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Sabina v. JP Morgan Chase Bank N.A.

United States District Court, D. Maine

October 29, 2014

ALEC T. SABINA et al. Plaintiffs,
v.
JP MORGAN CHASE BANK NA, Defendant, JONATHAN A. QUEBBEMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
BANK OF AMERICA, N. A. Defendant, STANLEY M. NICKERSON et al. Plaintiffs,
v.
TD BANK, N.A., Defendant, ALEC T. SABINA et al. Plaintiffs,
v.
WELLS FARGO HOME MORTGAGE, INC. Defendant.

ORDER ON PLAINTIFFS' MOTIONS TO REMAND

JON D. LEVY, District Judge.

The plaintiffs in these four separate actions have filed Motions to Remand that present identical questions of law. After careful review, I conclude that the Motions to Remand should be GRANTED.

I. INTRODUCTION AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

These actions involve claims brought against the defendant banks alleging violations of 33 M.R.S. § 551 (2014), a Maine consumer protection statute. The statute requires mortgagees to mail a copy of a mortgage release to the respective mortgagor within 30 days of receiving the recorded release from the Registry of Deeds. 33 M.R.S. § 551 (2014). Plaintiffs filed class action complaints in the Cumberland County Superior Court on behalf of themselves and others similarly situated alleging that the defendant banks, as mortgagees, failed to mail them the required releases. Wells Fargo ECF No. 5-7; JP Morgan ECF No. 1-5; TD Bank ECF No. 1-3; Bank of America ECF No. 3-5.[1] Each plaintiff seeks damages, reasonable attorney's fees, interest, costs, and expenses. Bank of America ECF No. 3-5 at 9; JP Morgan ECF No. 1-5 at 8; TD Bank ECF No. 1-3 at 8; Wells Fargo ECF No. 1-9 at 8.

The banks removed the state actions to this court, invoking the court's diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). JP Morgan ECF No. 1 at 3; Bank of America ECF No. 1 at 4; TD Bank ECF No. 1 at 1; Wells Fargo ECF No. 1 at 4. Additionally, Bank of America invokes jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act ("CAFA"), 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d).[2] Bank of America ECF No. 1 at 7.

The plaintiffs have moved to remand the actions to state court, asserting that the amount in controversy requirements for diversity and CAFA jurisdiction have not been satisfied. Wells Fargo ECF No. 14; JP Morgan ECF No. 4; Bank of America ECF No. 13; TD Bank ECF No. 11. The Sabinas and Nickersons further contend that the motions to remove filed by Wells Fargo and TD Bank, respectively, are untimely. Wells Fargo ECF No. 14; TD Bank ECF No. 11. All plaintiffs seek attorney's fees on the ground that the banks acted unreasonably by removing the actions. Wells Fargo ECF No. 14; JP Morgan ECF No. 4; Bank of America ECF No. 13; TD Bank ECF No. 11.

For diversity jurisdiction purposes, the citizenship of the parties is as follows: the Sabinas are citizens of Maine, and Wells Fargo is a citizen of South Dakota. Wells Fargo ECF No. 1 at 5-6. JP Morgan is a citizen of Ohio. JP Morgan ECF No. 1 at 3. The Nickersons are citizens of Maine, while TD Bank has designated its main office in Delaware, with its principal place of business in New Jersey. TD Bank ECF No. 1 at 1. Lastly, Quebbeman is a citizen of Colorado, while Bank of America is a citizen of North Carolina. Bank of America ECF No. 1 at 4.

II. DIVERSITY JURISDICTION

A. Governing Law

This court has original jurisdiction over civil actions where complete diversity exists between the parties and the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a); Strawbridge v. Curtiss, 7 U.S. 267 (1806). The party seeking to invoke federal jurisdiction bears the burden of demonstrating that jurisdiction is proper. Coventry Sewage Assoc. v. Dworkin Realty Co., 71 F.3d 1, 4 (1st Cir. 1995). A party must carry this burden by showing a "reasonable probability" that jurisdiction exists. See Amoche v. Guarantee Trust Life Ins. Co., 556 F.3d 41 (1st Cir. 2009) (applying the reasonable probability standard in a removal action based on CAFA jurisdiction). A reasonable probability is, for all intents and purposes, the same standard as a preponderance of the evidence. Id. at 50.

The mortgage release statute at issue in this case provides that a prevailing party may be awarded costs and reasonable attorney's fees. 33 M.R.S. § 551. Costs may not be included in the amount in controversy requirement. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). It is well-settled that in a case where a statute provides for the recovery of attorney's fees by a prevailing party, such fees may be used to satisfy the amount in controversy. Spielman v. Genzyme Corp., 251 F.3d 1, 7 (1st Cir. 2001). However, a party invoking diversity jurisdiction in a class action case may not aggregate the attorney's fees of the class in order to reach this threshold. Id. at 10. While the attorney's fees attributable to an individual claimant, then, may be used to make up the amount in controversy, see id. at 7, any class-related attorney's fees must be prorated across the class for these purposes, see Karofsky v. Abbott Laboratories, 921 F.Supp. 18, 20 (D. Me. 1996). Because the parties have not presented sufficient evidence to allow for a proration analysis, my inquiry focuses on the attorney's fees attributable to an individual plaintiff.

In making a jurisdictional determination such as this, the court is bound to "rigorously enforce the jurisdictional limits that Congress chooses to set...." Coventry Sewage, 71 F.3d at 4. To appropriately respect the boundaries of the federal courts' limited jurisdiction, all doubts in this area are resolved against removal and in favor of a remand to state court. See, e.g., Rosselló-Gonzalez v. Calderon-Serra, 398 F.3d 1 at 11 (1st Cir. 2004); Harris Mgmt., Inc. v. Coulombe, 2014 WL 4723096 at 2 (D. Me. Sept. 23, 2014); English v. Bank of America, N.A., 2013 WL 6448672 at 5 (D. Me. Dec. 9, 2013).

B. Legal Analysis

It is undisputed that complete diversity of citizenship is present in each of these cases. See supra. With respect to the amount in controversy requirement, the mortgage release statute at issue limits recoverable damages to $500, 33 M.R.S. § 551, meaning that each plaintiff's prayers for damages have placed only $500 in controversy. Whether diversity jurisdiction exists, then, turns on whether the banks have shown that it is more likely than not that the ...


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