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Carter v. Homeward Residential, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

July 23, 2015

NATE CARTER, Plaintiff-Appellant,
HOMEWARD RESIDENTIAL, INC., et al., Defendants-Appellees

Submitted June 18, 2015.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 11 C 8403 -- Rubén Castillo, Chief Judge.

Nate Carter, Plaintiff - Appellant, Por se, Crete, IL.

For Homeward Residential, Inc., formerly known as: American Home Mortgage Servicing, Inc., Defendant - Appellee: Jena M. Valdetero, Attorney, Bryan Cave Llp, Chicago, IL.

For Select Portfolio Servicing, Incorporated, Citibank, N.A., Defendants - Appellees: Michael J. Weik, Jonathan D. Nusgart, Attorney, Attorney, Smith & Weik, LLC, Oak Park, IL.

For J.P. Morgan Chase Bank, N.A., Defendant - Appellee: Shana A. Shifrin, Attorney, Susan M. Horner, Attorney, Burke, Warren, Mackay & Serritella, P.C., Chicago, IL.

Before POSNER, MANION, and WILLIAMS, Circuit Judges.


Posner, Circuit Judge.

Nate Carter lost his home in Crete, Illinois, after the mortgage on it was foreclosed. In this suit against the financial institutions involved in making, servicing, or foreclosing his mortgage, he alleges that the " foreclosing entity" (which he does not identify) did not hold the note or

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mortgage at the time of the foreclosure. Claiming that the defendants violated the federal Constitution, he seeks to quiet title to the foreclosed home. (His only claim is federal; he does not invoke the diversity jurisdiction of the federal courts.) The district court dismissed the suit as frivolous, precipitating this appeal. The suit is indeed frivolous, like the identical suit (except for the homeowner's address, mortgage, and several dates) that was before us in Sturdivant v. Select Portfolio Servicing, Inc., 602 F.Appx. 351 (7th Cir. 2015), where we agreed with the district court that the suit was frivolous and so affirmed its dismissal. In neither case did the complaint allege anything that might support an inference that the defendants were state actors, suable therefore under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Nor can we infer or even imagine any alternative basis for supposing that either case is within the jurisdiction of the federal courts.

Our opinion in Sturdivant is an " unpublished" opinion (as nonprecedential opinions are still often called, though they are all published). We have decided to publish (and thus make precedential) our opinion in the present case in order to draw attention to what seems a needless redundancy in judicial opinions dismissing suits for failure to present a justiciable claim.

Conventional legal doctrine deems a suit frivolous if it is apparent from a reading of the complaint that there is no need to await the defendant's answer or motion to dismiss, or discovery or legal research, to determine that the case is going nowhere--that there's no possibility of the court's having authority to provide relief to the plaintiff. Reed v. Columbia St. Mary's Hospital, 782 F.3d 331, 336 (7th Cir. 2015) ; Ricketts v. Midwest National Bank, 874 F.2d 1177, 1180-83 (7th Cir. 1989); Crowley Cutlery Co. v. United States, 849 F.2d 273, 276-77 (7th Cir. 1988); Association of American Physicians & Surgeons v. Sebelius, 746 F.3d 468, 473, 409 U.S.App.D.C. 67 (D.C. Cir. 2014); ACS Recovery Services, Inc. v. Griffin, 723 F.3d 518, 523 (5th Cir. 2013); In re Stock Exchanges Options Trading Antitrust Litigation, 317 F.3d 134, 150 (2d Cir. 2003). Such a suit does not invoke the jurisdiction of a federal court; " if it is clear beyond any reasonable doubt that a case doesn't belong in federal court, the parties cannot by agreeing to litigate it there authorize the federal courts to decide it." Carr v. Tillery, 591 F.3d 909, 917 (7th Cir. 2010).

In contrast, a complaint that makes a claim that if true would provide a basis on which a federal court could grant the plaintiff monetary or other relief, but is later shown (normally by a motion to dismiss or other action taken by the defendant) to have no merit, nevertheless successfully invokes federal jurisdiction and so if it's dismissed the dismissal is on the merits. Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Environment, 523 U.S. 83, 89, 118 S.Ct. 1003, 140 L.Ed.2d 210 (1998); LaSalle National Trust, N.A. v. ECM Motor Co., 76 F.3d 140, 143-44 (7th Cir. 1996); Holloway v. Pagan River Dockside Seafood, Inc., 669 F.3d 448, 452 (4th Cir. 2012); Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Alabama v. Sanders, 138 F.3d 1347, 1353-54 (11th Cir. 1998). In the Carr decision cited above we pointed to a " presumption -- that the dismissal of even a very weak case should be on the merits rather than because it was too weak even to engage federal jurisdiction. Otherwise courts would spend too much time ...

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