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Parmer v. Bank of America, N.A.

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Eastern Division

June 20, 2019

LAVELLE PARMER, Plaintiff,
v.
BANK OF AMERICA, N.A., and NATIONSTAR MORTGAGE, LLC, d/b/a Mr. Cooper, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          W. KEITH WATKINS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Whether the court has jurisdiction turns on a single sentence in the complaint: “Plaintiff prays . . . this Court will make and enter and Order directing Defendants to . . . mark her mortgage satisfied.” (Doc. # 2-1, at 4.) Though the mortgage here was never worth more than $55, 110.80, evidence shows that the underlying property is worth at least $88, 501. (Doc. # 2-2, at 11; Doc. # 2-3, at 2.) And though there is not so much as a whiff of foreclosure in the air, decisions from this court, the former Fifth Circuit, and the Eleventh Circuit instruct that when a plaintiff seeks an order extinguishing a mortgage, the amount in controversy is, for jurisdictional purposes, the value of the underlying property. The motion to remand this action to state court (Doc. # 14) is therefore due to be denied.

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         “If a state-court complaint states a case that satisfies federal jurisdictional requirements, a defendant may remove the action to federal court” under 28 U.S.C. § 1446. Roe v. Michelin N. Am., Inc., 613 F.3d 1058, 1060 (11th Cir. 2010). “A removing defendant bears the burden of proving proper federal jurisdiction.” Leonard v. Enter. Rent a Car, 279 F.3d 967, 972 (11th Cir. 2002). “Any doubts about the propriety of federal jurisdiction should be resolved in favor of remand to state court.” Adventure Outdoors, Inc. v. Bloomberg, 552 F.3d 1290, 1294 (11th Cir. 2008). But if a court has jurisdiction, it has a “virtually unflagging obligation” to exercise it. Colo. River Water Conservation Dist. v. United States, 424 U.S. 800, 817 (1976); see Cohens v. Virginia, 19 U.S. (6 Wheat.) 264, 404 (1821).

         Federal courts have “diversity jurisdiction” over “all civil actions where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000” and the action is between “citizens of different States.” 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1). “Where a plaintiff fails to specify the total amount of damages demanded, . . . a defendant seeking removal based on diversity jurisdiction must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the amount in controversy exceeds the $75, 000 jurisdictional requirement.” Leonard, 279 F.3d at 972.

         II. BACKGROUND

         In 1999, Plaintiff Lavelle Parmer borrowed $55, 110.80 from Defendant Bank of America, N.A., agreeing to make monthly payments for fifteen years at a fixed interest rate of 10.2 percent. (Doc. # 2-2, at 11.) That promissory note was secured by a mortgage on her home in Randolph County, Alabama. (Doc. # 17-1, at 2, 8.) In 2013, Bank of America transferred its interest in the note to Defendant Nationstar Mortgage, LLC. (Doc. # 2-1, at 2.) According to 2018 records, the tax appraisal of the property is $88, 501. (Doc. # 2-3, at 2.)

         Ms. Parmer alleges that for all fifteen years, she “faithfully” and “timely” paid what Bank of America told her to pay: $633.36 a month. (Doc. # 2-1, at 2; see Doc. # 2-2, at 11.) She stopped making payments in 2014, “when she . . . paid what was believed to be her last payment due.” (Doc. # 2-1, at 3.) According to Ms. Parmer, however, the amount of the monthly payments should have been $598.98, meaning that over the years she overpaid $6, 188.40. (Doc. # 2-1, at 2; see Doc. # 14, at 2.) To make matters worse, in January 2019 Nationstar said that Ms. Parmer still owed $27, 631.84, including $18, 758.08 in principal. (Doc. # 2-1, at 3; Doc. # 14-1, at 4.) But Nationstar has not, so far as the record shows, threatened or moved to foreclose.

         In March 2019, Ms. Parmer filed this lawsuit in the Circuit Court of Randolph County, Alabama. Her complaint has two counts. Count One says that Defendants committed fraud by intentionally telling Ms. Parmer to pay more than was necessary to amortize her mortgage. On this count, Ms. Parmer “demands judgment against Defendants for all sums she is entitled to under the pleadings and proof.” (Doc. # 2- 1, at 3.) Count Two asserts that Defendants are in breach of contract because they insist that a balance is owed when, in fact, Ms. Parmer is entitled to a refund. On this count, Ms. Parmer “demands that her mortgage be satisfied” and asks the court to “enter an Order directing the Defendants to refund excess payments to her and to mark her mortgage satisfied.” (Doc. # 2-1, at 4.)

         Defendants filed a timely notice of removal. See 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b). (Docs. # 2, 2-4.) Ms. Parmer now moves to remand, arguing that the jurisdictional amount-in-controversy requirement is not met. (Doc. # 14.) Defendants oppose remanding to state court. (Doc. # 17.) The motion to remand is now ripe.

         III. DISCUSSION

         No one disputes that this case is between citizens of different states. Bank of America is a citizen of North Carolina, Nationstar is a citizen of Delaware and Texas, and Ms. Parmer is a citizen of Alabama. (Doc. # 2, at 2-5.) So if the “value” of “the matter in controversy” exceeds $75, 000, then the court has diversity jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a).

         Ms. Parmer's complaint does not specify a total amount of damages (see Doc. # 2-1), so Defendants must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000. Leonard, 279 F.3d at 972. Defendants have not satisfied that burden by reference to any request for damages. Ms. Parmer alleges she overpaid Defendants $6, 188.40. She prays for that amount in damages, plus “all sums she is entitled to” on her fraud claim. (Doc. # 2-1, at 3-4.) But her complaint does not refer to punitive damages. Cf. Collins v. Shelley ex rel. Shelley, 514 So.2d 1358, 1361 (Ala. 1987) (holding plaintiffs were limited to compensatory damages on a wantonness claim when they “did not state a claim for punitive damages in the ad damnum clause of their complaint”). And Ms. Parmer and her attorney “expressly stipulate that under no circumstances will [they] request or accept any award of damages in excess of $75, 000.” (Doc. # 14, at 2.)[1]

         So if the court has diversity jurisdiction, it must be because Ms. Parmer seeks declaratory or injunctive relief. “When a plaintiff seeks injunctive or declaratory relief, the amount in controversy is the monetary value of the object of the litigation from the plaintiff's perspective.” Cohen v. Office Depot, Inc., 204 F.3d 1069, 1077 (11th Cir. 2000) (citing Ericsson GE Mobile Commc'ns, Inc. v. Motorola Commc'ns & Elecs., Inc., 120 F.3d 216, 218-20 (11th Cir. 1997)). “In other words, the value of the requested injunctive relief is the monetary value of the benefit that would flow to the plaintiff if the injunction were granted.” Id. Ms. Parmer's complaint prays for injunctive or declaratory relief: She seeks ...


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