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Hamilton v. Judicial Correctional Services LLC

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

January 18, 2019

EMERSON HAMILTON, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
JUDICIAL CORRECTIONAL SERVICES LLC, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          R. DAVID PROCTOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the court on Plaintiffs' Motion to Remand. (Doc. # 53) The Motion was presented after the filing of Plaintiffs' October 12, 2018 Amended Complaint, which voluntarily dismissed all federal claims from the case. (Doc. # 51). The Motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for decision. (Docs. # 54, 55, 56, 57, 58).

         Plaintiffs filed this action in the Circuit Court for Jefferson County, Alabama, on May 17, 2018. (Doc. # 1-1). Defendants removed the case to this court on June 18, 2018. (Doc. # 1). The Notice of Removal relied exclusively on federal question jurisdiction as grounds for removal. (Doc. # 1). Plaintiffs moved to remand on July 16, 2018. (Doc. # 9). The court denied that motion because Plaintiffs' Complaint asserted claims for monetary damages against Defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and, thus, the court had federal question jurisdiction. (Doc. # 46). On October 12, 2018, Plaintiffs filed their Amended Complaint, which omitted all federal claims from the case. (Doc. # 51). On October 19, 2018, Plaintiffs filed a second Motion to Remand asking the court to decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims. (Doc. # 53). In response, Defendants filed a Supplement to Notice of Removal arguing that the resident individual Defendant, Susan Fuqua, was fraudulently named in the Amended Complaint asserting the remaining state law claims and, therefore, the court could retain jurisdiction based on diversity of citizenship. (Doc. # 54).

         The court understands it is well established that removal statutes are to be strictly construed against removal. Shamrock Oil & Gas Corp. v. Sheets, 313 U.S. 100, 108 (1941); Burns v. Windsor Ins. Co., 31 F.3d 1092, 1094 (11th Cir. 1994) (“[R]emoval statutes are construed narrowly; when the parties dispute jurisdiction, uncertainties are resolved in favor of remand.”). Furthermore, any doubt as to proper subject matter jurisdiction should be resolved against removal. Butler v. Polk, 592 F.2d 1293, 1296 (5th Cir. 1979).

         To begin, the court notes that this is not a case that was improperly removed. At the time of removal, federal question jurisdiction clearly existed because the operative Complaint asserted claims for monetary damages against Defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. # 1-1). See Pintando v. Miami-Dade Housing Agency, 501 F.3d 1241, 1243 n. 2 (11th Cir. 2007) (noting that the district court determines whether it had subject matter jurisdiction at the time of removal and later changes to the pleadings do not affect the court's exercise of that jurisdiction). It is true that at the time of removal, Defendants did not assert the state claims were subject to this court's diversity jurisdiction. Nevertheless, those clams were properly before this court under 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a). The state law claims at issue were pendent to the federal claims advanced in Plaintiffs' initial pleading. Plaintiffs argue that the court does not have original jurisdiction over their state law claims for a variety of reasons. For example, they assert that Susan Fuqua is a non-diverse defendant who destroys diversity jurisdiction.[1] They argue that Defendants' Supplemental Removal Notice was belatedly filed and is ineffective.[2] Plaintiffs also contend that, contrary to Defendants' assertion, Fuqua is not fraudulently joined in their Amended Complaint.

         And, Plaintiffs argue that as this court does not possess original jurisdiction over their remaining state law claims, it should exercise its discretion to not continue to entertain them under § 1367(a). The first three arguments each raise interesting questions, but the court need not resolve them here because, regardless of whether the court has original jurisdiction or supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims, it will continue to entertain them.

         A. The Court Will Exercise Supplemental Jurisdiction Over the Pendent State Law Claims

         Section 1367(a) permits a district court to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over claims for which it lacks original jurisdiction if they are “are so related to claims in the action within [the court's] original jurisdiction that they form part of the same case or controversy under Article III … .” 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a). The rule provides for four exceptions. Three of those - claims involving novel questions of state law, state law claims that would predominate, and exceptional circumstances that compel the court to decline jurisdiction - do not apply here. See 28 U.S.C. § 1367 (c)(1), (2) and (4). The only question here is whether the court should remand this case to state court because the federal claims from the original complaint, which Plaintiffs contend provided the only basis for original jurisdiction, have been eliminated by the Amended Complaint. 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3) (“The district courts may decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over a claim under subsection (a) if ... (3) the district court has dismissed all claims over which it has original jurisdiction.”).

         To be clear, this is a discretionary call. “A district court's decision whether to exercise that jurisdiction after dismissing every claim over which it had original jurisdiction is purely At the end of the day, this question, while certainly interesting, is academic. It is academic because even if Defendants cannot assert diversity jurisdiction, here the court may nevertheless maintain subject matter jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims under section 1367(c)(3), and chooses to do so. So, whether based on original or supplemental jurisdiction, the claims remaining are properly before this court and the court will continue to entertain them.

         discretionary.” Carlsbad Tech., Inc. v. HIF Bio, Inc., 556 U.S. 635, 639 (2009) (citing § 1367(c)). The court understands that the presumption is that the court will dismiss (or, as appropriate here, remand) the claims. But, “the presumption is just that - a presumption and not a rule. It is not immutable. The district court retains discretion to exercise jurisdiction.” 13D Wright & Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure, § 3567.3 at 432 (2008).

         In determining whether to exercise supplemental jurisdiction, “the court ‘should take into account concerns of comity, judicial economy, convenience, fairness, and the like.'” Cook ex rel. Estate of Tessier v. Sheriff of Monroe County, Fla., 402 F.3d 1092, 1123 (11th Cir. 2005) (quoting Lewis v. City of St. Petersburg, 260 F.3d 1260, 1267 (11th Cir. 2001)). Notably, this case is one of a series of similar, complex cases being handled by this court:

• 2:12-cv-00724-RDP-TFM Thurman, et al. v. Judicial Correction Services;
• 2:12-cv-02819-RDP Ray et al v. Judicial Corrections ...

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