Lopez-Garcia v. Deutsche Bank National Trust Company, as Trustee for Argent Securities Inc., Asset-Backed Pass-Through Certificates Series 2005-W5
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER, That the Court concludes that it did indeed have subject-matter jurisdiction over this case when it rendered summary judgment against Ms. Lopez-Garcia. The Court will therefore DENY her motion to alter or amend its earlier summary judgment order. Signed by Judge Royce C. Lamberth. (wg)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF TEXAS
SAN ANTONIO DIVISION
U.S. DISTRICT CLERK
STERN DISTRtT)F TEXAS
Civil No. SA-16-CV-00217-RCL
DEUTSCHE BANK NATIONAL TRUST Co.
AS TRUSTEE FOR ARGENT SECURITIES, INC.,
CERTIFICATES SERIES 2005-W5
Denying the Plaintiff's Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment or For a New Trial
The plaintiff, Ms. Lopez-Garcia, asks the Court to alter its grant of summary judgment
in favor of the defendants in this case and to remand this case to state court. Ms. Lopez-Garcia
argues that this is necessary because the defendants' summary judgment evidence "failed to
establish by a preponderance of the evidence" that the "amount in controversy exceeded the
jurisdictional limit of $75,000." (ECF #23 at 5). But because it was clear at the time of removal
that the parties were diverse and the amount in controversy exceeded $75,000, the Court will
DENY Ms. Lopez-Garcia's motion.
Ms. Lopez-Garcia initially filed this lawsuit in the 288th Judicial District Court of Bexar
County, Texas. In her petition, she alleged that in 2005 her father executed a Texas Home Equity
Note (the "Note) in the principal amount of $77,000.' The Note was payable to Argent Mortgage
The actual principal amount was $77,600, but this is irrelevant to the present analysis.
Company, LLC, in monthly installments of $569.41. Ms. Lopez-Garcia further alleged that her
father made timely payments every month until his death on July 11, 2011. Following her father's
death, Ms. Lopez-Garcia was appointed administratrix of his estate. She alleged that she continued
to make payments on the Note according to the loan agreement. But she does not dispute that she
made no payments on the Note after November 2013.
Ms. Lopez-Garcia also alleged that the defendants had sold a credit life insurance
policy to her father that would have paid off the balance of the Note upon his death. On or about
November 2014, the successor lender began refusing premium payments on this policy, explaining
to Ms. Lopez-Garcia that her father never had a credit life insurance policy. Ms. Lopez-Garcia to
this day cannot show that this policy ever existed.
In any case, Ms. Lopez-Garcia's state-court complaint then alleged that in November
2015 she was served regarding the foreclosure of her father's house based on the loan agreement.
This led to Ms. Lopez-Garcia filing the present suit. In her petition, she asserted numerous causes
of action against the defendants, pursuant to which she sought "monetary relief of $100,000 to
$200,000," including exemplary damages and attorney's fees. (ECF #1-1 at 1, 6).
The defendants removed the case to federal court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction
and, following discovery, moved for summary judgment as to all of the causes of action asserted
against them. The Court granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment in its entirety.
(ECF #20). But now Ms. Lopez-Garcia asks the Court to alter its grant of summary judgment in
favor of the defendants in this case and to remand this case to state court. Ms. Lopez-Garcia argues
that this is necessary because the defendants' summary judgment evidence "failed to establish by
a preponderance of the evidence" that the "amount in controversy exceeded the jurisdictional limit
of $75,000." (ECF #23 at 5).
Ms. Lopez-Garcia asks the Court, pursuant to Rule 59(e), to alter or amend its summary
judgment order. (ECF #23 at 1). She bases her motion on the Court's alleged lack of diversity
jurisdiction over this case. Because the basis for the motion is a lack of subject-matter jurisdiction,
the Court finds that Ms. Lopez-Garcia's arguments are more appropriately viewed as a motion to
dismiss or remand for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1). That the Court
has already rendered summary judgment does not prevent it from treating the motion as such
because a "litigant generally may raise a court's lack of subject-matter jurisdiction at any time in
[a] civil action, even initially at the highest appellate instance." (Kontrick v. Ryan, 540 U.S. 443
(2004) (citing Capron
Van Noorden, 2 Cranch 126, 127 (1804) (successfully raising a challenge
to diversity jurisdiction for the first time before the Supreme Court));
R. Civ. P.
The Court therefore need not consider whether Ms. Lopez-Garcia truly presents new evidence
before the Court or whether her motion raises arguments for the first time, as would be necessary
when analyzing a Rule 5 9(e) motion. All that matters is whether the Court indeed had diversity
jurisdiction at the time it granted summary judgment in the defendants' favor.
"Any civil action brought in a state court of which the district courts have original
jurisdiction may be removed to the proper [federal] district court." (Gebbia
Inc., 233 F.3d 880, 882 (5th Cir. 2000); 28 U.S.C.
§ 144 1(a)).
District courts have original subject-
matter jurisdiction over civil actions in which there is complete diversity among the parties and
the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000, exclusive of interests and costs.
That the parties to this case are completely diverse is not contested. But Ms. LopezGarcia argues that the Court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over this case because the
defendants did "not present any summary judgment evidence that the amount in controversy
[exceeds] the jurisdictional limits." (ECF #23 at 4). Instead, she asserts that the amount in
controversy was actually $37,741.30"the difference between the [Note's] face value $77,600.00
and the 70 payments of $569.41 ($39,858.70)." And because the defendants never affirmatively
produced a measure of damages greater than this, the Court lacked jurisdiction and the power to
render summary judgment in the defendants' favor.
Ms. Lopez-Garcia's argument is unpersuasive. To begin, she is wrong to say that the
defendants bore the burden at summary judgment of showing that the amount in controversy
exceeded $75,000. "The jurisdictional facts that support removal" are not judged at the time of a
summary judgment motion, but "at the time of removal."
(Gebbia, 233 F.3d at 883).
Determination of the amount in controversy, then, is a point-in-time analysis that looks to the time
of removal. And if the amount in controversy requirement is satisfied at the time of removal, then
subsequent events "which reduce the amount recoverable below the statutory limit do not oust
jurisdiction." (St. Paul Mercury Indem. Co.
Red Cab Co., 303 U.S. 283, 290-91 (1938); see
also Gebbia, 233 F.3d at 883 ("Moreover, once the district court's jurisdiction is established,
subsequent events that reduce the amount in controversy to less than $75,000 generally do not
divest the court of diversity jurisdiction.")). The Fifth Circuit adheres strongly to this time-offiling / time-of-removal rule. (See Allen v. R & H Oil & Gas Co., 63 F.3d 1326, 1335 (5th Cir.
1995) (holding that once removal jurisdiction attached, even a subsequent amendment of the
complaint reducing the amount in controversy to less than the required amount cannot divest
jurisdiction); Gebbia, 233 F.3d at 883 ("The jurisdictional facts that support removal must be
judged at the time of the removal.") (emphasis added)).
When determining the amount in controversy at the time of removal, the Court looks
to the plaintiff's original petition.
The plaintiff's good-faith allegation of the amount in
controversy controls unless it "appear[s} to be a legal certainty that the claim is really for less than
the jurisdiction amount." (St. Paul, 303 U.S. at 288). If"it is facially apparent from the petition
that the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000," then "post-removal affidavits, stipulations, and
amendments reducing the amount do not deprive the district court ofjurisdiction." (Gebbia, 233
F.3d at 883).
Looking at the face of Ms. Lopez-Garcia's petition, the amount in controversy at the
time of removal exceeded $75,000. In the petition, she stated that she sought "monetary relief of
$100,000 to $200,000." (ECF #1-1 at 1). So it was facially apparent from the petition at the time
of removal that the amount in controversy exceeded $75,000. Ms. Lopez-Garcia's post-removal
recalculations of the "true" amount in controversy do nothing to change this result because we do
not allow "post-removal affidavits" from the plaintiff to "deprive the court of jurisdiction."
(Gebbia, 233 F.3d at 883). That is the end of the necessary analysis.
But even if Ms. Lopez-Garcia could, by post-removal affidavit, deprive the Court of
diversity jurisdiction, her affidavits in this case would be insufficient to do so. Such an affidavit
would have to either show that the amount of damages sought in the petition were alleged in bad
faith or show to a legal certainty that she could not recover the damages she initially sought. Ms.
Lopez-Garcia's motion establishes neither of these conditions. First, she (wisely) does not contend
that she made a bad-faith claim for damages in her petition. Second, she cannot show to a legal
certainty that the amount in controversy was actually less than $75,000. As the defendants point
out, her recalculated amount in controversy ($37,741.30) ignores the effects of interest on the
amount due on the Note. And even if the amount due on the Note did not exceed $75,000 at the
time of removal, Ms. Lopez-Garcia also sought exemplary damages and attorney's fees, both of
which are also included in the amount in
On top of that, she also sought injunctive
relief. The monetary value of all of the relief requested in the complaintdamages for the Note,
exemplary damages, attorney's fees, and equitable
reliefcould easily exceed $75,000. As such,
it could not be shown to a legal certainty that the amount in controversy at the time of removal
was less than $75,000.
For these reasons, the Court concludes that it did indeed have subject-matter
jurisdiction over this case when it rendered summary judgment against Ms. Lopez-Garcia. The
Court will therefore DENY her motion to alter or amend its earlier summary judgment order.
A separate order will follow.
day of February, 2018.
HONORABLE ROYCE LAMBERTH
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
"[A]ttorneys' fees may be recoverable by contract or a statute may provide that the prevailing party shall recover
attorneys' fees. If so, a reasonable claim for such fees may be included in the amount in controversy." (See
RICHARD D. FREER, CIVIL PROcEDURE §4.5 n.87 (3rd ed. 2012)). In her petition, Ms. Lopez-Garcia, sought
attorney's fees pursuant to statutory authority, and so those attorney's fees may be included in the amount in
controversy. (ECF #1-1 at 6 (seeking attorney's fees pursuant to CPRC § 38.001(8), TEX. INS. CODE § 542.051 et
seq., and TEx. FIN. CODE § 3 92.403(b))).
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