United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Florence Division
Flowers Ministries, Inc., a non-profit organization charted in South Carolina; J. L. Flowers, President; Tonya Holmes; Lisa Allen; Fernando Camacho; Elizabeth Mosley; Valerie Collins; and Lonzell McKnight; Plaintiffs,
Mayor Gloria Hine; Aldermen Coleman Cannon, Sr.; John H. Segars; Carolyn Bruce; Bryant Gardner; John M. Milling; Elaine Reed; and City Manager Howard Garland all in their official capacities, Defendants.
Bryan Harwell United States District Court Judge.
before the court is Plaintiffs' Motion to Remand this
case to the South Carolina Court of Common Pleas for
Darlington County. The Court has carefully reviewed the
motion, memoranda of counsel, and the record in the case. For
the reasons set forth below, the court denies Plaintiffs'
Motion to Remand.[1" name="FN1" id=
Background Facts and Procedural History
are members of Flowers Ministries, Inc., the corporate
plaintiff in this lawsuit, operating as a church in South
Carolina. Defendants appear to be city officials or employees
in the City of Darlington, State of South Carolina.
Plaintiffs allege these officials/employees violated their
First Amendment rights and cut off utilities, alleged
trespass against church members, and refused to allow permits
and contractors to help Flowers Ministries, Inc. operate in
Darlington. On February 17, 2017, this action was initiated
in state court alleging causes of action for denial of First
Amendment rights, abuse of process, and intentional actions
to punish church leaders and members. [ECF #1-1]. The summons
and complaint were served on Defendants on or about March 10,
2017. Defendants filed a notice of removal to federal court
on April 3, 2017, on the basis of the federal question
doctrine pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441, arguing that
Plaintiffs allege a violation of their First Amendment rights
under the Constitution of the United States. Defendants also
argue that this Court has supplemental jurisdiction over any
perceived state court claims asserted by Plaintiffs pursuant
to 28 U.S.C. § 1367.
April 20, 2017, Plaintiffs filed a Motion to Remand,
ostensibly on the basis that the single federal issue in this
case (violation of First Amendment rights) is premised upon
the alleged illegal actions of the Defendants, and Plaintiffs
argue these actions are governed exclusively under state law.
Defendants filed a reply on May 3, 2017, contending that
removal is proper because the issues raised in the Complaint
rest invoke federal question doctrine jurisdiction.
Standard of Review
party seeking to remove a case to federal court has the
burden of establishing federal jurisdiction. Mulcahey v.
Columbia Organic Chem. Co., Inc, 148');">29 F.3d 148, 151 (4th
Cir. 1994). Therefore, Defendants bears the burden in this
instance. “Because removal jurisdiction raises
significant federalism concerns, [the court] must strictly
construe removal jurisdiction.” Id. (citing
Shamrock Oil & Gas Corp v. Sheets, 13 U.S. 100');">313 U.S. 100
(1941)). “If federal jurisdiction is doubtful, a remand
is necessary.” Mulcahey, 29 F.3d at 151. The
removing party also bears the burden of showing compliance
with 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b). Andrews v. Daughtry,
994 F.Supp.2d 728, 732 (M.D. N.C. 2014). A defendant has not
complied with removal procedure where he does not remove the
case in a timely fashion. Cades v. H. & R. Block,
Inc., 43 F.3d 869, 873 (4th Cir. 1994). “A defect
in removal procedure renders a case improperly
removed.” Link Telecommunications, Inc. v.
Sapperstein, 119 F.Supp.2d 536');">119 F.Supp.2d 536, 542 (D. Md. 2000)
(citing Huffman v. Saul Holdings Ltd. Partnership,
194 F.3d 1072');">194 F.3d 1072, 1076 (10th Cir. 1999)).
removed this case from state court pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§§ 1441 and 1446. Under § 1441(a), a defendant
is permitted to remove a case to federal court if the court
would have had original jurisdiction over the matter.
Defendants base federal jurisdiction upon the fact that the
complaint involves a federal question pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§§ 1331 and 1334,  as Plaintiffs allege Defendants
have denied them their First Amendment rights under the
Constitution of the United States. Defendants also assert
that this Court has supplemental jurisdiction over any
perceived state court claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
1367. There appears to be no issue as to whether the case was
removed in a timely manner.
Plaintiffs contend that the alleged illegal actions of
Defendants are governed exclusively by state law. However,
within Plaintiffs' Complaint, the first cause of action
is “Denial of First Amendment Rights” and in
their brief, Plaintiffs provide a brief analysis of the
history of the First Amendment free speech cases and
religious freedom cases to argue that Defendants were
punishing these Plaintiffs for exercising their First
Amendment rights. In fact, Plaintiffs state: “[a]ll the
actions taken by the County Fire Marshall on property located
in the city limits were actions beyond his authority and in
clear violation of the First Amendment Rights of the church
and its members.” [ECF #8-1, p. 7]. Plaintiffs do not
otherwise provide a basis for finding that the issues raised
in the Complaint center on purely state law issues or
concerns. As Defendants provide in their reply, Plaintiffs
assert that Defendants discriminated against them in
violation of the First Amendment for the free practice or
religion by taking allegedly discriminatory actions in
enforcing certain city and county building codes. [ECF #10,
p. 2]. Accordingly, Plaintiffs' claims alleging a
violation of their First Amendment rights are issues
involving a federal question, and therefore removal to
federal court is proper.
reasons stated above, this court DENIES Plaintiffs'
Motion to Remand. [ECF #8].