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Iannarella v. Zeal Hotels Group, LLC

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Fort Myers Division

October 2, 2019

ED IANNARELLA and KIM IANNARELLA, Plaintiffs,
v.
ZEAL HOTELS GROUP, LLC, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER [1]

          SHERI POLSTER CHAPPELL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is Defendant Zeal Hotels Group, LLC's Supplement to Notice of Removal to Federal Court (Doc. 21) and Plaintiffs Ed Iannarella and Kim Iannarella's Response (Doc. 23). For the following reasons, the Court remands this action to state court.

         Plaintiffs filed suit against Zeal for breach of contract in state court on March 12, 2018. (Doc. 4). Plaintiffs first received default judgment against Zeal in June 2018. (Doc. 1-13). Due to service of process issues, Plaintiffs moved to vacate the default judgment to perfect service upon Zeal, which the court granted. (Docs. 1-17; 21-2). Plaintiffs served Zeal on January 7, 2019. Zeal again failed to respond. Plaintiffs obtained a second default judgment in April 2019, along with costs and attorney's fees and court-ordered garnishment. (Docs. 1-20; 1-22; 1-23; 1-26; 1-37; 1-46; 1-49; 1-54; 21-3; 21-4). On August 16, 2019, Zeal moved to quash service of process, vacate final judgment, and dissolve garnishment. (Doc. 1-64). That same day, Zeal removed the case to this Court based on diversity jurisdiction. (Doc. 1).

         Upon sua sponte review of Zeal's Notice of Removal, the Court found removal problematic for two reasons. (Doc. 16). First, Zeal removed this case more than one year after Plaintiffs filed suit. (Id. at 2). Second, Zeal removed this case even though the state court entered final judgment and had not yet decided the motion to vacate. (Id. at 2-3). The Court allowed Zeal to supplement its removal. (Id. at 3). After reviewing the record, the parties' arguments, and applicable case law, the Court finds Zeal's removal untimely and barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.

         Crucial here, a case may not be removed based on diversity jurisdiction “more than 1 year after commencement of the action, unless the district court finds that the plaintiff has acted in bad faith in order to prevent a defendant from removing the action.” 28 U.S.C. § 1446(c)(1). Zeal removed this action over seventeen months after Plaintiffs initiated this suit in state court, and it has failed to show Plaintiffs acted in bad faith. Thus, removal is untimely under § 1446(c)(1).

         Even if removal was timely, it runs afoul of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. The Rooker-Feldman doctrine, when applicable, bars federal-court jurisdiction. It applies to “cases brought by state-court losers complaining of injuries caused by state-court judgments rendered before the district court proceedings commenced and inviting district court review.” Exxon Mobile Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 284 (2005). Under this doctrine, “[i]t is well-settled that a federal district court lacks jurisdiction to review, reverse, or invalidate a final state court decision.” Harper v. Chase Manhattan Bank, 138 Fed.Appx. 130, 132 (11th Cir. 2005) (citation omitted). The Eleventh Circuit applies Rooker-Feldman to a claim that (1) the state court adjudicated; or (2) is “inextricably intertwined” with a state court judgment.” See Target Media Partners v. Specialty Mktg. Corp., 881 F.3d 1279, 1286 (11th Cir. 2018).

         Zeal's removal falls squarely under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine because it effectively asks this Court to invalidate the state court's final judgment due to improper service of process. The Court, however, lacks federal jurisdiction to review a final state court judgment. Because Zeal has failed its burden to show federal jurisdiction exists, the case is due to be remanded to state court.

         Accordingly, it is now ORDERED:

         The above-captioned case is DISMISSED for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and REMANDED to the Circuit Court, Twentieth Judicial Circuit in and for Lee County, Florida.

         1. The Clerk of Court is DIRECTED to transmit a certified copy of this Order to the Clerk of the Circuit Court of the Twentieth Judicial Circuit in and for Lee County, Florida.

         2. The Clerk of Court is DIRECTED to terminate pending motions and deadlines and close the case.

         DONE and ORDERED.

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