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Snyder v. SCE&G and County of Lexington

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

April 22, 2016

Lucas J. Snyder and Lesley M. Snyder, Plaintiffs,
v.
SCE&G and the County of Lexington, SC, Defendants.

ORDER AND OPINION

Plaintiffs Lucas J. Snyder and Lesley M. Snyder (“Plaintiffs”) filed this action seeking damages from Defendants SCE&G and the County of Lexington, SC (“Lexington County”), for the damage caused to their home by flood water released from Lake Murray when SCE&G opened floodgates. (ECF No. 1-1 at 5-16.)

This matter is before the court pursuant to Plaintiffs’ Motion to Remand the case to the Richland County (South Carolina) Court of Common Pleas. (ECF No. 8.) SCE&G opposes the Motion to Remand and asks the court to retain jurisdiction. (ECF No. 9.) For the reasons set forth below, the court DENIES Plaintiffs’ Motion to Remand.

I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND OF PENDING MOTION

Plaintiffs allege that “SCE&G controls and operates the Saluda Dam at Lake Murray, which periodically releases water from the lake into the Lower Saluda River at the direction of Defendant SCE&G.” (ECF No. 1-1 at 6 ¶ 7.) Plaintiffs further allege that “SCE&G was granted a drainage and utility easement by the Coldstream community when it was first developed in 1968, . . .; that easement includes a drain and pipe system . . . [which] has no apparent use, is not regularly maintained, contains no backflow device to protect against the flooding of the Rawls Creek.” (Id. at 6 ¶ 9.) Moreover, Plaintiffs allege that Lexington County “is responsible for the proper maintenance and monitoring of the pipe and drain system.” (Id.)

Plaintiffs own a home “located within the Coldstream community and near the Lower Saluda River.” (Id. at ¶ 6.) In October 2015, heavy rain caused a historic “1, 000-year probability” flood in Columbia, South Carolina. (ECF No. 7 at 3 ¶ 10.) During the flood, SCE&G allegedly “released water from Lake Murray, which . . . begun to fill the Lower Saluda and back up the drainage of Rawls Creek.” (ECF No. 1-1 at 7 ¶ 14.) Plaintiffs’ home in the Coldstream subdivision was damaged as a result of the influx of water. (Id. at 8 ¶ 17.)

On November 12, 2015, Plaintiffs filed their Complaint in the Richland County (South Carolina) Court of Common Pleas alleging claims against SCE&G for negligence, strict liability, nuisance, and trespass as a result of its management of water levels at the Lake Murray Dam; and against Lexington County for negligence, strict liability, nuisance, trespass, and inverse condemnation for its maintenance and operation of the pipe and drain system on Plaintiffs’ property. (ECF No. 1-1.) On December 11, 2015, SCE&G filed a Notice of Removal (with Lexington County’s consent) removing the action to this court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1367, 1441 & 1446, and provisions of the Federal Power Act (“FPA”), 16 U.S.C. §§ 791-828c.[1](ECF No. 1.) Plaintiffs filed their Motion to Remand on January 7, 2016, wherein they argue that there is no federal subject matter jurisdiction over their claims. (ECF No. 8.) On January 25, 2016, SCE&G filed opposition to Plaintiffs’ Motion to Remand, to which Plaintiffs filed a Reply on February 4, 2016, and SCE&G filed a Sur-Reply on February 26, 2016. (ECF Nos. 9, 10 & 15.)

II. LEGAL STANDARD

A party seeking to remove a case from state to federal court bears the burden of demonstrating that jurisdiction is proper at the time it files its petition for removal. Caterpillar Inc. v. Lewis, 519 U.S. 61, 73 (1996). If federal jurisdiction is doubtful, remand is necessary. Mulchaey v. Columbia Organic Chems. Co., 29 F.3d 148, 151 (4th Cir. 1994); see Marshall v. Manville Sales Corp., 6 F.3d 229, 232 (4th Cir. 1993) (noting Congress’s “clear intention to restrict removal and to resolve all doubts about the propriety of removal in favor of retained state court jurisdiction”).

The right to remove a case from state to federal court derives solely from 28 U.S.C. § 1441, which provides that “any civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction, may be removed by the defendant or the defendants, to the district court of the United States for the district and division embracing the place where such action is pending.” Id. at § 1441(a). Moreover, in a case that does not contain an allegation of diversity citizenship between the parties, the propriety of removal is based on a district court’s “original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws or treaties of the United States”-stated differently, the propriety of removal is based on whether a federal question has been presented. 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

To determine whether an action presents a federal question under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, courts look to the allegations in the plaintiff’s well-pleaded complaint to determine whether the action “arises under” federal law or the United States Constitution.[2] Franchise Tax Bd. v. Constr. Laborers Vacation Trust, 463 U.S. 1, 9-10 (1983). A court, in examining the complaint, must first discern whether federal or state law creates the cause of action.

Most cases under federal question jurisdiction “are those in which federal law creates the cause of action.” Merrell Dow Pharm., Inc. v. Thompson, 478 U.S. 804, 808 (1986). In such cases, United States courts unquestionably have federal subject matter jurisdiction. Id. If, however, state law creates the cause of action, federal question jurisdiction depends on whether the plaintiff’s “well-pleaded complaint establishes . . . that the plaintiff’s right to relief necessarily depends on resolution of a substantial question of federal law, . . . .” Pinney v. Nokia, Inc., 402 F.3d 430, 442 (4th Cir. 2005) (quoting Christianson v. Colt. Indus. Operating Corp., 486 U.S. 800, 808 (1988)). To establish a substantial federal question, the state law claim must “[1] necessarily raise a stated federal issue, [2] actually disputed and [3] substantial, [4] which a federal forum may entertain without disturbing any congressionally approved balance of federal and state judicial responsibilities.” Grable & Sons Metal Prods., Inc. v. Darue Eng’g & Mfg., 545 U.S. 308, 314 (2005). “Where all four of these requirements are met . . . jurisdiction is proper because there is a ‘serious federal interest in claiming the advantages thought to be inherent in a federal forum, ’ which can be vindicated without disrupting Congress's intended division of labor between state and federal courts.” Gunn v. Minton, __U.S. __, 133 S.Ct. 1059, 1065 (2013) (citing Grable, 545 U.S. at 313-14)). If the removing party fails to establish these elements, the removal is not justified under federal law.

III. ANALYSIS

A. The Parties’ Arguments

1. Plaintiffs

Citing the “well-pleaded complaint rule, ” Plaintiffs contend that their case should be remanded because their “well-pleaded Complaint includes only five causes of action, all of which are clearly based on state law, and, . . . no federal question is at issue.” (ECF No. 8-1 at 1.) In response to the allegations in SCE&G’s Notice of Removal, Plaintiffs argue that (1) no violation of section 825p[3] of the FPA was alleged in the Complaint and (2) they “do not rely on or even mention any federal law, regulation, or other federal provision.” (ECF No. 8-1 at 7.)

In addition to their request for remand, Plaintiffs assert they are entitled to an award of “fees and costs incurred as a result of Defendants’ improvident removal, as permitted by 28 ...


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