You're viewing Docket Item 25 from the case Lyle et al v. SunTrust Mortgage, Inc. et al. View the full docket and case details.

Download this document:




Case 6:13-cv-00150-CEH-TBS Document 25 Filed 06/04/13 Page 1 of 8 PageID 319

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
MIDDLE DISTRICT OF FLORIDA

ORLANDO DIVISION

Plaintiffs,


DAVID P. LYLE and LEEANN C. LYLE,



v.

SUNTRUST MORTGAGE, INC., BRANCH
BANKING AND TRUST COMPANY and ALL
UNKNOWN PARTIES CLAIMING BY,
THROUGH UNDER AND AGAINST THE
HEREIN NAMED INDIVIDUAL
DEFENDANT(S) WHO ARE NOT KNOWN TO
BE DEAD OR ALIVE, WHETHER SAID
UNKNOWN PARTIES MAY CLAIM AN
INTEREST AS SPOUSES,






Defendants.

Case No: 6:13-cv-150-Orl-36TBS



ORDER

This cause comes before the Court on the Report and Recommendation of Magistrate

Judge Thomas B. Smith (Doc. 21). In the Report and Recommendation, Magistrate Judge Smith

recommends that Plaintiffs David P. Lyle and LeeAnn C. Lyle’s (“Plaintiffs”) Motion to

Remand (“Motion to Remand”) (Doc. 14) be granted and that the case be remanded to the

Circuit Court of the Ninth Judicial Circuit in and for Orange County, Florida. See Doc. 21, p. 6.

Defendant Branch Banking and Trust Company (“Defendant BB&T”) filed an Objection to the

Report and Recommendation (“Objection”) (Doc. 23). Plaintiffs did not respond to the

Objection. As such, this matter is ripe for review.

Case 6:13-cv-00150-CEH-TBS Document 25 Filed 06/04/13 Page 2 of 8 PageID 320

I.

BACKGROUND

On December 19, 2012, Plaintiffs, proceeding pro se,1 filed a Verified Complaint to

Quiet Title (“Complaint”) in the Circuit Court of the Ninth Judicial Circuit in and for Orange

County, Florida. Doc. 2. In the Complaint, Plaintiffs allege that they have title to, and

possession of, certain real property (“Property”) located in Maitland, Florida. Id. at ¶ 1–3.

Plaintiffs attached to the Complaint a copy of a mortgage on the Property executed April 25,

2003 in favor of Defendant SunTrust Mortgage, Inc. (“Defendant SunTrust”), in the amount of

$182,000 plus interest (the “SunTrust Mortgage”). See Doc. 2-2. Plaintiffs also attached a copy

of a second mortgage on the Property executed May 24, 2006 in favor of Defendant BB&T, in

the amount of $70,000 plus interest (the “BB&T Mortgage” and, together with the SunTrust

Mortgage, the “Mortgages”). See Doc. 2-4.

In spite of these mortgage documents, Plaintiffs contend that neither Defendant SunTrust

nor Defendant BB&T has lent them any money, and Plaintiffs have sent demands that

Defendants provide proof of the loans. Doc. 2, ¶¶ 5, 12. Plaintiffs allege that Defendants have

failed to provide such proof and, accordingly, Defendants do not have a valid interest in the

Property. Id. at ¶¶ 6–7, 13–14. Plaintiffs have demanded that Defendants remove, satisfy, and

release the Mortgages, but Defendants have refused to do so. Id. at ¶¶ 8–9, 15–16. Plaintiffs

therefore seek a court order declaring the Mortgages null and void and quieting title to the

Property. Id. at p. 6.

On January 24, 2013, Defendant SunTrust, with the consent of Defendant BB&T, filed a

timely Notice of Removal based upon diversity jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1332.2 See Doc. 1. In


1 Plaintiffs have since obtained representation. See Doc. 22.

2 Defendant SunTrust was served with a copy of the Complaint on December 27, 2012. See Doc.
4.



2

Case 6:13-cv-00150-CEH-TBS Document 25 Filed 06/04/13 Page 3 of 8 PageID 321

its Notice of Removal, Defendant SunTrust asserts that the amount in controversy requirement is

satisfied because the amount of the SunTrust Mortgage is $182,000, thereby exceeding the

$75,000 threshold. Id. at ¶ 5. On February 13, 2013, Plaintiffs filed their Motion to Remand,

arguing that SunTrust has not satisfied its burden of proving federal subject matter jurisdiction.

See Doc. 14. In its response in opposition to the Motion to Remand (“Response”), Defendant

SunTrust attached a copy of an Underwriting Findings Report dated April 18, 2003 (the

“Underwriting Findings Report”), which states that the appraised value of the Property is

$250,000. See Docs. 19, 19-5. In its Response, Defendant SunTrust argues that the SunTrust

Mortgage and the Underwriting Findings Report are each sufficient to establish by a

preponderance of the evidence that the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000. Doc. 19.

On March 25, 2013, Magistrate Judge Smith issued a Report and Recommendation

recommending that this Court grant Plaintiffs’ Motion to Remand, and remand the case to state

court. Doc. 21, p. 6. The Magistrate Judge stated that the face value of the SunTrust Mortgage

should not control the determination of the amount in controversy, and that other factors should

be taken into consideration when valuing a mortgage, such as the amount of the debt it secures,

the value of the property it encumbers, the priority of the mortgage, and any laws or ordinances

affecting its enforceability. Id. at 4. The Magistrate Judge further opined that the Underwriting

Findings Report is of no value because it is “hearsay” and the valuation date is April 18, 2003.

Id. at 5. Therefore, the Magistrate Judge concluded that Defendants had not satisfied their

burden of proving that the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000. Id.

On April 8, 2013, Defendant BB&T filed its Objection, arguing that the BB&T Mortgage

was actually two mortgages, as evidenced by the attachments to Plaintiffs’ Complaint, which

included a $70,000 mortgage and a $50,000 mortgage. See Doc. 23, ¶¶ 2–3 (citing Docs. 2-4, 2-



3

Case 6:13-cv-00150-CEH-TBS Document 25 Filed 06/04/13 Page 4 of 8 PageID 322

6). Therefore, Defendant BB&T claims that the value of the BB&T Mortgage is $120,000. Id.

at ¶ 4. Defendant BB&T further argues that the total indebtedness payable to it is $75,227.92 as

of April 5, 2013, although it provides no evidence of this. Id. at p. 2, n.2. Defendant BB&T also

attached to its Objection: (1) a copy of a 2013 valuation of the Property by the Orange County

Property Appraiser, which placed the value of the Property at $214,763 (the “OCPA Valuation”);

and (2) a copy of a December 21, 2010 appraisal of the Property by Southwest Financial

Services, Ltd., which placed the value of the Property at $253,570 (the “SFS Appraisal”). See

Docs. 23-1, 23-2. Defendant BB&T argues that the foregoing documents prove that the amount

in controversy exceeds $75,000. See Doc. 23.

II.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

When a party makes a timely and specific objection to a Magistrate Judge’s Report and

Recommendation, the district judge “shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the

report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made.” 28

U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C); Jeffrey S. v. State Bd. of Educ. of State of Georgia, 896 F.2d 507, 512

(11th Cir. 1990). The district judge may accept, reject, or modify in whole or in part, the Report

and Recommendation of the Magistrate Judge. Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b)(3). The district judge may

also receive further evidence or recommit the matter to the Magistrate Judge with further

instructions. Id.

A defendant may remove a civil action from state court to the district court of the United

States for the district and division within which such action is pending, provided that the district

court has jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). Diversity jurisdiction exists where the suit is

between citizens of different states and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000. 28 U.S.C. §

1332(a). The party seeking removal bears the burden of proving proper federal jurisdiction.



4

Case 6:13-cv-00150-CEH-TBS Document 25 Filed 06/04/13 Page 5 of 8 PageID 323

Leonard v. Enter. Rent a Car, 279 F.3d 967, 972 (11th Cir. 2002). “Where a plaintiff fails to

specify the total amount of damages demanded . . . a defendant seeking removal based on

diversity jurisdiction must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the amount in

controversy exceeds the $75,000 jurisdictional requirement.” Id. “To determine whether this

standard is met, a court first examines whether it is facially apparent from the complaint that the

amount in controversy exceeds the jurisdictional requirement. . . . If the jurisdictional amount is

not facially apparent from the complaint, the court should look to the notice of removal and may

require evidence relevant to the amount in controversy at the time the case was removed.”

Miedema v. Maytag Corp., 450 F.3d 1322, 1330 (11th Cir. 2006) (internal citations and

quotations omitted). In assessing whether removal is proper, the Court may consider “only the

limited universe of evidence available when the motion to remand is filed—i.e., the notice of

removal and accompanying documents. If that evidence is insufficient to establish that removal

was proper or that jurisdiction was present, neither the defendant[ ] nor the court may speculate

in an attempt to make up for the notice’s failings.” Lowery v. Ala. Power Co., 483 F.3d 1184,

1214–15 (11th Cir. 2007). “[R]emoval statutes are construed narrowly; where plaintiff and

defendant clash about jurisdiction, uncertainties are resolved in favor of remand.” Williams v.

AFC Enterprises, Inc., 389 F.3d 1185, 1189 (11th Cir. 2004) (quotations omitted).

III. DISCUSSION

It is undisputed that there is complete diversity among the parties and, therefore, the only

issue before the Court is whether Defendants have satisfied their burden of proving, by a

preponderance of the evidence, that the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000. See Doc. 14, p.

3. In actions seeking declaratory relief, such as Plaintiffs’ quiet title claim, “it is well established

that the amount in controversy is measured by the value of the object of the litigation.” Ericsson



5

Case 6:13-cv-00150-CEH-TBS Document 25 Filed 06/04/13 Page 6 of 8 PageID 324

GE Mobile Commc'ns, Inc. v. Motorola Commc'ns & Elec., Inc., 120 F.3d 216, 218 (11th Cir.

1997). “The Eleventh Circuit has expressly adopted the ‘plaintiff-viewpoint rule,’ which

requires the court to measure the object of the litigation solely from the plaintiff’s perspective.

Therefore, where a plaintiff claims injunctive or declaratory relief, the value of that relief for the

purposes of satisfying the amount in controversy requirement is the monetary value of the object

of the litigation that would flow to the plaintiffs if the injunction were granted.” Siewak v.

AmSouth Bank, No. 8:06-cv-927, 2006 WL 3391222, at *3 (M.D. Fla. Nov. 22, 2006).

Here, Plaintiffs seek a court order quieting title to the Property and declaring the

Mortgages null and void. Doc. 2, p. 6. If the Court were to grant Plaintiffs’ request, the

monetary benefit that would flow to Plaintiffs is that the Mortgages would no longer be

enforceable against Defendants and that Plaintiffs would own the Property free and clear of any

clouds on their title. Thus, the amounts payable under the Mortgages and the value of the

Property are relevant to a determination of the amount in controversy. See, e.g., Prop. Choice

Group, Inc. v. LaSalle Bank Nat’l Ass’n, No. 8:12-cv-1042, 2012 WL 2568138, at *1 (M.D. Fla.

July 2, 2012) (holding that the value of the mortgage at issue in a quiet title action determines the

amount in controversy); Ra’oof v. U.S. Bank, No. 1:10-cv-3347-RWS, 2010 WL 4975496, at *1

(N.D. Ga. Dec. 1, 2010) (holding that the value of the property that the plaintiff seeks to protect

in a quiet title action determines the amount in controversy); Diversified Mortgage, Inc. v.

Merscorp, Inc., No. 8:09-cv-2497, 2010 WL 1793632, at *2 (M.D. Fla. May 5, 2010) (holding

that the face value of the mortgages determines the amount in controversy). The issue is whether

Defendants have offered sufficient evidence to prove that the amount in controversy exceeds

$75,000.



6

Case 6:13-cv-00150-CEH-TBS Document 25 Filed 06/04/13 Page 7 of 8 PageID 325

In Cuevas v. SunTrust Mortgage, Inc., No. 6:13-cv-147, 2013 WL 1452031 (M.D. Fla.

Apr. 9, 2013), this Court addressed the sufficiency of evidence offered to prove the amount in

controversy in a quiet title action. In that case, the plaintiffs filed an action in state court to quiet

title and invalidate the mortgage on the real property that served as their primary residence.

Cuevas, Doc. 15. The defendant removed the case to federal court on the basis of diversity

jurisdiction. Id. The plaintiffs filed a motion to remand, arguing that the amount in controversy

requirement had not been met. Id. In response, the defendant pointed to a copy of the mortgage

attached to the complaint, which stated that the plaintiffs owed the defendant $255,000 plus

interest. Id. The defendant also submitted a five-year-old appraisal of the property with its

response to the motion to remand, which valued the property at $330,000. Id. The Court,

adopting the Report and Recommendation of Magistrate Judge Baker, held that the mortgage and

the appraisal were sufficient to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the amount in

controversy exceeded $75,000. Cuevas, 2013 WL 1452031, at *1.

Similarly here, Defendant SunTrust has offered evidence regarding the amount of the

Mortgages and the fair market value of the Property. Defendant SunTrust points to the SunTrust

Mortgage attached to the Complaint, which states that Plaintiffs owe Defendant SunTrust

$182,000 plus interest. See Doc. 19, pp. 6–7 (citing Doc. 2-2). Defendant SunTrust also offers

the Underwriting Findings Report, which states that the appraised value of the Property is

$250,000. See id. at 7–8 (citing Doc. 19-5). Consistent with Cuevas, the Court finds that the

SunTrust Mortgage and the Underwriting Findings Report are sufficient to satisfy Defendants’

burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the amount in controversy exceeds



7

Case 6:13-cv-00150-CEH-TBS Document 25 Filed 06/04/13 Page 8 of 8 PageID 326

$75,000.3 Therefore, the Court will decline to follow the Report and Recommendation of the

Magistrate Judge.

Accordingly, it is hereby ORDERED as follows:

1.

2.

3.

The Report and Recommendation of the Magistrate Judge (Doc. 21) is rejected.

Plaintiffs’ Motion to Remand (Doc. 14) is DENIED.

Plaintiffs’ request for attorneys’ fees, costs, and expenses is DENIED.

DONE and ORDERED in Orlando, Florida on June 4, 2013.



Copies furnished to:

Counsel of Record
Unrepresented Parties
United States Magistrate Judge Thomas B. Smith




3 Because the Court finds that the SunTrust Mortgage and the Underwriting Findings Report are
sufficient for purposes of proving the amount in controversy, the Court need not consider the
OCPA Valuation or the SFS Appraisal, which were submitted with Defendant BB&T’s
Objection, after the Magistrate Judge issued his Report and Recommendation. In addition, the
Court will not consider the statement in Defendant BB&T’s Objection that the total indebtedness
payable to it is $75,227.92 as of April 5, 2013, because it is merely argument of counsel and is
not supported by any evidence.



8