United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division
CHARLES W. GRIFFITHS, Plaintiff,
NATIONSTAR MORTGAGE, LLC, et al., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION (GRANTING PLAINTIFFS MOTION TO
E. Hudson, Senior United States District Judge.
a civil action alleging a violation of Va. Code Ann. §
44-102.1, Virginia's codification of the Servicemembers
Civil Relief Act ("the SCRA"), 50 U.S.C. §
3901, et seq. The case was originally filed in the
Circuit Court of Caroline County, Virginia. Although
Plaintiffs entitlement to relief is based on application of
Virginia law, Defendants maintain that significantly related
issues turn on the application and interpretation of a
federal statute. Based on this premise, Defendant Nationstar
Mortgage, LLC removed this case to the United States District
Court. Arguing that this Court lacks federal question
jurisdiction because it is governed by Virginia law,
Plaintiff now urges this Court to remand it back to the
Circuit Court of Caroline County.
parties have filed well-crafted memoranda supporting their
respective positions, and oral argument was held on October 3,
2019. This Court's analysis of the jurisdictional issue
is guided in large measure by the Court of Appeals for the
Fourth Circuit's opinion in Burrell v. Beyer
Corp., 918 F.3d 372 (4th Cir. 2019).
from a wealth of time-honored authority, the Fourth Circuit
began its analysis by explaining in Burrell that
"[a]s the Supreme Court has emphasized, [28 U.S.C.]
§ 1331 confers federal jurisdiction over state-law
causes of action only in a 'special and small' class
of cases." 918 F.3d at 376 (quoting Empire
HealthChoice Assur., Inc. v. McVeigh, 547 U.S. 677, 699
(2006)). Importantly, the Fourth Circuit highlighted that
"[c]ases generally are deemed to 'arise under'
federal law when it is federal law, not state law, that
creates the cause of action." Burrell, 918 F.3d
at 378-79 (quoting Merrill Dow Pharm. Inc. v.
Thompson, 478 U.S. 804, 808 (1986)).
explaining the narrow application of federal question
jurisdiction in cases arising under state law, the court in
Burrell noted that "[t]he mere presence of a
federal issue in a state cause of action does not
automatically confer federal-question jurisdiction."
Burrell, 918 F.3d at 384 (citing Merrill
Dow, 478 U.S. at 813). "A federal question is not
'necessarily' raised under § 1331 unless it is
essential to resolving a state-law claim, meaning that
'every legal theory supporting the claim requires the
resolution of a federal issue.'" Burrell,
918 F.3d at 383 (quoting Dixon v. Coburg Dairy Inc.,
369 F.3d 811, 816 (4th Cir. 2004) (en banc)). "In other
words, so long as 'even one theory' for each of the
[plaintiffs] claims does not require
'interpretation of federal law,' resolution of the
federal-law question is not necessary to the disposition of
their case." Id.
illustrating the analytical framework used in
Burrell, the Fourth Circuit noted that "[t]he
'classic example,' according to Grable, is a
federal question regarding the constitutionality or
construction of a federal statute, As a practical matter, a
'substantial' question generally would involve a
'pure issue of law,' rather than being
'fact-bound and situation-specific, "'
Id. at 385 (quoting Grable & Sons Metal
Prods, v. Darue Eng'g & Mfg., 545 U.S. 308,
312-13 (2005); McVeigh, 547 at 700-701)).
provision of the Virginia Code at issue in this case reads in
Any right, benefit, or protection that may accrue to a member
of the Virginia National Guard under the federal
Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (50 U.S.C. § 3901,
et seq.), as a result of a call to federal active
duty service under Title 10 of the United States Code shall
be extended to a member of the Virginia National Guard called
to active duty service under Title 32 of the United States
Code, or to state active duty by the Governor, if the active
duty orders are for a period of 30 consecutive days or more.
Va. Code Ann. § 44-102.1(A).
support their claim of federal jurisdiction, Defendants
maintain that "it will be virtually impossible for the
parties to litigate such claims without looking to, relying
upon, and applying federal statutory law and federal case
law." (Notice of Removal 6, ECF 1.) Defendants point out
that Va. Code Ann. § 44-102.1 "directs the litigant
to the SCRA without providing any further instruction
regarding what 'right, benefit, or protection' the
SCRA provides or how it should be applied."
(Id. at 7.) Furthermore, to be entitled to
protection, "[t]he litigant also must satisfy the
definition of 'active duty' as defined by the federal
statutory law." (Id; see 10 U.S.C. §
this case is closely moored to the SCRA, it principally turns
on whether the Defendant mortgage lender was in compliance
with that Act during Plaintiffs period of active military
service. The statutory requirements are clear-state law
creates the cause of action. As a member of the Virginia
National Guard, Plaintiff was entitled under Va. Code Ann.
§ 44-102.1 to the benefits and protections of the SCRA
when called to active duty for 30 consecutive days or more.
Among the benefits accorded servicemembers upon activation is
a limited mortgage interest rate on obligations incurred
prior to active duty. See 50 U.S.C. § 3937.
There is no allegation that the underlying federal statute is
unconstitutional in any relevant application.
claims in this case evolve from the Defendants' alleged
failure to comply with the provisions of § 44-102.1
during and after the Plaintiffs deployment to Iraq from 2004,
2005, and his return to active duty from 2006 to 2017. In
addition to seeking relief under § 44.102.1, Plaintiff
also seeks consequential damages for intentional infliction
of emotional distress, trespass, ejectment, and conversion of
personal property under Virginia law.
to the Defendants' theory of removal, this case does not
involve a disputed question of federal law.
"Specifically, Griffiths' claims under Virginia Code
§ 44-102.1 inevitably require review, interpretation,
and application of the federal statutory law it wholly
adopts." (Def. Nationstar's Resp. Opp'n to Mot.
Remand 2, ECF No. 28.) The underlying federal law is not in
dispute. The central issue is whether it was violated by the
corporate defendant as applied under Virginia law. There is
no issue of federal preemption in this case.
mere fact that Plaintiffs claim may raise a federal issue,
such as his qualification for SCRA protection, is
insufficient to constitute a substantial question of federal
law. Here, ...