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Gaston v. Madison Heights Apartments

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division

November 20, 2019

AALIYAH GASTON, Plaintiff,
v.
MADISON HEIGHTS APARTMENTS, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER OF DISMISSAL

         This court has, sua sponte, on its own, reviewed the petition for removal filed by plaintiff, Aaliyah Gaston, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441, and seeking a stay of eviction proceedings commenced against plaintiff in state court by the defendant, Madison Heights Apartments. See doc. no. 1 (Petition for Removaland Federal Stay of Eviction). Upon consideration of the pleadings, and for the reasons stated below, this case is due to be remanded to the state court from which it was improvidently removed.

         Defendant commenced eviction proceedings against plaintiff in the District Court for Madison County, Alabama, on October 10, 2019, by filing a complaint alleging that it had served a written notice terminating Aaliyah Gaston's right to retain possession of property located at 126 Michael Avenue, Apartment B, in Madison, Alabama, due to Gaston's failure to pay $400 in rent. See doc. no. 1-1 (State Court Pleadings), at 3 (State Court Eviction/Unlawful Detainer Complaint);[1]see also Ala. Code § 35-9A-101 et seq. (1975) (Alabama Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act); id. § 6-6-310 et seq. (Alabama Unlawful Detainer Statute). Gaston's October 28, 2019 answer to the state-court complaint alleged only that Madison Heights Apartments “did not serve [him or her] with a proper termination of lease notice before filing this case.” Id., at 2 (Answer to Landlord's Claim).

         Gaston's petition for removal was filed eleven days later, on November 8, 2019, and is based upon 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b), which provides that a state-court action may be removed to a United States District Court on the basis of the parties' diversity of citizenship: i.e.,

(b) Removal based on diversity of citizenship.-
(1) In determining whether a civil action is removable on the basis of the jurisdiction under section 1332(a) of this title, the citizenship of defendants sued under fictitious names shall be disregarded.
(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.

28 U.S.C. § 1441(b).[2]

         In turn, the pertinent parts of the federal statute conferring jurisdiction upon a federal court on the basis of the parties' diversity of citizenship provides that: “The 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) (ellipses supplied).

         As the language of the foregoing statutes clearly implies, federal courts are tribunals of limited jurisdiction, “‘empowered to hear only those cases within the judicial power of the United States as defined by Article III of the Constitution,' and which have been entrusted to them by a jurisdictional grant authorized by Congress.” University of South Alabama v. The American Tobacco Co., 168 F.3d 405, 409 (11th Cir. 1999) (quoting Taylor v. Appleton, 30 F.3d 1365, 1367 (11th Cir. 1994)). Accordingly, an “Article III court must be sure of its own jurisdiction before getting to the merits” of any action. Ortiz v. Fiberboard Corp., 527 U.S. 815, 831 (1999) (citing Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Environment, 523 U.S. 83, 88-89 (1998)).

         A defendant who seeks to remove a state-court action to district court bears the burden of proving that federal jurisdiction exists. See, e.g., Leonard v. Enterprise Rent A Car, 279 F.3d 967, 972 (11th Cir. 2002); Williams v. Best Buy Co., 269 F.3d 1316, 1319-20 (11th Cir. 2001). When determining the propriety of a removal, district courts are directed to construe the removal statutes narrowly, and “all uncertainties as to removal jurisdiction are to be resolved in favor of remand.” Russell Corp. v. American Home Assurance Co., 264 F.3d 1040, 1050 (11th Cir. 2001) (citing Burns v. Windsor Insurance Co., 31 F.3d 1092, 1095 (11th Cir. 1994)). Most importantly, the court must focus upon jurisdictional facts alleged on the date the case was removed from state court. See, e.g., Burns, 31 F.3d at 1097 n.13 (“Jurisdictional facts are assessed on the basis of plaintiff's complaint as of the time of removal.”) (emphasis in original) (citations omitted). Finally, district courts are admonished to determine jurisdiction “at the earliest possible stage in the proceedings.” University of South Alabama, 168 F.3d at 410.

         Even assuming that plaintiff can establish that there is complete diversity of citizenship between the parties, [3] there is no proof that “the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs.” 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a); see doc. no. 1-1 (State Court Pleadings), at 3 (Statement of Claim Eviction/Unlawful Detainer).[4] Indeed, the jurisdiction of the District Court of Madison County, Alabama, is limited to cases in which the amount in controversy does not exceed $20, 000. See Ala. Code § 12-12-30 (1975).[5] Further, plaintiff has neither alleged nor established a basis for federal question jurisdiction.

         Accordingly, it is ORDERED, ADJUDGED, and DECREED that this case be, and the same hereby is, dismissed for lack of federal jurisdiction. The Clerk is directed to remand the action to the District Court of Madison County, Alabama, from which it was improvidently removed. Plaintiffs claim to proceed in forma pauperis, without payment of court fees or costs, is DENIED.

         DONE ...


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