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Garland v. Nationstar Mortgage, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

December 17, 2019

THERESA M. GARLAND, Plaintiff,
v.
NATIONSTAR MORTGAGE, LLC, d/b/a Mr. Cooper, et al. Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          SHIRLEY PADMORE MENSAH UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This case is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion to Remand this case to state court. (Doc. 12). The motion has been fully briefed. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (Doc. 21). For the reasons stated below, the motion will be denied.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff Theresa Garland (“Plaintiff”) filed the instant action in Missouri state court against Nationstar Mortgage, LLC (“Defendant Nationstar”) and The Bank of New York Mellon Corporation (“Defendant Mellon”) (collectively, “Defendants”). In her Petition, she alleges as follows. On October 1, 1997, Plaintiff purchased a piece of real property (the “Property”) for approximately $67, 000 and took out a mortgage loan through Countrywide Mortgage. After an unknown number of sales, and prior to February 2017, Defendant Mellon became the investor for Plaintiff's mortgage, with Defendant Nationstar as the servicer. In September 2018, after a job loss and the exhaustion of her savings, Plaintiff started to fall behind on her mortgage payments. Over the next few months, Plaintiff and Nationstar engaged in correspondence and telephone calls regarding the amount Plaintiff owed and the steps Plaintiff could take to avoid foreclosure. While Plaintiff was taking the steps Nationstar asked her to take, Plaintiff was informed that the Property had been placed in foreclosure. Plaintiff continued to engage in correspondence and telephone calls with Nationstar about what information she needed to submit to prevent a foreclosure sale, and Nationstar told her that the sale would be put on hold while her application for mortgage assistance was being considered. On March 7, 2019, Plaintiff received a letter stating that the foreclosure sale had taken place on February 1, 2019. On March 22, 2019, Nationstar filed an unlawful detainer action to evict Plaintiff from the Property.

         Defendants attached to the Notice of Removal evidence showing that the foreclosure sale price of the Property was $51, 835.63; that appears to be undisputed. (Doc. 1-1, at p. 53). Defendants have submitted an appraisal report for Property from a state-certified residential real estate appraiser, which concludes that the estimated value of the property as of January 10, 2019 was $80, 000. (Doc. 1-2). The appraisal is based, inter alia, on the Property's condition, market conditions, and sale prices of $78, 000, $83, 000, and $95, 000 for comparable properties nearby.

         On or around May 21, 2019, Plaintiff filed her Verified Petition for Wrongful Foreclosure in state court. Plaintiff asserts two claims against Defendants: (I) Violation of the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act (“MMPA”), Mo. Rev. Stat. § 407.020, based on the false, misleading, and deceptive statements Nationstar made to Plaintiff; and (2) Fraudulent Misrepresentation, based on Nationstar's false statement that “underwriting will put the [foreclosure] sale on hold while the [mortgage assistance] application is being considered.” Plaintiff asks the Court to stop the unlawful detainer action from going forward and to stop the sale of the Property from Nationstar to Mellon, if it has not already occurred. Plaintiff also seeks damages in an unspecified amount, including punitive damages.

         On June 21, 2019, Defendants removed this action to this Court based on diversity of citizenship under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. (Doc. 1) On July 3, 2019, Plaintiff filed the instant motion to remand the matter to state court, arguing that no diversity jurisdiction exists because the amount in controversy does not exceed $75, 000.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         As the parties invoking federal jurisdiction, Defendants in this removal case bear the burden of establishing by a preponderance of the evidence that federal jurisdiction exists. In re Prempro Prods. Liab. Litig., 591 F.3d 613, 620 (8th Cir. 2010). All doubts regarding federal jurisdiction are to be resolved in favor of remand. Central Iowa Power Co-op. v. Midwest Indep. Transmission Sys. Operator, Inc., 561 F.3d 904, 912 (8th Cir. 2009).

         A defendant may generally remove “any civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction . . . to the district court of the United States for the district and division embracing the place where such action is pending.” 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). Under 28 U.S.C. § 1332, the district court has original jurisdiction over an action “where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs, ” and the action is between citizens of different states. § 1332(a). Complete diversity of citizenship is required by § 1332, and complete diversity “exists where no defendant holds citizenship in the same state where any plaintiff holds citizenship.” One Point Solutions, LLC v. Borchert, 486 F.3d 342, 346 (8th Cir. 2007). Additionally, “A civil action otherwise removable solely on the basis of jurisdiction under section 1332(a) of this title may not be removed in any of the parties in interest properly joined and served as defendants is a citizen of the State in which such action is brought.” § 1441(b)(2). “If at any time before final judgment it appears that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the case shall be remanded.” 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c).

         III. Discussion

         In the instant motion, Plaintiff argues that this Court lacks jurisdiction, and the case should be remanded, because the requirements for establishing diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a) are not satisfied. Specifically, Plaintiff argues that the amount in controversy requirement is not met, because the amount in controversy in this case is less than $75, 000. The pleadings establish, and Plaintiff does not dispute, that the requirement of complete diversity of citizenship is satisfied.[1]

         In determining whether Defendants have shown, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the amount in controversy requirement is satisfied, the question “is not whether the damages are greater than the requisite amount, but whether a fact finder might legally conclude that they are . . .” Bell v. Hershey Co., 557 F.3d 953, 959 (8th Cir. 2009) (quotation marks omitted; emphasis in original). Where, as here, the petition does not contain a demand for a specific monetary amount, the Court must make a factual inquiry into the amount-in-controversy issue. Hofmann v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., No. 4:19-CV-423 CDP, 2019 WL 1992630, at *1 (May 6, 2019). See also Hollenbeck v. Outboard Marine Corp., 201 F.Supp.2d 990, 993 (E.D. Mo. 2001).

         “[I]n actions seeking declaratory or injunctive relief, it is well established that the amount in controversy is measured by the value of the object of the litigation.” Hunt v. Wash. State Apple Advert. Comm'n, 432 U.S. 333, 347 (1977); accord James Neff Kramper Family Farm P'ship v. IBP, Inc.,393 F.3d 828, 833 (8th Cir. 2005) (citing Hunt, 432 U.S. at 347). The Eighth Circuit has also held that the amount in controversy is the value to the plaintiff of the right that is in issue. See also Useryv. Anadarko Petroleum Corp.,606 F.3d 1017, 1018 (8th Cir. 2010) (“We have held repeatedly that in a suit for declaratory or injunctive relief the amount in controversy is the value to the plaintiff of the right that is in issue.”). “[T]he amount in controversy is measured from the perspective of the plaintiff, not of other interested parties, and by the value of the object of the litigation, here, the Property. To determine the value of the Property to the Plaintiff, the Court ‘must determine what the property interest at issue is worth in the ...


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