Smith v. Mardis et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Virginia Emerson Hopkins on 12/5/2012. (JLC)
2012 Dec-05 PM 04:52
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
) Case No.: 2:12-CV-3711-VEH
CAROLYN MARDIS and RYNELE )
INTRODUCTION AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
This case originated in the District Court of Jefferson County, Alabama. (Doc.
1-1 at 2). On October 26, 2012, Defendant Carolyn Mardis (“Mrs. Mardis”) removed
the lawsuit to this court on the basis of federal question jurisdiction “because CoDefendant, Rynele Mardis, (“Co-Defendant”) is a DEPLOYED active duty military
member of the armed services, Defendant is his dependent, and both have been
denied constitution[al] rights and protection arising under laws of [the] Constitution
of the United States.” (Doc. 1 at 1).
More specifically, Mrs. Mardis relies upon the Servicemembers Civil Relief
Act (the “SCRA”), 50 U.S.C. App. §§ 501-597b, as the federal statute bestowing this
court with federal question jurisdiction. (Doc. 1 at 1). One of the express purposes
of the SCRA is “to provide for the temporary suspension of judicial and
administrative proceedings and transactions that may adversely affect the civil rights
of servicemembers during their military service.” 50 U.S.C. App. § 502(2).
For the reasons explained below, the court concludes, sua sponte, that it lacks
subject matter jurisdiction over this matter and that, as a result, the action is due to be
STANDARDS REGARDING JURISDICTION
The burden of establishing subject matter jurisdiction for the purposes of
removal to this court is on the removing defendant. See Williams v. Best Buy Co., 269
F.3d 1316, 1319 (11th Cir. 2001) (“Because this case was originally filed in state
court and removed to federal court by Best Buy, Best Buy bears the burden of proving
that federal jurisdiction exists.”). “It is by now axiomatic that the inferior courts are
courts of limited jurisdiction. They are ‘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.’” Univ. 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.
“Accordingly, ‘[w]hen a federal court acts outside its statutory subject-matter
jurisdiction, it violates the fundamental constitutional precept of limited federal
power.’” Univ. of S. Ala., 168 F.3d at 409. “Simply put, once a federal court
determines that it is without subject matter jurisdiction, the court is powerless to
continue.” Id. at 410 (citing Ex parte McCardle, 74 U.S. (7 Wall.) 506 (1868)).
“A necessary corollary to the concept that a federal court is powerless to act
without jurisdiction is the equally unremarkable principle that a court should inquire
into whether it has subject matter jurisdiction at the earliest possible stage in the
proceedings.” Univ. of S. Ala., 168 F.3d at 410. “Indeed, it is well settled that a
federal court is obligated to inquire into subject matter jurisdiction sua sponte
whenever it may be lacking.” Id. (citing Fitzgerald v. Seaboard Sys. R.R., 760 F.2d
1249, 1251 (11th Cir. 1985) (per curiam)).
Furthermore, “[t]he jurisdiction of a court over the subject matter of a claim
involves the court’s competency to consider a given type of case, and cannot be
waived or otherwise conferred upon the court by the parties. Otherwise, a party could
‘work a wrongful extension of federal jurisdiction and give district courts power the
Congress denied them.’” Jackson v. Seaboard Coast Line R.R., 678 F.2d 992, 100001 (11th Cir. 1982) (footnote omitted) (quoting American Fire & Cas. Co. v. Finn,
341 U.S. 6, 18, 71 S. Ct. 534, 542, 95 L. Ed. 702 (1951)). Moreover, “[b]ecause
removal jurisdiction raises significant federalism concerns, federal courts are directed
to construe removal statutes strictly.” Univ. of S. Ala., 168 F.3d at 411 (citing
Shamrock Oil & Gas Corp. v. Sheets, 313 U.S. 100, 108-09, 61 S. Ct. 868, 872, 85
L. Ed. 1214 (1941)).
Lastly, Congress has decreed and the Supreme Court has confirmed that - with
the express exception of civil rights cases that have been removed - orders of remand
by district courts based upon certain grounds, including in particular those premised
upon lack of subject matter jurisdiction, are entirely insulated from review. More
specifically, § 1447(d) provides:
An order remanding a case to the State court from which it was removed
is not reviewable on appeal or otherwise, except that an order remanding
a case to the State court from which it was removed pursuant to section
1443 of this title shall be reviewable by appeal or otherwise.
28 U.S.C. § 1447(d) (emphasis added); see also Kirchner v. Putnam Funds Trust, 547
U.S. 633, 642, 126 S. Ct. 2145, 2154, 165 L. Ed. 2d 92 (2006) (recognizing that
“‘[w]here the [remand] order is based on one of the grounds enumerated in 28 U.S.C.
§ 1447(c), review is unavailable no matter how plain the legal error in ordering the
remand’”) (citing Briscoe v. Bell, 432 U.S. 404, 413 n.13, 97 S. Ct. 2428, 2433 n.13,
53 L. Ed. 2d 439 (1977)); Milton I. Shadur, Traps for the Unwary in Removal and
Remand, 33 no. 3 Litigation 43 (2007); Powerex Corp. v. Reliant Energy Servs., Inc.,
551 U.S. 224, 234, 127 S. Ct. 2411, 2418, 168 L. Ed. 2d 112 (2007) (holding that
when “the District Court relied upon a ground that is colorably characterized as
subject-matter jurisdiction, appellate review is barred by § 1447(d)”).
As stated above, Mrs. Mardis premises her removal upon federal question
jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1331 states that “[t]he district courts shall have original
jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the
United States.” Id.
Section 1331 jurisdictional inquiries are resolved by applying the well-pleaded
complaint rule. Under this framework, federal question jurisdiction exists under §
1331 if “federal law creates the cause of action” or the plaintiff’s “right to relief
necessarily depends on resolution of a substantial question of federal law.” Pruitt v.
Honda of American Manufacturing, Inc., No. 3:06-0128, 2006 WL 889498, at *3
(M.D. Tenn. Mar. 28, 2006) (citing Eastman v. Marine Mechanical Corp., 438 F.3d
544, 550 (6th Cir. 2006)).
As the United States Supreme Court explained in Gully v. First National Bank
in Meridian, 299 U.S. 109, 57 S. Ct. 96, 81 L. Ed. 70 (1936):
To bring a case within the statute, a right or immunity created by the
Constitution or laws of the United States must be an element, and an
essential one, of the plaintiff’s cause of action. The right or immunity
must be such that it will be supported if the Constitution or laws of the
United States are given one construction or effect, and defeated if they
Id. at 112, 57 S. Ct. at 98 (internal citations omitted).
Moreover, that a procedural stay or other viable defense to a state-based
complaint may exist under the SCRA does not confer this court with federal question
jurisdiction either. “A case may not be removed to federal court on the basis of a
federal defense, including the defense of pre-emption, even if the defense is
anticipated in the plaintiff's complaint, and even if both parties concede that the
federal defense is the only question truly at issue.” Caterpillar, Inc. v. Williams, 482
U.S. 386, 393, 107 S. Ct. 2425, 2430, 96 L. Ed. 2d 318 (1987); see also Monday v.
Coast to Coast Wireless, No. CV-96-A-1321-N, 1997 WL 114874, at *11 (M.D. Ala.
Feb. 19, 1997) (“It is the fact that an action is founded ‘on a claim or right arising
under’ federal law that makes the action removable under 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b), not
the fact that an interpretation of federal law may affect or determine the outcome of
the action.” (quoting Walker v. Commercial Credit Corp., 192 B.R. 260, 265-66
(M.D. Ala. 1996))).
As the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has clarified the scope of federal
The fact that a court must apply federal law to a plaintiff’s claims or
construe federal law to determine whether the plaintiff is entitled to
relief will not confer federal subject matter jurisdiction – the implicated
federal issue must be substantial. . . . [I]t is now well established that
federal jurisdiction is not created by the mere fact that proof of violation
of a federal statute is an element of a plaintiff’s state-law cause of
Dunlap v. G &L Holding Group, Inc, 381 F.3d 1285, 1291-92 (11th Cir. 2004)
(internal citation omitted) (citing Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals Inc. v. Thompson,
478 U.S. 804, 814, 106 S. Ct. 3229, 3235, 92 L. Ed. 2d 650 (1986)) (holding that
insufficient federal question exists even when proof of violating federal statute is
necessary element of tort claim premised upon state law). Therefore, when a federal
issue “would be raised only as a defense” to a state law claim, such is “far removed
from a situation where compliance with federal law is an essential element of the
plaintiff’s claims (in itself insufficient), much less one where ‘the claim will be
supported if the federal law is given one construction or effect and defeated if it is
given another.’” Dunlap, 381 F.3d at 1292 (emphasis added) (citing Mobil Oil Corp.
v. Coastal Petroleum Co., 671 F.2d 419, 422 (11th Cir. 1982).
Against this backdrop, the court has studied the complaint filed in this case.
The lawsuit filed by Plaintiff Harvey Smith (“Mr. Smith”) is an eviction/unlawful
detainer proceeding brought pursuant to the Alabama Uniform Residential Landlord
and Tenant Act, Alabama Code § 35-9A-101. (Doc. 1-1 at 2). There is nothing in
Mr. Smith’s pleading which mentions, much less asserts, a federal claim. (Id.).
Accordingly, resolving Mr. Smith’s lawsuit does not require proof of a party’s
violation of a federal law as a predicate act. Therefore, as the complaint lacks a
federal cause of action or the need for the resolution of a substantial question of
federal law, the well-pleaded complaint standard has not been met, and the court is
devoid of federal question jurisdiction.
Additionally, there is no provision within the SCRA which establishes the right
of a defendant to remove to federal court or indicates an intention of Congress to
bestow federal courts with the exclusive jurisdiction to hear all cases that involve
parties who are actively serving in the military. Cf. Caterpillar, 482 U.S. at 393, 107
S. Ct. at 2430 (“Once an area of state law has been completely pre-empted, any claim
purportedly based on that pre-empted state law is considered, from its inception, a
federal claim, and therefore arises under federal law.”); Butero v. Royal Maccabees
Life Ins. Co., 174 F.3d 1207, 1211 (11th Cir. 1999) (“Superpreemption arises from
Congress’s creation of a comprehensive remedial scheme in 29 U.S.C. § 1132 for loss
or denial of employee benefits [under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act
To the contrary, the SCRA unambiguously states that it “applies to any judicial
or administrative proceeding commenced in any court or agency in any jurisdiction
subject to this Act . . . .” 50 U.S.C. App. § 512(b). Additionally, “[t]he term ‘court’
means a court or an administrative agency of the United States or of any State
(including any political subdivision of a State), whether or not a court or
administrative agency of record.” Id. § 511(5). Thus, while this court does have
jurisdiction to hear issues arising under the SCRA, it certainly does not have
exclusive jurisdiction over them, but instead shares that jurisdiction with not only
state courts, but also administrative bodies. Accordingly, for all these reasons, the
court concludes that no basis exists for this court to exercise federal question
jurisdiction to hear this case.
Further, while Mrs. Mardis has not asserted that subject matter jurisdiction
exists under 28 U.S.C. § 1332, i.e., the diversity statute, the court finds that diversity
jurisdiction is lacking because the record fails to substantiate satisfaction of the
amount in controversy prong. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a) (“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 . . . .”). Additionally,
because Mrs. Mardis and her husband are citizens of Alabama (Doc. 1-4), § 1441
prohibits a removal based only on § 1332. See 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b)(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
Thus, as analyzed above, the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction pursuant
to either § 1331 or § 1332, and this case is due to be remanded. The court will enter
a separate order consistent with this memorandum opinion.
DONE and ORDERED this 5th day of December, 2012.
VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS
United States District Judge
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