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Jaligam v. Pochampally

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

January 12, 2018


         SECTION: “G” (1)



         Pending before the Court is Plaintiff Vijayendra Jaligam's (“Plaintiff”) motion to remand, filed on November 16, 2017, in which Plaintiff asserts that the removal of this case by Defendant Radhika Pochampally (“Defendant”), on October 18, 2017, was untimely, and this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the state court action removed; Plaintiff also requests attorneys' fees and costs.[1] Having considered the motion, the memoranda in support and opposition, and the applicable law, the Court will remand the case to the Civil District Court for the Parish of Orleans, and, however, deny Plaintiff's request for attorneys' fees and costs.

         I. Background

         In 2008, Plaintiff filed a petition for divorce against Defendant in the Civil District Court for the Parish of Orleans.[2] Since that time, Plaintiff and Defendant have been parties to ongoing litigation in state court concerning the custody of their children and their corresponding parental rights and obligations.[3] On October 18, 2017, Defendant filed a notice of removal of this action from the Civil District Court for the Parish of Orleans, which was marked deficient by the Clerk of Court.[4] On October 31, 2017, Defendant filed an amended notice of removal.[5] On November 16, 2017, Plaintiff filed the instant motion to remand.[6] On November 29, 2017, Defendant filed an opposition.[7] On January 8, 2018, with leave of Court, Defendant filed a supplemental memorandum in opposition.[8]

         II. Parties' Arguments

         A. Plaintiff's Motion to Remand

         In the motion to remand, Plaintiff argues that Defendant's removal of this action was untimely.[9] Specifically, Plaintiff argues that 28 U.S.C. § 1446 requires removal of actions within thirty days of the receipt of a pleading.[10] Plaintiff avers that this litigation has been pending in the Civil District Court for the Parish of Orleans “for some nine years prior to the removal.”[11]Therefore, Plaintiff asserts, Defendant's removal was untimely.[12] Moreover, Plaintiff contends, Defendant's pro se status does not excuse her from compliance with the “strict terms of the removal statute.”[13]

         In addition, Plaintiff argues, there is no basis for the exercise of federal jurisdiction in this matter, as there is no federal question posed by the underlying domestic proceeding, and complete diversity does not exist between the parties because both Plaintiff and Defendant were citizens of Louisiana at the time the action was commenced in state court.[14]

         Finally, Plaintiff contends that Defendant's removal “runs afoul of the well-established domestic relations exception to federal jurisdiction and the Rooker-Feldman doctrine governing federal abstention from state court matters.”[15] Plaintiff argues that in removing the state court action, Defendant “seeks to have this Court review and overturn legitimate and final judgments of the court of the State of Louisiana.”[16] Moreover, Plaintiff argues that Defendant is not entitled to have the federal courts review the state court judgments, and therefore, the case should be remanded to state court.[17]

         In addition, Plaintiff requests attorneys' fees and costs pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c), arguing that Defendant “did not have objectively reasonable grounds to believe that the removal of the case was proper, nine years after its commencement.”[18]

         B. Defendant's Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion to Remand

         In opposition, Defendant argues that this Court has “subject matter jurisdiction and federal question jurisdiction over this matter” because the state court violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution by “continued termination of the parental rights” of Defendant.[19] Thus, Defendant argues, this case ultimately involves a federal question, specifically, “whether the state court must comply with the ADA, 504, anti-discrimination laws, and equal protection and due process.”[20] Defendant does not address Plaintiff's argument that removal was untimely in her opposition.

         In response to Plaintiff's argument that pursuant to the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, federal courts abstain from reviewing claims intertwined with family law matters in state court, Defendant argues that this is not a case of divorce or alimony.[21] Rather, Defendant argues, “Unlike the situation with divorce or alimony cases, the U.S. Supreme Court frequently has heard cases involving child support payments or child custody cases.”[22] Defendant contends that in this case, she is not asserting a right of review on final judgments of a state court judicial proceeding, and the federal constitutional claims are not so “inextricably intertwined” with a state court decision that the district court is essentially being called upon to review the state court decision.[23]Moreover, Defendant asserts that the federal questions she seeks to address “cannot be resolved by the state court.”[24]

         Additionally, Defendant argues that the fraud exception to the Rooker-Feldman doctrine applies because Plaintiff's memorandum in support of remand (1) “misrepresents Defendant's efforts to complete the mandate ordered by court”; and (2) “misrepresents Plaintiff's knowledge of Defendant residing in India at the time of [Plaintiff's] initial pleading in May 2008.”[25] Thus, Defendant argues, this Court has federal question jurisdiction over the case.

         In addition, Defendant asserts that this Court has diversity jurisdiction over this case. Defendant avers that she was a resident and citizen of India when the original divorce case was filed in 2008.[26] Defendant avers that she lived in Louisiana from 2008 to August 2012, and in August 2012, moved to Mississippi where she continued to reside at the time “Plaintiff re-opened the case on an ex parte motion in December 2015.”[27] Defendant avers that Plaintiff “has continued to reside and presently resides in Louisiana.”[28] Citing Exhibit O, [29] Defendant avers that “according to the pleadings in this case, there is more than $125, 000 in controversy.”[30] Thus, Defendant argues, “the amount in controversy requirement is easily satisfied here . . . .”[31]Accordingly, Defendant contends, removal was proper, as this court has subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to federal question jurisdiction and diversity jurisdiction.[32]

         In response to Plaintiff's request for attorneys' fees and costs, Defendant argues that the award of attorneys' fees is only appropriate if the removing party lacked an objectively reasonable basis for seeking removal.[33] Here, Defendant argues, she has alleged “more than sufficient facts” to support removal.[34] Thus, Defendant argues, even if the Court remands this case, an award of attorneys' fees is unsupportable.[35]

         C. Defendant's Supplemental Memorandum in Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion to Remand

         In the supplemental memorandum, Defendant provides supplemental authority on the “domestic relations exception” and the artful pleading rule.[36] Defendant makes no argument regarding the domestic relations exception; she states only that the exception does not apply in this case and provides a list of authority that presumably supports her position.[37]

         Regarding the artful pleading rule, Defendant argues, “If the federal court determines that the plaintiff has ‘artfully pleaded' claims in this manner, it may allow removal even though no federal question appears on the face of the complaint.”[38] Defendant further argues, “The artful-pleading doctrine generally allows removal in cases where federal law completely preempts state- law claims pleaded by the plaintiff.”[39] Moreover, Defendant asserts, a plaintiff may not defeat removal by omitting to plead necessary federal questions.[40]

         III. Law and Analysis

         In the motion to remand, Plaintiff argues that Defendant's removal was untimely. Defendant does not address the timeliness of removal in the opposition to Plaintiff's motion to remand, or in the supplemental memorandum in support.

         28 U.S.C. § 1446(b)(1) states:

The notice of removal of a civil action or proceeding shall be filed within 30 days after the receipt by the defendant, through service or otherwise, of a copy of the initial pleading setting forth the claim for relief upon which such action or proceeding is based, or within 30 days after the service of summons upon the defendant if such initial pleading has then been filed in court and is not required to be served on the defendant, whichever period is shorter.

28 U.S.C. § 1446(b)(3) states:

Except as provided in subsection (c), if the case stated by the initial pleading is not removable, a notice of removal may be filed within thirty days after receipt by the defendant, through service or otherwise, of a copy of an amended pleading, motion, order or other paper from which it may first be ascertained that the case is one which is or has become removable.

         Finally, 28 U.S.C. § 1446(c)(1) states:

A case may not be removed under subsection (b)(3) on the basis of jurisdiction conferred by section 1332 more than 1 year after commencement of the action, unless the district court finds that the plaintiff has acted in bad faith ...

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