United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
Barry Fischer Senior U.S. District Judge.
NOW, this 16th day of October, 2019, upon consideration of
the Motion to Proceed In Forma Pauperis filed by pro se
Defendant Vance Strader (“Strader”) as well as
the accompanying Notice of Removal, (Docket No. ), wherein
he has attempted to remove a foreclosure action wherein
Plaintiff HSBC Bank, USA seeks an in rem judgment of $31,
915.66 plus costs against him in the Court of Common Pleas of
Allegheny County, based upon his assertions that this Court
has original subject matter jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C.
§ 1331 because his counterclaims arise under various
federal laws and alternatively under 28 U.S.C. § 1332
due to the fact that his counterclaims seek in excess of $3
million from diverse party HSBC, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that
Strader's Motion to Proceed In Forma Paueris  is
FURTHER ORDERED that pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c),
this matter is REMANDED to the Court of Common Pleas of
Allegheny County, forthwith;
FURTHER ORDERED that the Clerk of Court shall mark this case
CLOSED and serve a certified copy of this Order on the
Prothonotary for the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny
holding, the Court notes that “[f]ederal courts are
courts of limited jurisdiction.” Kokkonen v.
Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377, 114
S.Ct. 1673, 128 L.Ed.2d 391 (1994). “They possess only
that power authorized by Constitution or statute, which is
not expanded by judicial decree.” Id.
(internal citations omitted). In every case, the Court has
“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, 514, 126 S.Ct. 1235, 163 L.Ed.2d
1097 (2006). When a party removes a case to federal court,
the Court must “evaluate whether that action could have
been brought originally in federal court.” Home
Depot U.S. A., Inc. v. Jackson, 139 S.Ct. 1743, 1748,
204 L.Ed.2d 34 (2019), reh'g denied, No.
17-1471, 2019 WL 3538074 (U.S. Aug. 5, 2019). The Court
should remand the case “[i]f at any time before final
judgment it appears that the [Court] lacks subject matter
jurisdiction.” 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). Strader, as
the removing party asserting that the Court has jurisdiction
over this case, bears the burden of establishing same.
Kokkonen, 511 U.S. at 377, 114 S.Ct. 1673.
considered the matter, the Court finds that the instant
removal is both procedurally and substantively deficient
under the relevant removal statutes, necessitating a remand
of this matter to state court for lack of subject matter
jurisdiction. To this end, the removal is procedurally
defective because the removal is untimely under 28 U.S.C.
§ 1446(b)(1) which requires the notice of removal to be
filed within thirty (30) days of Strader's receipt of the
Complaint “through service or otherwise” and he
entered his appearance in state court in April of 2019 at
which time he successfully petitioned that court to set aside
a default judgment entered against him and has proceeded to
litigate the matter there until the present removal was made
six months later. See28 U.S.C. § 1446(b)(1)
(“The notice of removal of a civil action or proceeding
shall be filed within 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.”).
Additionally, to the extent that the removal is premised on
diversity of citizenship, 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b)(2) bars a
Pennsylvania citizen such as Strader from removing a civil
action to this Court on diversity grounds. See28
U.S.C. § 1441(b)(2) (“A civil action otherwise
removable solely on the basis of the jurisdiction under
section 1332(a) of this title may not be removed if any of
the parties in interest properly joined and served as
defendants is a citizen of the State in which such action is
brought.”). In any event, these procedural deficiencies
cannot be cured because the purported removal is erroneously
based upon counterclaims arising under federal law and/or the
amount in controversy at issue in such counterclaims both of
which are insufficient to establish subject matter
jurisdiction over the removed action.
respect to the removal under § 1331, as this Court has
“[t]he presence or absence of federal-question
jurisdiction is governed by the ‘well-pleaded complaint
rule,' which provides that federal [question]
jurisdiction exists only where a federal question is
presented on the face of the plaintiff's properly pleaded
complaint.” Berne Corp. v. Government of The Virgin
Islands, 570 F.3d 130, 136 (3d. Cir. 2009) (citation to
quoted source omitted). Under this standard, “there can
be no removal on the basis of a federal question unless the
federal law under which the claim arises is a direct and
essential element of the plaintiffs['] case.”
In re Community Bank of Northern Virginia, 418 F.3d
277, 293 (3d Cir. 2005) (citations omitted, emphasis added).
Because “[r]emoval statutes are ... strictly construed,
with all doubts ... resolved in favor of remand, ”
Defendants bear “a heavy burden of showing that”
this action “is properly [in] federal court.”
Brown v. Jevic, 575 F.3d 322, 326 (3d Cir. 2009)
Alpha Fin. Mortg., Inc. v. Baugh, Civ. A. No.
09-814, 2009 WL 3681858, at *2 (W.D. Pa. Nov. 3, 2009).
Simply put, “a defendant cannot create federal
jurisdiction by asserting federal defenses or counterclaims
to a state law foreclosure complaint.” U.S. Bank
Nat'l Ass'n v. Vaughn, No. 1:18-CV-01826, 2019
WL 3022799, at *2 (M.D. Pa. May 6, 2019), report and
recommendation adopted, No. 1:18-CV-1826, 2019
WL 3022356 (M.D. Pa. May 24, 2019) (citations omitted). Here,
Strader lists the “federal questions” upon which
the removal relies to include, among other things, federal
common law, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the Fair
Credit Reporting Act, various provisions of the U.S.
Constitution, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, and 1985, federal
securities laws, as well as the RICO Act, and he admits that
“[t]hese Federal questions will also be the basis for
all my counterclaims.” (Docket No. 1-1 at 1-2). Hence,
the alleged federal defenses and counterclaims cannot serve
as the basis for a removal and the assertion of federal
question jurisdiction must be denied.
the removal on the basis of diversity jurisdiction, it is
Strader's burden to demonstrate that the parties are
completely diverse and that the amount in controversy is in
excess of the jurisdictional threshold of $75, 000.
See28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). While the parties here
are diverse, Strader has not shown that the operative
complaint filed against him seeks an amount in excess of $75,
000. See28 U.S.C. § 1446(c)(2) (“If
removal of a civil action is sought on the basis of the
jurisdiction conferred by section 1332(a), the sum demanded
in good faith in the initial pleading shall be deemed to be
the amount in controversy”). As noted, the foreclosure
complaint expressly seeks less than the jurisdictional amount
as HSBC requests an in rem judgment in the amount of $31,
915.66 plus costs and fees, amounts which do not approach the
$75, 000 threshold. (Docket No. 1-1). Strader also bases his
removal on the purported $3 million value of his
counterclaims. (Docket No. 1). Setting aside the lack of
support for such a valuation of the counterclaims, the
Supreme Court has held that “[s]ection 1441(a)
[…] does not permit removal based on counterclaims at
all, as a counterclaim is irrelevant to whether the district
court had ‘original jurisdiction' over the civil
action.” Home Depot, 139 S.Ct. at 1748.
Therefore, as Strader has failed to demonstrate that this
Court has diversity jurisdiction over the state court
foreclosure complaint, this Court lacks subject matter
jurisdiction over this case.
this matter is remanded to the Court of Common Pleas for all