v. Miles, Inc., 980 F.2d 564, 566 (9th Cir. 1992).

28 U.S.C. § 1447(c) permits a party to challenge the removal action by seeking remand.*fn3 When suit is instituted in state court and removed to federal court, a strong presumption exists that the plaintiff has not claimed a large enough amount to confer jurisdiction on a federal court. St. Paul Mercury Indem. Co. v. Red Cab Co., 303 U.S. 283, 290 (1938). As a result of the strong presumption against removal jurisdiction, the party seeking removal must carry the burden of establishing that removal is proper. Prize Frize, Inc. 167 F.3d at 1265; Gaus, 980 F.2d at 566. ...


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