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Witchey v. First Gold Buyers, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

May 1, 2017

LOUIS ANTHONY WITCHEY, ET AL., Plaintiffs
v.
FIRST GOLD BUYERS, INC. d/b/a SIGNATURE FUNDING, Defendant

          MEMORANDUM

          William J. Nealon United States District Judge

         On October 13, 2016, Plaintiffs, Louis Anthony Witchey; Dana Lee Witchey; Witchey Enterprises, Inc. (“Witchey Enterprises”); and LDW, Inc. (“LDW”) (collectively “Plaintiffs”); filed a complaint against Defendant, First Gold Buyers, Inc. d/b/a Signature Funding (“First Gold Buyers”), in the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. (Doc. 1). The complaint was served upon First Gold Buyers on October 20, 2016. (Id. at p. 2). On November 18, 2016, First Gold Buyers removed the action to this Court. (Id.). On December 6, 2016, Plaintiffs filed an answer to the petition for removal and a motion to remand. (Doc. 3). On December 20, 2016, Plaintiffs filed a brief in support of their motion to remand. (Doc. 6). On January 3, 2017, First Gold Buyers filed a brief in opposition to Plaintiffs' motion to remand. (Doc. 9). On January 16, 2017, Plaintiffs filed a reply. (Doc. 10). On January 24, 2017, First Gold Buyers filed a surreply, which was accepted as filed on January 31, 2017. (Docs. 11-1, 13, 14). Plaintiffs were granted leave to file a response to First Gold Buyers' surreply on or before February 14, 2017. (Doc. 13). To date, Plaintiffs have not filed a response to First Gold Buyers' surreply, and the deadline for such has passed. Therefore, Plaintiffs' motion to remand is ripe for disposition. For the reasons stated below, Plaintiffs' motion to remand will be denied.[1]

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs allege that “this is an action for rescission of illegal and void Notes, Personal Guarantees, Security Agreements and Powers of Attorney.” (Doc. 1-2, p. 7). According to Plaintiffs, “[t]he purported Notes, Personal Guarantees, Security Agreements and Powers of Attorney are the product of actions taken by [First Gold Buyers] that contain unfair trade practices and predatory lending practices.” (Id.). In particular, on September 1, 2005, Plaintiffs allege that they “purported to execute a contract, Notes, Personal Guarantees, Security Agreements and Powers of Attorney” with First Gold Buyers. (Doc. 1-2, p. 7). Plaintiffs claim that “[t]he said purported contract, Notes, Personal Guarantees, Security Agreements and Powers of Attorney were never consummated by signing all documents therein.” (Id.). Further, “[e]ither before, during and/or after the settlement, ” First Gold Buyers allegedly “failed and/or refused to provide the individual Defendants (sic) with copies of important documents, which would explain their consumer rights, as well as other rights, including but not limited to, the right to cancel the contract and the Federal Truth in Lending Disclosures.” (Id.). Plaintiffs' allege that First Gold Buyers “also intentionally failed and/or refused to provide the individual Plaintiffs with various disclosures that would indicate to individual Plaintiffs that the contract entered into was void and illegal.” (Id. at p. 8). Specifically, First Gold Buyers allegedly “failed to disclose that the loan obtained had an interest rate higher than stated and in the preliminary disclosures, which preliminary disclosures were never given.” (Id.). According to Plaintiffs, First Gold Buyers also “caused to be filed into the records of the State of New York a Summons with no documents purported to be executed by the Plaintiffs.” (Id.).

         Additionally, Plaintiffs claim that First Gold Buyers “and/or settlement officer did not furnish the individual Plaintiffs with copies of numerous important settlement documents, at any time in the loans history.” (Doc. 1-2, p. 8). Plaintiffs allege that First Gold Buyers “never during the duration of the entire purported loans history delivered upon the Plaintiffs a Notice of Default and Right to cure, with the entire accounting to show where the amounts owed were derived from.” (Id.). Also, “during the duration of the entire purported loans history, ” First Gold Buyers allegedly “never . . . delivered upon the Plaintiffs an acceleration statement, accelerating the purported loan.” (Id.). Further, Plaintiffs claim that First Gold Buyers “herein and at all times relevant thereto, was under legal obligation as a fiduciary and had the responsibility of overseeing the purported loan consummation and make sure that the individual Plaintiffs received all mandated documentation, before and after the purported transaction.” (Id.).

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         “Under 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a), defendants may remove a civil action filed in state court if the federal court would have had original jurisdiction over the action.” King v. Mansfield Univ., of Pa., 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 102137, at *5 (M.D. Pa. Aug. 5, 2015) (Rambo, J.) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a)). “Defendants seeking removal of an action must file a petition for removal with the district court within thirty days of plaintiff's service of the complaint upon defendants.” Id. (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b)). “As with any removal from state court, [removal] begins with the filing of a notice ‘containing a short and plain statement of the grounds for removal.'” Papp v. Fore-Kast Sales Co., 842 F.3d 805, 810-11 (3d Cir. 2016) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 1446(a)).

         “A plaintiff, in turn, may seek to remand the action back to state court under 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c) for ‘(1) lack of district court subject matter jurisdiction or (2) a defect in the removal procedure.'” King, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 102137, at *5 (quoting Ramos v. Quien, 631 F.Supp.2d 601, 607 (E.D. Pa. 2008); citing Balazik v. Cnty. of Dauphin, 44 F.3d 209, 213 (3d Cir. 1995)). “Upon a motion to remand, the removing defendants bear the burden of proving the existence of federal jurisdiction, In re Processed Eggs Prods. Antitrust Litig., 836 F.Supp.2d 290, 294 (E.D. Pa. 2011) (citing Dukes v. U.S. Healthcare, Inc., 57 F.3d 350, 359 (3d Cir. 1995)), as well as establishing that all pertinent procedural requirements for removal have been met.” Id. at *5-6 (citing Shadie v. Aventis Pasteur, Inc., 254 F.Supp.2d 509, 514 (M.D. Pa. 2003) (Vanaskie, J.[2])). “When a defendant removes a case based on diversity of citizenship . . . ‘courts are permitted to look to materials outside of the pleadings, “includ[ing] documents appended to a notice of removal or a motion to remand that convey information essential to the court's jurisdictional analysis.”'” Gosch v. Int'l Chapter of Horseshoers and Equine Trades, Local 947, 200 F.Supp.3d 484, 491 (M.D. Pa. 2016) (Caldwell, J.) (alterations in original) (quoting Schulman v. MyWebGrocer, Inc., 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 68954, at *3 (E.D. N.Y. May 28, 2015)). “Moreover, it is well-settled that courts must ‘construe removal statutes strictly with all doubts resolved in favor of remand.'” King, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 102137, at *6 (quoting USX Corp. v. Adriatic Ins. Co., 345 F.3d 190, 205 n.12 (3d Cir. 2003); citing Batoff v. State Farm Ins. Co., 977 F.2d 848, 851 (3d Cir. 1992); Steel Valley Auth. v. Union Switch & Signal Div., 809 F.2d 1006, 1010 (3d Cir. 1987); Corwin Jeep Sales & Serv. v. Am. Motors Sales Corp., 670 F.Supp. 591, 592 (M.D. Pa. 1986) (Rambo, J.)).

         III. DISCUSSION

         First Gold Buyers removed this action claiming that the Court has jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1332. (Doc. 1, p. 4). Plaintiffs argue, at least initially, that the Court lacks jurisdiction under both section 1331 and 1332. (Doc. 3, pp. 3-4). As discussed in more detail below, the Court need only address First Gold Buyers' assertion that the Court has jurisdiction under section 1332 because the analysis concerning that issue disposes of Plaintiffs' motion to remand.

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332, “district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all 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). Thus, “[f]or a district court to have diversity jurisdiction, ‘no plaintiff can be a citizen of the same state as any of the defendants.'” Yoder v. Morrow, 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 22611, at *3 n.2 (3d Cir. Dec. 20, 2016) (quoting Grand Union Supermarkets of the V.I., Inc. v. H.E. Lockhart Mgmt., Inc., 316 F.3d 408, 410 (3d Cir. 2003)). Moreover, “[d]iversity of citizenship must have existed at the time the complaint was filed and at the time of removal and the burden is on the removing party to establish federal jurisdiction.” Johnson v. SmithKline Beecham Corp., 724 F.3d 337, 346 (3d Cir. 2013) (internal citations omitted). “When a defendant removes a case based on diversity of citizenship, however, ‘courts are permitted to look to materials outside the pleadings, “includ[ing] documents appended to a notice of removal or a motion to remand that convey information essential to the court's jurisdictional analysis.”'” Gosch, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 102154, at *12 (quoting Schulman, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 68954, *3; citing Land v. Dollar, 330 U.S. 731, 735 n.4 (1947)).

         “For purposes of determining citizenship, ‘[a] natural person is deemed to be a citizen of the place where he is domiciled.'” Austin v. Nugent, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 167087, at *6 (M.D. Pa. Dec. 5, 2016) (Mannion, J.) (alteration in original) (quoting Lincoln Benefit Life Co. v. AEI Life, LLC, 800 F.3d 99, 104 (3d Cir. 2015)). As for corporations, “[t]he federal diversity jurisdiction statute provides that ‘a corporation shall be deemed to be a citizen of any State by which it has been incorporated and of the State where it has its principal place of business.'” Hertz Corp. v. Friend, 559 U.S. 77, 80 (2010) (emphasis in original) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 1332(c)(1)). The United States Supreme Court has established that a corporation's principal place of business is “the place where the corporation's high level officers direct, control, and coordinate the corporation's activities.” Id. at 80. In other words, a corporation's principal place of business is its “nerve center.” Id. at 80-81, 92-93. “And in practice it should normally be the place where the corporation maintains its headquarters-provided that the headquarters is the actual center of direction, control, and coordination, i.e., the ‘nerve center, ' and not simply an office where the corporation holds its board hearings . . . .” Id. at 93.

         Importantly, the parties do not dispute that the amount in controversy in this action exceeds $75, 000.00. See (Doc. 1, pp. 3-4); (Doc. 1-2, pp. 29-30). Therefore, to defeat the instant motion to remand by relying on diversity jurisdiction, First Gold Buyers must show that there is complete diversity among the parties. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332.

         According to the pleadings, each Plaintiff is a citizen of Pennsylvania. In particular, Plaintiffs Louis Anthony Witchey and Dana Lee Witchey are natural persons who reside in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. (Doc. 1, p. 2); (Doc. 1-2, p. 6); (Doc. 3, p. 2). Plaintiff Witchey Enterprises is a Pennsylvania corporation that is “organized, existing and operating in and pursuant to the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.” (Doc. 1-2, p. 6); see (Doc. 1, p. 3); (Doc. 3, p. 2). Plaintiff LDW “is a corporation organized, existing and operating in and pursuant to the laws of Pennsylvania.” (Id.). First Gold Buyers states ...


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