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Bobola v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

September 13, 2016

THOMAS BOBOLA and MARY LOU BOBOLA, Plaintiffs
v.
WELLS FARGO BANK, N.A., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          WOLF, D.J.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiffs Thomas and Mary Lou Bobola brought this action in the Essex County Superior Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The Bobolas allege that defendant Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. ("Wells Fargo"), unfairly denied them consideration for a mortgage loan modification. They seek to enjoin Wells Fargo Bank from conducting a foreclosure sale until they have been given an opportunity to negotiate a loan modification. Wells Fargo timely removed the case to federal court. The Bobolas have moved to remand. For the reasons explained below, the court is allowing the motion and remanding the case to state court because Wells Fargo has not proven that the amount in controversy in this case exceeds $75, 000, which is necessary to establish diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1332(a).

         II. BACKGROUND

         The following facts are drawn from the Complaint, except where otherwise indicated.

         In 2003, Thomas and Mary Lou Bobola took out a mortgage on their residence in Methuen, Massachusetts, in the amount of $302, 000. See Mortgage (Docket No. 1, Ex. B). Wells Fargo is the current holder of that mortgage. In 2010, Thomas suffered a severe injury that prevented him from working. At that time, the Bobolas owed $189, 000 on their mortgage.

         The Bobolas contacted Wells Fargo in order to seek a loan modification. A Wells Fargo representative allegedly informed Thomas that they would not be eligible for a loan modification until their loan was in default. The representative assured Thomas that, if the Bobolas defaulted on their loan, there would be substantial opportunities for modification. Acting on this advice, the Bobolas allowed their loan to enter default. In February 2012, they filed a request for a loan modification.

         Wells Fargo acknowledged the request for modification, but ultimately did not modify the Bobolas' loan. In July 2014, Wells Fargo told the Bobolas that there were other options to avoid foreclosure. At the same time, it resumed the collections process. The Bobolas informed Wells Fargo that they were represented by counsel. Wells Fargo nevertheless continued to contact the Bobolas directly. According to the Bobolas, Wells Fargo engaged in dilatory tactics and made intentionally confusing requests to undermine the loan modification process. Wells Fargo foreclosed on the Bobolas' home and scheduled a foreclosure sale for December 17, 2015.

         Prior to the foreclosure sale, the Bobolas filed the instant action in the Essex County Superior Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. See Complaint (Docket No. 1, Ex. A). They allege that Wells Fargo breached its duty of good faith and fair dealing in conducting the foreclosure proceedings. See id. ¶¶24-28. They further allege that Wells Fargo misrepresented the availability of a loan modification and the modification process. See id. ¶¶29-33. They ask the court to order Wells Fargo "to provide a fair and reasonable opportunity to negotiate a loan modification" and to enjoin the foreclosure sale until that obligation is complete. Id. ¶35.

         On December 30, 2014, Wells Fargo removed this case to federal court. See Notice of Removal (Docket No. 1). Wells Fargo filed an answer to the complaint and, on January 13, 2015, a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. On October 28, 2015, the Bobolas filed a Motion for Remand. In their supporting memorandum, the Bobolas argue that because they seek primarily equitable relief the amount in controversy is less than $75, 000. See Mem. in Supp. of Mot. to Remand (Docket No. 14) at 1-2. In the alternative, they argue that Wells Fargo is a corporate citizen of Massachusetts and, therefore, the parties are not diverse. Id. at 3. Wells Fargo has opposed the motion. See Mem. in Opp. to Mot. to Remand (Docket No. 16).

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         United States district courts have jurisdiction over civil actions arising under state law "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). If such a civil action is brought in state court, the defendant is entitled to remove the case to a United States district court having jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. §1446. After the defendant has removed a case to federal court, the plaintiff may at any time file a motion to remand to state court for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Id. §1447(c). The removing defendant bears the burden of establishing federal jurisdiction. See Amoche v. Guarantee Trust Life Ins. Co., 556 F.3d 41, 48 (1st Cir. 2009).

         Diversity of citizenship must be proven by a preponderance of evidence. See Francis v. Goodman, 81 F.3d 5, 6 (1st Cir. 1996). An individual is a citizen of his state of domicile, that is, "'the place where he has his true, fixed home and principal establishment, and to which, whenever he is absent, he has the intention of returning.'" Padilla-Mangual v. Pavia Hosp., 516 F.3d 29, 31 (1st Cir. 2008) (quoting Rodriguez-Diaz v. Sierra-Martinez, 853 F.2d 1027, 1029 (1st Cir. 1988)). A national banking association is a citizen of the state in which it is located. See 28 U.S.C. §1348. This is "the State designated in its articles of association as its main office." Wachovia Bank v. Schmidt, 546 U.S. 303, 318 (2006).

         For purposes of jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. §1332(a), the "the sum demanded in good faith in the initial pleading shall be deemed to be the amount in controversy." 28 U.S.C. §1446(c)(2). However, if the plaintiff seeks "nonmonetary relief" or seeks "a money judgment, but the State practice either does not permit demand for a specific sum or permits recovery of damages in excess of the amount demanded, " the defendant may assert an amount in controversy in its notice of removal. Id. ยง1446(c) (2) (A) . If the amount in controversy asserted in the notice of removal is challenged, "removal of the action is proper ... if the district court finds, by the preponderance of the evidence, that the ...


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