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Lashley v. Town of Jackson's Gap

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Eastern Division

April 11, 2019

EMORY LASHLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
TOWN OF JACKSON'S GAP, and DEBORAH DANIEL, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          W. KEITH WATKINS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Emory Lashley, a former police officer for the Town of Jackson's Gap, [1] was fired after he lost his certification from the Alabama Peace Officers' Standards and Training Commission (APOSTC). Lashley says that he lost his certification because of his police chief's failure to report Lashley's continuing education credits to APOSTC.

         Lashley sued Defendant Town of Jackson's Gap in state court, claiming that his termination violated his right to due process under the Alabama and United States Constitutions.[2] He also asserts state-law tort claims for negligence, wantonness, and outrage.

         Defendant Jackson's Gap removed this action to federal court based on Plaintiff's federal due process claim. (Doc. # 1.) Plaintiff moved to remand the state-law claims based on a version of the removal statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1441, that has not been the law for seven years. That motion will be denied, and Plaintiff's counsel will be ordered to show cause why he should not be sanctioned under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11 for filing a motion to remand that appears to lack support in existing law.

         I. REMOVAL STANDARD

         “Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction.” Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). Accordingly, they only have the power to hear cases over which the Constitution or Congress has given them authority. Id. At the same time, though, they “have a strict duty to exercise the jurisdiction that is conferred upon them by Congress.” Quackenbush v. Allstate Ins. Co., 517 U.S. 706, 716 (1996).

         Congress has empowered federal courts to hear cases removed by a defendant from state to federal court if the plaintiff could have brought the claims in federal court originally. See 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). Federal courts may exercise original jurisdiction over “all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 1331. And they “shall have supplemental jurisdiction” over state-law claims that form part of the same Article III “case or controversy” as the federal claim(s). See 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a).

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. This court has jurisdiction over this lawsuit.

         As stated, this court has original jurisdiction over all cases “arising under” federal law or the federal constitution and has removal jurisdiction over federal claims originally filed in state court. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1441(a).

         Plaintiff does not dispute that his complaint, which includes a claim that Defendant violated the federal constitution, (Doc. # 1-1, at 3), presents a federal question. Instead, he quotes a prior version of § 1441(c), and argues that because federal- and state-law claims are not “separate and independent” of each other, Defendant may not remove the entire case to federal court. (Doc. # 11, at 4 (citing Act of June 25, 1948, ch. 646, 62 Stat. 937 (current version at 28 U.S.C. § 1441(c)); Muhammad v. City of Tuskegee, 76 F.Supp.2d 1293, 1295 (M.D. Ala. 1999) (“In order to properly remove otherwise non-removable state law claims to federal court, ‘the removing party must demonstrate that the ‘otherwise non-removable claims or causes of action' [are] ‘separate and independent' from the federal claim.'” (quoting Reneau v. Oakwood Mobile Homes, 952 F.Supp. 724, 728 (N.D. Ala. 1997)).)

         But that is not what the removal statute says or has said since the most recent amendments became effective on January 6, 2012. See Federal Courts Jurisdiction and Venue Clarification Act of 2011, Pub. L. 112-63, tit. I, § 103, 125 Stat. 758, 759 (2011) (codified at 28 U.S.C. § 1441(c)). “Section 1441(c) - as previously worded - permitted otherwise non-removable claims to be appended to jurisdictionally sufficient anchors only if the otherwise non-removable claims were separate from and independent of the removable claims.” 14B Charles Alan Wright et al., Federal Practice and Procedure: Jurisdiction and Related Matters § 3722.3 (4th ed. 2009). The amended § 1441(c)(1) omits the “separate and independent” requirement.[3] Plaintiff's motion to remand is therefore mostly based on language that was removed from § 1441(c) seven years ago.

         The current version of § 1441(c) does not prevent removal here. That statute now provides that if a civil action includes both a federal-law claim and “a claim not within the original or supplemental jurisdiction of the district court or a claim that has been made nonremovable by statute, ” the whole case “may be removed if the action” is otherwise removable. The district court must then sever the nonremovable claims and remand them to state court. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(c)(2).

         Thus, if the case includes state-law claims that are: (1) not within the court's supplemental jurisdiction because they are not part of the same Article III case or controversy; or (2) made nonremovable by statute (like a worker's compensation claim, see 28 U.S.C. ยง 1445(c)), then the defendant ...


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