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Griffin v. CitiMortgage, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Oxford Division

September 6, 2018

ANNIE Y. GRIFFIN and FREDERICK GRIFFIN PLAINTIFFS
v.
CITIMORTGAGE, INC., as successor in interest to ABN AMRO MORTGAGE GROUP, INC., JAUREGUI & LINDSEY, LLC, as trustee, GRANDVIEW LAKES HOMEOWNER'S ASSOCIATION, LLC, and ABC COMPANIES DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          NEAL B. BIGGERS, JR., UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This cause comes before the court upon the plaintiffs' motion to remand. Upon due consideration of the motion, response, complaint, exhibits and applicable authority, the court is ready to rule.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         Plaintiffs Annie and Frederick Griffin purchased a house located in Walls, Mississippi on June 5, 2001. Plaintiffs ceased making their mortgage payments in late 2006. Defendant CitiMortgage is the current servicer for Plaintiffs' mortgage on the property. On May 23, 2018, Plaintiffs received a Notice of Foreclosure Sale which advised that CitiMortgage would hold a foreclosure sale of Plaintiffs' property on June 19, 2018.

         The aforementioned property is governed by Grandview Lakes Homeowner's Association, Inc. (“Grandview”) and is subject to certain Restrictive Covenants. The covenants were established on October 29, 1987. On December 28, 2005, Grandview attempted to amend the covenants so that the failure to pay HOA fees could be used to place a lien on properties located within the subdivision.

         Pursuant to the new amendments, Grandview filed a Complaint for Judicial Foreclosure against Plaintiffs in chancery court on December 18, 2016. Plaintiffs responded by challenging the validity of said amendments. The chancery court agreed with Plaintiffs and granted them partial summary judgment on the issue on September 2, 1014. The chancery matter is still pending.

         On June 11, 2018, Plaintiffs commenced the instant litigation in the Chancery Court of DeSoto County, Mississippi. Plaintiffs assert claims for breach of contract and wrongful foreclosure against CitiMortgage and various tort claims against Grandview. Plaintiffs also named Jauregui & Lindsey, LLC (“J&L”) and ABC Companies as defendants. CitiMortgage promptly removed the action to this court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. Plaintiffs now move to remand.

         Standard for Removal and Remand

         “[A]ny civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction, may be removed by the defendant or defendants, 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). A district court has “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).

         “[R]emoval statutes are to be construed strictly against removal and in favor of remand.” Eastus v. Blue Bell Creameries, L.P., 97 F.3d 100, 106 (5th Cir. 1996) (citing Shamrock Oil & Gas Corp. v. Sheets, 313 U.S. 100, 108-09(1941)). “The intent of Congress drastically to restrict federal jurisdiction in controversies between citizens of different states has always been rigorously enforced by the court.” Garcia v. Koch Oil Co. of Texas, Inc., 351 F.3d 636, 638 (5th Cir. 2003) (quoting St. Paul Mercury Indem. Co. v. Red Cab Co., 303 U.S. 283, 288 (1938)).

         The removing party bears the burden of establishing the basis of diversity jurisdiction. Id., see also De Aguilar v. Boeing Co., 47 F.3d 1404, 1408 (5th Cir. 1995). Further, should the court have any doubts about its jurisdiction, “it should resolve those doubts by ordering a remand.” Dardeau v. West Orange-Grove Consolidated Independent School Dist., 43 F.Supp.2d 722, 730 (E.D. Tex. 1999) (citing Vasquez v. Alto Bonito Gravel Plant Corp., 56 F.3d 689, 694 (5th Cir. 1995)). In deciding a motion to remand, the court may, under certain circumstances, pierce the pleadings and consider “summary judgment-type evidence.” Davidson v. Georgia-Pacific, LLC¸819 F.3d 758, 765 (5th Cir. 2016).

         Analysis

         The parties concede that no federal question has been raised. Thus, for the court to have jurisdiction over this matter, it must be based on diversity of citizenship. In moving to remand, Plaintiffs argue that diversity jurisdiction does not exist because the parties are not completely diverse. Complete diversity “requires that all persons on one side of the controversy be citizens of different states than all persons on the other side.” McLaughlin v. Mississippi Power Co., 376 F.3d 344, 353 (5th Cir. 2004)(citing Harrison v. Prather, 404 F.2d 267, 272 (5th Cir. 1968)). Plaintiffs are citizens of Mississippi. Although CitiMortgage-a citizen of New York and Missouri-is diverse from Plaintiffs, Defendants J&L and Grandview are citizens of Mississippi.[1] Thus, unless some exception applies, the parties are not completely diverse, and this court lacks jurisdiction.

         CitiMortgage argues that the court may disregard the citizenship of J&L and Grandview because they have been improperly joined in this action to defeat federal jurisdiction. When a court's jurisdiction is premised on diversity jurisdiction, “[t]he improper joinder doctrine constitutes a narrow exception to the rule of complete diversity.” McDonal v. Abbott Laboratories, 408 F.3d 177, 183 (5th Cir. 2005). The removing party ...


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