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St. Vincent de Paul Society of Lane County v. Culpepper

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division

January 2, 2018

ST. VINCENT de PAUL SOCIETY OF LANE COUNTY, an Oregon nonprofit Corporation, Plaintiff,
v.
KELLY RAE CULPEPPER, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Ann Aiken, United States District Judge.

         In this case, plaintiff St. Vincent de Paul Society of Lane County ("St. Vincent") moves for an order remanding this matter back to state court. Defendant Kelly Rae Culpepper ("Culpepper") argues that this matter should remain before this Court, Based on the reason set forth below, plaintiffs Motion to Remand to State Court (doc. 4) is GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND

         This case originated in Oregon State Court as a Forcible Entry and Detainer ("FED") action. On July 25, 2017, plaintiff filed this action in the Circuit Court of the State of Oregon for Lane County to evict defendant for alleged repeated violations of plaintiff s policies for tenants leasing units. On July 31, 2017, defendant filed an answer and provided an affirmative defense, discriminatory conduct under Or. Rev. Stat. § 90.390, and four counterclaims: (1) retaliatory conduct by landlord under Or. Rev. Stat. § 90.385, (2) discrimination and retaliatory conduct under the Fair Housing Act ("FHA"), (3) defamation, and (4) slander per se. (doc. 1) On August 7, 2017, defendant filed a Notice of Removal (doc. 1) to federal court relying on the FHA counterclaim as the basis for removal to federal court.

         Plaintiff now moves the Court for an order remanding this case back to state court arguing that (1) Oregon law does not allow defendant to include a FHA counterclaim in an FED proceeding, (2) defendant's civil rights are protected under Oregon statutes, and (3) defendant has the right to pursue damages under the FHA in a separate action.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The right to remove a case to federal court is entirely a creature of statute. See Libhart v. Santa Monica Dairy Co., 592 F.2d 1062, 1064 (9th Cir.1979). The Ninth Circuit "strictly construe[s] the removal statute against removal jurisdiction, " and "[f]ederal jurisdiction must be rejected if there is any doubt as to the right of removal in the first instance." Gaits v. Miles, Inc., 980 F.2d 564, 566 (9th Cir.1992). Counterclaims in a state-court action, even if they rely exclusively on federal substantive law, do not qualify a case for federal-court cognizance. Vadert v. Discover Bank, 556 U.S. 49, 61-62 (2009). 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c) authorizes the court to remand a case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, See Brockman v. Merabank, 40 F.3d 1013, 1015 (9th Cir.1994). A district court may also remand a case for lack of an objective reasonable basis for removal under 28 U.S.C. § 1443. See Patel v. Del Taco, Inc., 446 F.3d 996, 999 (9th Cir. 2006).

         DISCUSSION

         Defendant's basis for removal to federal court is based on two statutes: (1) 28 U.S.C. § 1331 - federal question and (2) 28 U.S.C. § 1443 - civil rights cases.

         1. 28 U.S.C. § 1331-Federal Question

         a. Federal Jurisdiction based on a Counterclaim

         Defendant relies upon 28 U.S.C. § 1331, which vests in federal district courts jurisdiction over "all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 1331 "Under the established well-pleaded complaint rule, however, a suit 'arises under' federal law 'only when the plaintiffs statement of his own cause of action shows that it is based upon [federal law].'" Vaden, 556 U.S. at 61-62 (emphasis added) (quoting Louisville & Nashville R. Co. v. Mottley, 211 U.S. 149, 152 (1908)).

         Therefore, federal jurisdiction cannot rest upon an actual or anticipated counterclaim. Holmes Grp., Inc. v. Vornado Air Circulation Sys., Inc., 535 U.S. 826, 832 (2002); ARCO Envtl. Remediation, LLC v. Dep't of Health & Envtl. Quality of Montana, 213 F.3d 1108, 1113 (9th Cir. 2000) ("[T]he existence of federal jurisdiction depends solely on the plaintiffs claims for relief and not on anticipated defenses to those claims."). Counterclaims in state-court action, even if they rely exclusively on federal substantive law, do not qualify a case for federal-court cognizance. Vaden, 556 U.S. at 61-62.

         There are of course exceptions to the well-pleaded complaint rule. For instance, under the "artful pleading rule, " a plaintiff may not avoid removal through the omission of necessary federal questions in the complaint. ARCO Envtl. Remediation, LLC, 213 F.3d at 1114. Another exception to the well-pleaded complaint rule is complete preemption. Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams,482 U.S. 386, 393 (1987). "Once an area of state law has been completely pre-empted, any claim purportedly based on that ...


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