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Smith v. Stimpson

United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division

April 20, 2018

MICHAEL SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
SANDY S. STIMPSON, et al., Defendants.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS

          KATHERINE P. NELSON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This action is before the Court on the following matters:

1. The motion to remand under 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c) filed by Plaintiff Michael Smith (Doc. 5), to which the Defendants have timely filed responses (Docs. 16, 17) in opposition. No reply to the responses was filed, and the deadline to do so has passed. (See Doc. 11).
2. The motion to sever and remand Count 2 of the complaint under 28 U.S.C. § 1441(c)(2) (Doc. 9) filed by Defendants the Mobile County Personnel Board (“MCPB”), Donald Dees, and Liana Barnett (collectively, “the Board Defendants”), to which Smith has timely filed a response (Doc. 15). No reply to the response was filed, and the deadline to do so has passed. (See Doc. 11).
3. The motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) (Doc. 10) filed by Defendant Sandy S. Stimpson. Smith has timely filed a response (Doc. 14) in opposition to said motion, and Stimpson has timely filed a reply (Doc. 19) to the response.
4. The motion for judgment on the pleadings under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) (Doc. 12) filed by the Board Defendants. Smith has timely filed a response (Doc. 18) in opposition to said motion, and the Board Defendants have timely filed a reply (Doc. 20) to the response.

         The Court has referred these four motions to the undersigned Magistrate Judge for appropriate action under 28 U.S.C. § 636(a)-(b), Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72, and S.D. Ala. GenLR 72(a). See S.D. Ala. GenLR 72(b); (2/5/2018, 2/7/2018, & 2/9/2018 electronic referrals). All of the motions are now under submission (see Docs. 11, 13). Upon consideration, and pursuant to § 636(b)(1)(B)-(C) and Rule 72(b)(1), the undersigned will recommend the following: (1) that Smith's motion to remand (Doc. 5) be DENIED; (2) that the Board Defendants' motion to sever and remand Count 2 (Doc. 9) be GRANTED as to the federal claims in that count and otherwise be DENIED; (3) that the Defendants' Rule 12 motions (Docs. 10, 12) be GRANTED as to the federal claims in Count 1 and otherwise DENIED; and (4) that, after adopting the foregoing recommendations, the Court decline to continue exercising supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims and REMAND this action to the state court from which this case was removed.

         I. Background

         This action is a continuation of a prior civil action brought by Smith in this Court, Michael Smith v. City of Mobile et al., S.D. Ala. Case No. 1:16-cv-00478-N (hereinafter, “the 2016 Action”).[1] All parties to the present action were also parties to the 2016 Action, and were represented by the same counsel.[2] Smith's five-count complaint in the 2016 Action (hereinafter, “the 2016 Complaint”) alleged a litany of federal and state law claims arising from the proceedings surrounding his termination as a police officer for the City of Mobile, Alabama. (See 2016 Action, Doc. 1, a copy of which is attached hereto as “Exhibit A”).[3] The Court[4] disposed of Smith's claims in the 2016 Action over the course of several orders (see 2016 Action, Docs. 31, 50, 55, 65), and on December 12, 2017, entered final judgment stating as follows:

1. [A]ll claims (federal and state) in Counts I and V, and all federal claims in Count III, are DISMISSED with prejudice; and
2. all claims (federal and state) in Counts II and IV, and all state law claims in Count III, are DISMISSED without prejudice

(Doc. 1-2 at 26; 2016 Action, Doc. 66). All claims dismissed with prejudice were dismissed on the merits under either Rule 12(c) or Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (See 2016 Action, Docs. 31, 55, 65). The federal claims dismissed without prejudice (i.e. those in Count IV of the 2016 Complaint) were dismissed under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), based on the conclusion that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine deprived the Court of subject matter jurisdiction over those claims. (See 2016 Action, Doc. 50). Following the dismissal of all federal claims, all state law claims remaining in the 2016 Action were dismissed without prejudice under 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3), which permits a district court to “decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over a claim…if…the district court has dismissed all claims over which it has original jurisdiction.” (See 2016 Action, Doc. 65 at 9 - 11). No party appealed the final judgment in the 2016 Action.

         Smith filed the present three-count complaint (hereinafter, “the 2018 Complaint”) in the Circuit Court of Mobile County, Alabama, on January 9, 2018, again alleging various federal and state law claims arising from his termination and related proceedings.[5] Counts 1 and 2 allege both federal and state law claims, while Count 3 alleges only state law claims. On January 30, the Defendants removed this case to this Court under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1441(a). (See Doc. 1).

         II. Analysis

         a. Smith's Motion to Remand

         Smith's motion to remand this case under 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c) is premised on his belief that the Defendant's removal of the 2018 Complaint “is tantamount to the Defendants attempting to belatedly ‘appeal' the United States District Court's ‘Final Judgment' that they now seemingly disagree with after the time to have appealed expired.” (Doc. 5 at 4). Smith is incorrect.[6] After declining to continue exercising supplemental jurisdiction over most of Smith's state law claims in the 2016 Action, the Court dismissed those claims without prejudice to give Smith the opportunity to refile them in state court. See Vibe Micro, Inc. v. Shabanets, 878 F.3d 1291, 1296 (11th Cir. 2018) (“Although it is possible for the district court to continue to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over these pendant claims, Baggett v. First Nat'l Bank of Gainesville, 117 F.3d 1342, 1352 (11th Cir. 1997), if the district court instead chooses to dismiss the state law claims, it usually should do so without prejudice as to refiling in state court. Crosby v. Paulk, 187 F.3d 1339, 1352 (11th Cir. 1999).”). However, the 2018 Complaint (Doc. 1-2 at 2 - 26) alleges both federal and state law claims. Because federal district courts “have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States[, ]” 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and because Smith's state law claims are “so related to [Smith's federal claims…that they form part of the same case or controversy under Article III of the United States Constitution[, ]” 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a), the 2018 Complaint was properly removed to this Court under 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a).[7]

         Smith cites no authority, nor is the undersigned aware of any, to support his suggestion that claims dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c) are thereby rendered un-removable in future proceedings, and the undersigned is otherwise unpersuaded. Accordingly, the undersigned will recommend that Smith's motion to remand (Doc. 5) be DENIED.

         b. Board Defendants' Motion to Sever and Remand

         The Board Defendants move to sever and remand Count 2, asserting that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over that count under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. See, e.g., Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 284 (2005) (“The Rooker-Feldman doctrine…is confined to cases of the kind from which the doctrine acquired its name[8]: 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 and rejection of those judgments.”); Green v. Jefferson Cty. Comm'n, 563 F.3d 1243, 1249 (11th Cir. 2009) (“Generally speaking, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine recognizes that federal district courts do not have jurisdiction to act as appellate courts and precludes them from reviewing final state court decisions.”). The undersigned agrees that the federal claims asserted in Count 2 are due to be severed and remanded on this basis.

         Count IV of the 2016 Complaint alleged that “Defendants' [sic] Donald Dees and the Mobile County Personnel Board intentionally denied Plaintiff Smith his due process right to appeal the termination decision issued by the City refusing to recognize and process the timely appeal filed on December 12, 2014, all in violation of the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment made actionable by 42 U.S.C. Section 1983” and Alabama law. (2016 Action, Doc. 1 at 10). By order entered July 5, 2017, the Court dismissed the federal claims in Count IV without prejudice, finding that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine deprived this Court of subject matter jurisdiction over those claims.[9] (See 2016 Action, Doc. 50); Smith v. City of Mobile, Civil Action No. 16-00478-N, 2017 WL 2865036 (S.D. Ala. July 5, 2017).[10]Count 2 alleges federal claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 that are substantively identical to those raised in Count IV of the 2016 Complaint, [11] and no party has offered any reason why the rationale for applying the Rooker-Feldman doctrine in the 2016 Action should not also apply to the Count 2 federal claims in this action. Accordingly, the undersigned finds that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine deprives this Court of subject matter jurisdiction over the Count 2 federal claims, and that said claims are due to be severed and remanded under 28 U.S.C. § 1441(c)(2).[12] Thus, the undersigned will recommend that the Board Defendants' motion to sever and remand Count 2 (Doc. 9) be GRANTED as to the Count 2 federal claims but DENIED as to the Count 2 state law claims.[13]

         c. Defendants' Rule 12 Motions

         In deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, ” the Court must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, “accepting all well-pleaded facts that are alleged therein to be true.” E.g., Miyahira v. Vitacost.com, Inc., 715 F.3d 1257, 1265 (11th Cir. 2013). For Rule 12(c) motions, “[j]udgment on the pleadings is appropriate where no issue of material fact remains unresolved and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law...When reviewing judgment on the pleadings, [the Court] must take the facts alleged in the complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Mergens v. Dreyfoos, 166 F.3d 1114, 1117 (11th Cir. 1999). See also Bankers Ins. Co. v. Fla. Residential Prop. & Cas. Joint Underwriting Ass'n, 137 F.3d 1293, 1295 (11th Cir. 1998) (per curiam) (“Judgment on the pleadings is appropriate when material facts are not in dispute and judgment can be rendered by looking at the substance of the pleadings and any judicially noticed facts…For these purposes, we accept the facts alleged in the complaint as true and draw all inferences that favor the nonmovant…”).

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