United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
SHARHONDA T. SHAHID, Plaintiff,
EDUCATIONAL CREDIT MGMT. CORP., et al., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
STEPHEN N. LIMBAUGH, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter is before the Court on plaintiff s motion to remand
(#14). Plaintiff, who is an attorney and who filed this
matter pro se before retaining counsel, filed this
lawsuit against defendants Educational Credit Management
Corp., ECMC, and Educational Management Group in the Circuit
Court for the City of St. Louis, Missouri. Her original
petition was titled as a “Motion to Quash and Petition
for Relief under the Fair Debt Collection Practices
Act.” The petition alleged that the defendants were
improperly collecting on plaintiffs student loan debt by
garnishing her wages in violation of the Fair Debt Collection
Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1692g (“FDCPA”).
Three hours after filing that petition, plaintiff filed an
amended petition that removed all references to the FDCPA.
Instead, plaintiffs amended petition brought a claim for
“breach of contract” based on an alleged
agreement between plaintiff and defendants regarding student
loan payments. Plaintiff alleges that defendants wrongfully
garnished her wages and sought an order quashing the
garnishment, fining defendants for acting in bad faith,
finding that the debt is invalid, and seeking other relief.
Plaintiff also sought and received a temporary restraining
order preventing the defendants from continuing to garnish
her wages. Defendants then removed the case to this Court,
citing federal question jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1331,
because the complaint sets forth a civil action arising under
the laws of the United States. Defendants sought an order
quashing the state court's temporary restraining order.
In response, plaintiff filed the instant motion to remand.
contends that defendants' basis for removal is invalid
because the active complaint does not contain a claim that
arises under the laws of the United States. “Removal
based upon federal question jurisdiction is proper only if
the claim asserting a federal question appears on the face of
the plaintiff's properly pleaded complaint.”
Kutilek v. Union Pac. R. Co., 454 F.Supp.2d 876, 879
(E.D. Mo. 2006). This is known as the “well-pleaded
complaint” rule. Id. Although plaintiff
acknowledges that the original complaint included an FDCPA
claim, she contends that her amended complaint does not.
Because the amended complaint “supersedes an original
complaint and renders the original complaint without legal
effect... .federal courts must resolve
questions of subject matter jurisdiction by examining the
face of the amended complaint.” In re Atlas Van
Lines, Inc., 209 F.3d 1064, 1067 (8th Cir. 2000).
maintain that, even looking only at the face of the amended
complaint, plaintiffs case could only arise from federal law.
For example, plaintiff seeks the same remedies as before in
her prayer for relief, including “fines, ” which
are only available under the FDCPA. Defendants argue that
plaintiff cannot evade federal question jurisdiction by
mischaracterizing a federal claim as something else. Indeed,
a “plaintiff's characterization of a claim as based
solely on state law is not dispositive of whether federal
question jurisdiction exists.” Peters v. Union Pac.
R. Co., 80 F.3d 257, 260 (8th Cir. 1996). The
“complete preemption doctrine” prevents
plaintiffs from avoiding federal court in cases “where
the preemptive force of the federal law is so clearly and
strongly stated with respect to an area of state law”
that “the state law claim is considered to be a federal
claim from its inception.” Kutilek, 454
F.Supp.2d at 880 (citing Caterpillar, Inc. v.
Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392-93 (1987)).
however, defendants do not argue that the FDCPA completely
preempts state law causes of action. That is because the
FDCPA is not one of those federal statutes that completely
preempts state law claims. 15 U.S.C. § 1692n
(“this subchapter does not annul, alter, or affect, or
exempt any person subject to the provisions of this
subchapter from complying with the laws of any State with
respect to debt collection practices…”);
Dunmire v. Elliott Holdings, Inc., 06-0787-CV-W-ODS,
2006 WL 3392950, at *3 (W.D. Mo. Nov. 22, 2006); Hage v.
Gen. Serv. Bureau, 8:01CV367, 2002 WL 1796575, at *2 (D.
Neb. Aug. 5, 2002). Defendants cite to another district court
case in which the court declined to remand the case in light
of references to the FDCPA. See Tonea v. Bank of Am.,
N.A., 6 F.Supp.3d 1331, 1335 (N.D.Ga. 2014). But the
Tonea plaintiff's complaint actually invoked the
FDCPA and other federal statutes. Here, no reference to the
FDCPA remains in the complaint.
Court must recognize that the plaintiff is the “master
of the claim, ” Caterpillar, 482 U.S. at 395,
and here plaintiff has chosen to bring her claim as a breach
of contract claim. Vague references to “fines”
make more sense in the context of plaintiffs FDCPA claim, but
they do not automatically convert her claim to one arising
under the FDCPA. Ultimately, this Court “is required to
resolve all doubts about federal jurisdiction in favor of
remand.” Transit Cas. Co. v. Certain Underwriters
at Lloyd's of London, 119 F.3d 619, 625 (8th Cir.
in light of plaintiff's somewhat confusing amended
petition, the Court will deny her request for attorney's
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that plaintiff's motion to remand
(#14) is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.
FURTHER ORDERED that the Clerk shall REMAND this matter to
the Circuit Court ...