United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
L. WHITE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
before this Court is the motion of plaintiff Federal National
Mortgage Association (hereafter "Fannie Mae") to
remand this action to the Associate Circuit Court of
Jefferson County, Missouri, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
1447. (Docket No. 7). For the reasons discussed below, the
motion will be granted, and this matter will be remanded
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c) ("If at any time
before final judgment it appears that the district court
lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the case shall be
case stems from an unlawful detainer action filed by Fannie
Mae in the Associate Circuit Court of Jefferson County,
Missouri, seeking to regain possession of real property
located at 216 Chestnut Street, Crystal City, MO 63109.
Federal National Mortgage v. Underwood, Case No.
17JE-AC02324 (23rd Jud. Cir. Jun. 14, 2017). On June 19,
2017, Blondell Underwood, Movant/Defendant Rodney Underwood
(hereafter "Underwood"), and one Jane Doe were
served with a copy of the petition. Both of the Underwoods
appeared for a bench trial, held on August 29, 2017. On that
date, the Court entered judgment against them and in Fannie
Mae's favor for possession of the property, and also for
monetary damages due to the unlawful detainer of the
the expiration of the time for seeking direct appellate
review, Underwood filed in this Court a document entitled
"Notice of Removal From Municipal Court to United States
District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri/Motion to
Set Aside Judgments." (Docket No. 1). As grounds for
removal, Underwood claims that the state court wrongfully
rejected his argument that the Chestnut Street property is
Indian property that was not subject to the state court's
jurisdiction. He also claims that the parties failed to prove
they are corporate entities, the state court proceedings are
void and fraudulent, the parties failed to answer inquiries
about the loan, he recognizes only "tribal and
ecclesiastical" jurisdiction, the Chestnut Street
property is tribal land, and other similar assertions.
Id. He states he does not consent to the state
court's judgment taking the Chestnut Street property, and
he asks this Court to set aside that judgment.
September 26, 2017, Fannie Mae filed the instant motion,
seeking remand pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1447. In support,
Fannie Mae argues that Underwood's removal notice was
untimely filed, and that this Court lacks subject matter
jurisdiction. In response, Underwood argues that he is a
"natural born living man, Autochthonous Flesh and Blood
Melaninite Male, and enrolled tribal member and Chief of the
WAZIKA XOWE QUAPAW TRIBE, descendants of QUAPAW ancestors, an
Indigenous People of North America (formerly known to our
ancestors as Turtle Island) (Hereinafter "the
Tribe"), Beneficial First Lien Holder of RODNEY ANDREW
UNDERWOOD, whose commercial status is White and American
Indian." (Docket No. 9 at 1) (emphasis in original).
Underwood sets forth many claims, including that the Chestnut
Street property is tribal land that was not subject to the
state court's jurisdiction. He asks this Court to set
aside the state court judgment, and restore his possession of
the property. He also states that he seeks monetary damages.
courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. They possess only
that power authorized by Constitution and statute."
Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of America, 511
U.S. 375, 377 (1994). If a federal court takes action in a
dispute over which it lacks subject matter jurisdiction, that
action is a nullity. American Fire & Casualty Co. v.
Finn, 341 U.S. 6, 17-18(1951).
action may be removed to federal court only if it could have
been brought in federal court originally; thus, the diversity
and amount in controversy requirements of 28 U.S.C. §
1332 must be met, or the claim must be based upon a federal
question pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Peters v.
Union Pacific R. Co., 80 F.3d 257, 260 (8th Cir. 1996).
The party seeing removal and opposing remand bears the burden
of establishing federal jurisdiction. In re Business
Men's Assur. Co. of America, 992 F.2d 181, 183 (8th
Cir. 1993). Doubts concerning federal jurisdiction should be
resolved in favor of remand. Id.
case, as Fannie Mae correctly argues, Underwood neither
alleges a legitimate legal basis for removal of the
underlying proceeding, nor explains how this Court has
jurisdiction over this matter. Review of the petition in the
underlying action shows that it is based solely upon state
law. It raises no federal question, and therefore can provide
no basis for federal question jurisdiction. To the extent
Underwood can be understood to argue that federal question
jurisdiction exists because he is a member of a Native
American Indian tribe and the Chestnut Street property is
tribal property, an unlawful detainer proceeding does not
create federal question jurisdiction. See Taylor v.
Anderson, 234 U.S. 74 (1914) (allegations in an action
for ejectment that defendants were asserting ownership under
a certain deed, and that such deed was void under legislation
restricting alienation of lands allotted to the Choctaw and
Chickasaw Indians, did not present a case arising under the
laws of the United States over which a federal court has
jurisdiction without diversity of citizenship). To the extent
Underwood can be understood to claim the right to removal
because he has a defense, counterclaim or action based upon
federal law, such claim fails. Caterpillar Inc. v.
Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 393 (1987) (a case may not be
removed to federal court on the basis of a federal defense);
First Nat. Bank of Pulaski v. Curry, 301 F.3d 456,
462 (6th Cir. 2002) ("[c]ounterclaims, cross-claims, and
third-party claims cannot be the basis for removal");
Holmes Group, Inc. v. Vornado Air Circulation Systems,
Inc., 535 U.S. 826, 831 (2002) (a counterclaim cannot
establish "arising under" jurisdiction). Finally,
even if this Court did have jurisdiction predicated on
diversity, this action would not be removable because
Underwood is a citizen of the state in which the action was
brought. See 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b)(2) (actions
where jurisdiction is predicated solely on diversity are
"removable only if none of the parties in interest
properly joined and served as defendants is a citizen of the
State in which such action is brought").
addition, the Court finds that the Rooker-Feldman
doctrine divests this Court of subject matter jurisdiction
over this action. See District of Columbia Court of
Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 482 (1983), Rooker
v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413, 416 (1923).
"Under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, lower
federal courts lack jurisdiction to engage in appellate
review of state court determinations." In re
Goetzman, 91 F.3d 1173, 1177 (8th Cir. 1996). The
doctrine also deprives this Court of jurisdiction over claims
that are "inextricably intertwined" with claims
adjudicated in state court. Feldman, 460 U.S. at 482
n. 16. A claim is inextricably intertwined under
Rooker-Feldman if it "succeeds only to the
extent that the state court wrongly decided the issues before
it [or] if the relief requested . . . would effectively
reverse the state court decision or void its ruling."
Charchenko v. City of Stillwater, 47 F.3d 981, 983
(8th Cir. 1995).
case, it could not be more clear that Underwood is asking
this Court to engage in appellate review of the state
court's determination. In his "Notice of Removal
From Municipal Court to United States District Court for the
Eastern District of Missouri/Motion to Set Aside Judgments,
" he clearly states his disagreement with the state
court's judgment, and he "prays that this court set
aside" that judgment and restore his possession of the
Chestnut Street property. (Docket No. 1 at 3). Granting
Underwood the relief he seeks would require this Court to
effectively reverse the state court decision or void its
ruling, exactly what the Rooker-Feldman doctrine
prohibits. See Charchenko, 47 F.3d at 983. This
Court therefore determines that the Rooker-Feldman
doctrine divests this Court of subject matter jurisdiction
over this action, and that this provides a basis for remand,
as well. See Jacobs v. Gear Properties, 2 Fed.Appx.
617 (8th Cir. 2001) (the Rooker-Feldman doctrine
bars federal actions seeking to change the result of state
unlawful detainer actions). Because this Court lacks subject
matter jurisdiction over this action, this case will be
remanded to the Associate Circuit Court of Jefferson County,
Missouri, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c).
this Court did have federal question or subject matter
jurisdiction, this case would be remanded because
Underwood's removal notice was untimely filed. Section
1446 of Title 28 establishes the procedure for removal.
Relevant to the instant case is section 1446(b), which
provides as follows:
The notice of removal of a civil action or proceeding shall
be filed within thirty 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, or within thirty
days after the service of summons upon the defendant if such
initial pleading has then been ...