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Brinkman v. Weston & Sampson Inc.

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Columbia Division

March 31, 2016

Modesta Brinkman, David Brinkman, James Coleman, Carl Foster, Karen Foster, Robert Collins, Pamela Collins, Plaintiffs,
v.
Weston & Sampson, Inc., Weston & Sampson Engineers, Inc., Weston & Sampson Services, Inc., Weston & Sampson CMR, Inc., City of Columbia, SC, North American Pipeline Management, Layne Inliner, and Robert Horner, P.E., Defendants.

ORDER

Joseph F. Anderson, Jr. United States District Judge

I. Introduction

This matter is before the Court on Plaintiffs’ motion to remand, Defendant Weston & Sampson, Inc.’s (“W&S”) motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and failure to state a claim pursuant to Rules 12(b)(2) and (6), and Defendants W&S, Weston and Sampson Engineers, Inc. (“Engineers”), Weston and Sampson Services, Inc. (“Services”), Weston and Sampson CMR, Inc. (“CMR”), and Robert Horner, P.E.’s (“Horner”) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). (ECF No. 8, 31). These motions have been fully briefed, and the Court held oral argument on the afternoon of March 29, 2016. For the following reasons, the Court remands this action to back to the South Carolina Court of Common Pleas of Richland County.

II. Factual and Procedural History

This action was initially filed in Circuit Court of Richland County by seven property owners along Castle Road near the Broad River. Their claims relate to work performed on a City easement running through their property. The Plaintiffs’ allege that the Defendants constructed a road on the easement. Their claim is that the construction exceeded the scope of the easement and was a violation of their property rights.

Specifically, Plaintiffs’ allege that the Weston Defendants recommended to the City of Columbia (“the City”) that a road be constructed on the easement for purposes of inspecting and repairing the City’s sewer line. Further, Plaintiffs’ allege that the City, Layne Inliner, LLC (“Layne”), and North American Pipeline Management, LLC (“NAPM”) built the road. As damages, Plaintiffs claim that a historic bridge abutment was destroyed and that the slope created by the construction resulted in soil erosion and slumping.

Plaintiffs maintain a variety of causes of action including: trespass, gross negligence, nuisance, destruction of archeological structures, two takings claims, negligence per se, and negligence. Layne, with consent of all Defendants, timely removed the case pursuant 28 U.S.C. § 1331, citing the two takings claims as arising under the Constitution. The Weston Defendants filed a motion to dismiss. ECF No. 8. Plaintiffs moved to remand. ECF No. 31.

III. Legal Standard

Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction and, as such, may only hear and decide cases when given the authority to do so by the United States Constitution and by federal statute. In re Bulldog Trucking, Inc., 147 F.3d 347, 352 (4th Cir. 1998).

The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States. 28 U.S.C. §1331. “[T]he question whether a claim ‘arises under’ federal law must be determined by reference to the ‘well-pleaded complaint.’” Merrell Dow Pharm. Inc. v. Thompson, 478 U.S. 804, 808 (1986) (citing Franchise Tax Bd. Of State of Cal. V. Constr. Laborers Vacation Trust for S. California, 463 U.S. 1, 9-10 (1983)). “Since a defendant may remove a case only if the claim could have been brought in federal court, 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b), moreover, the question for removal jurisdiction must also be determined by reference to the ‘well-pleaded complaint.’” Id.

Under 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c), this court must remand the case to the state courts “[i]f at any time before final judgment it appears that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction.” It is well established that the defendant, as the party seeking removal, bears the burden of proving that federal jurisdiction is proper. McNutt v. General Motors Acceptance Corp., 298 U.S. 178 (1936).

Additionally, the removal statutes are to be strictly construed against removal, and all doubts should be resolved in favor of remand. Steel Valley Auth. v. Union Switch & Signal Div., 809 F.2d 1006, 1010 (3d Cir. 1987). When ruling on whether an action should be remanded to the state court from which it was removed, the district court must focus on the plaintiff's complaint at the time the petition for removal was filed. Id. In so ruling, the district court must assume as true all factual allegations of the complaint. Id.

V. Discussion

Plaintiffs moved to remand on the basis that “State Courts are in a better position to adjudicate zoning and land use issues and taking claims are questions of State Law rather than Federal law [sic].” ECF No. 31 p. 1-2. Further, Plaintiffs allege that pursuant to Williamson Cty. Reg’l Planning Comm’n v. Hamilton Bank of Johnson City, 473 U.S. 172 (1985), their takings claims are unripe. Id. Finally, Plaintiff’s oppose supplemental jurisdiction regarding the state law claims on the grounds that ...


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