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Cooper v. Richland County Recreation Commission

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

July 8, 2016

Anthony A. Cooper, Plaintiff,
v.
Richland County Recreation Commission; and James Brown III; David Stringer; and Tara Dickerson in their individual capacities, Defendants.

          Anthony A Cooper, Plaintiff, represented by James Lewis Cromer, J Lewis Cromer and Associates & Julius Wistar Babb, IV, J Lewis Cromer and Associates.

          Richland County Recreation Commission, Defendant, represented by Richard J. Morgan, McNair Law Firm.

          James Brown, III, Defendant, represented by Richard J. Morgan, McNair Law Firm.

          David Stringer, Defendant, represented by Richard J. Morgan, McNair Law Firm.

          Tara Dickerson, Defendant, represented by Donna Seegars Givens, Moore Taylor Law Firm.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          KAYMANI D. WEST, Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff filed this action in state court bringing common-law defamation and civil conspiracy causes of action against the following Defendants: his employer, Richland County Recreation Commission ("RCRC"); RCRC Executive Director James Brown III ("Brown"); RCRC Division Head of Human Resources, David Stringer ("Stringer"); and RCRC Chief of Staff, Tara Dickerson ("Dickerson"). Comp., ECF No. 1-1; Richland Cnty. Ct. Common Pleas Case No. 2016-CP-40-2552. Defendants removed this action on May 18, 2016, on grounds that this court has subject-matter jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (federal question jurisdiction). Notice of Removal 2-3, ECF No. 1. This matter is before the court on Plaintiff's Motion to Remand, ECF No. 7, to which Defendants responded, ECF No. 10, and Plaintiff replied, ECF No. 16. Also pending is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. ECF No. 5. The court agreed to hold Plaintiff's deadline for responding to the Motion to Dismiss in abeyance pending the district court's ruling on the remand motion. ECF No. 12. All pretrial proceedings in this case were referred to the undersigned pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(g) (D.S.C.).[1] Having reviewed the pleadings, including Defendants' removal documents, and the memoranda of the parties supporting and opposing the Motion to Remand, the undersigned recommends Plaintiff's Motion to Remand, ECF No. 7, be granted. In the event the district court adopts this recommendation, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss may be considered by the state court.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff, who is Director of Procurement for RCRC, brings his defamation cause of action against RCRC and Director Brown; his civil conspiracy claim is pleaded against Brown, Stringer, and Dickerson (collectively, the "Individual Defendants"). These claims are based on alleged actions that took place in connection with Plaintiff's RCRC employment. Plaintiff filed his Complaint in state court on April 20, 2016.

         Not referenced in Plaintiff's Complaint but figuring prominently in Defendants' Notice of Removal, Plaintiff also filed a Charge of Discrimination with the South Carolina Human Affairs Commission ("SHAC") and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") [hereinafter, the "Charge"]. Plaintiff signed the Charge on March 11, 2016. See ex. B to Notice of Removal, ECF No. 1-2. Plaintiff acknowledges having filed the Charge and does not object to having the Charge considered in ruling on the Motion to Remand. See BGC Partners Inc. v. Avison Young (Canada) Inc., No. 2:15-cv-02057-DCN, 2015 WL 7458593, at *1 n.2 (D.S.C. Nov. 24, 2015) ("On a motion to remand for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, the court may consider materials outside of the complaint including documents appended to a notice of removal or a motion to remand that convey information essential to the court's jurisdictional analysis' and may assume the truth of facts raised in the complaint that are non-jurisdictional.") (citation omitted).

         Plaintiff characterizes the Charge as having been filed so that "SHAC and the EEOC could "investigate claims of retaliation and discrimination[.]" Pl.'s Mem. 4. Plaintiff further notes that the claims are "still under investigation and neither entity has issued a right to sue and the Plaintiff has not pled claims of federal discrimination." Id. at 3-4.[2]

         II. Analysis

         Plaintiff seeks remand to the Richland County Court of Common Pleas, arguing there is no basis for federal jurisdiction because only state-law relief is sought. Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. A defendant in a case in a state court may remove that case to a federal district court only if the state court action could have been originally filed in a federal district court. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a) (A civil action may be removed from state court only if the case involves matters over which "the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction...."). Generally, a case can be originally filed in a federal district court if there is diversity of citizenship and over $75, 000 at issue under 28 U.S.C. § 1332 or there if there is so-called "federal question" jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, which vests the district courts with original jurisdiction "of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States." Title 28, United States Code § 1447(c) governs the remand to state court of removed actions, and provides in relevant part:

A motion to remand the case on the basis of any defect other than lack of subject matter jurisdiction must be made within 30 days after the filing of the notice of removal under section 1446(a). If at any time before final judgment it appears that the district ...

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