United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Columbia Division
GLENDA R. COURAM, Plaintiff,
SHIRLEY RIVERS and ALINE GOODWIN, in their individual and official capacities; and SOUTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF MOTOR VEHICLES, Defendants.
ORDER AND OPINION
MARGARET B. SEYMOUR, SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
Glenda R. Couram (“Plaintiff”), proceeding
pro se, brought this action in the Court of Common
Pleas for Richland County, South Carolina, on January 24,
2017, against Defendants Rivers, Goodwin, and the South
Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles (“SCDMV”)
(together, “Defendants”). Plaintiff raises state
law claims as well as asserting violations of her
constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1981; 42
U.S.C. § 1982; 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000(e), et
seq.; and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
(“Title VII”). Plaintiff seeks compensatory and
punitive damages, injunctive relief, special damages for lost
wages, medical costs resulting from this action, costs and
fees, and all other damages that the court sees fit.
January 24, 2017, Defendants removed the matter to the United
States District Court for the District of South Carolina
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1441. Also on January 24, 2017,
Defendants filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a
claim. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). By order filed
January 25, 2017, pursuant to Roseboro v. Garrison,
528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), Plaintiff was
advised of the dismissal procedures and the possible
consequences if she failed to respond adequately. On February
3, 2017, Plaintiff filed a motion to remand and an amended
complaint that excluded all federal causes of action. The
same day, Plaintiff also filed a response in opposition to
Defendants' motion to dismiss. On February 6, 2017,
Defendants filed a response in opposition to Plaintiff's
motion to remand as well as a motion to dismiss the amended
complaint. A second Roseboro order was issued on
February 7, 2017. Plaintiff filed a memorandum in opposition
to Defendants' motion to dismiss the amended complaint on
March 8, 2017, to which Defendants filed a reply on March 15,
accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Rule 73.02,
D.S.C., this case was referred to United States Magistrate
Judge Paige J. Gossett for pre-trial handling. On April 26,
2017, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation
(“Report”) in which she recommended that, in
light of Plaintiff's amended complaint, the court decline
to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's
state law claims and remand the matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 1367. Defendants filed an objection to the Report and
Recommendation on May 5, 2017. Plaintiff filed a reply to
Defendants' objection on May 22, 2017.
Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this court.
The recommendation has no presumptive weight, and the
responsibility for making a final determination remains with
this court. Matthews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270
(1976). This court is charged with making a de novo
determination of any portions of the Report to which a
specific objection is made. The court may accept, reject or
modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation made by the
Magistrate Judge or may recommit the matter to the Magistrate
Judge with instructions. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).
RELEVANT FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
has been an employee of the SCDMV for over twelve years. This
action constitutes Plaintiff's fourth appearance in this
court stemming from allegations arising during her employment
with SCDMV. Plaintiff's initial federal lawsuit in 2010
alleged claims pursuant to the Age Discrimination in
Employment Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Equal
Pay Act, and state law claims for conspiracy and intentional
infliction of emotional distress. See Couram v.
SCDMV, C/A No. 3:10-01-MBS (“Couram
I”). The late Honorable Matthew J. Perry, Jr.,
Senior United States District Judge, granted summary judgment
to the defendants in Couram I on the claims arising
under federal law and dismissed Plaintiff's state law
claims without prejudice pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1367(c).
Plaintiff appealed the decision to the United States Court of
Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. The Fourth Circuit dismissed
her appeal on August 30, 2011.
2011, Plaintiff filed a second complaint in state court
re-alleging federal claims in addition to state law causes of
action for emotional distress, civil conspiracy, and gross
negligence. The case was removed to the United States
District Court. See Couram v. Davis, C/A No.
3:11-3200-MBS (“Couram II”). Plaintiff
amended her complaint to remove all federal causes of action.
The court thereafter declined to exercise supplemental
jurisdiction on the state law claims and remanded Couram
II to state court. The state court granted the
defendants' motion to dismiss the remaining claims in
Couram II. Plaintiff then appealed to the South
Carolina Court of Appeals, which affirmed the state
court's decision. Couram v. Davis, Op. No.
2015-UP-65 (S.C. Ct. App. Feb. 4, 2015).
2015, Plaintiff filed a third complaint that combined the
allegations raised in Couram I and Couram
II with additional allegations stemming from the
litigation of those cases. The complaint named as the
defendants SCDMV, several of its employees, various judges,
SCDMV's attorneys, and the South Carolina Office of
Disciplinary Counsel. See Couram v. S.C. Dep't of
Motor Vehicles, C/A No. 3:15-4870-MBS (“Couram
III”). On August 10, 2016, the court dismissed all
claims asserted against the judicial defendants, the attorney
defendants, and the South Carolina Office of Disciplinary
Counsel defendants, and again remanded the state law claims.
On August 15, 2016, the SCDMV defendants filed a motion to
alter or amend pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e), arguing that
the remanded claims against them should be dismissed as
failing to assert a short and plain statement of
Plaintiff's claims, as required by Fed.R.Civ.P. 8. The
court agreed, and on February 9, 2017, the court dismissed
all causes of action except Plaintiff's claim of gross
negligence, which claim was remanded to state court.
Plaintiff appealed the decision to the Fourth Circuit. The
appeal is still pending.
current matter, Plaintiff is asserting claims against the
SCDMV; Plaintiff's direct supervisor, Aline Goodwin; and
Goodwin's supervisor, Shirley Rivers. Plaintiff
denominates the causes of action in her amended complaint as
follows: (1) hostile work environment and harassment in
violation of South Carolina Human Affairs Commission
(“SCHAC”) and South Carolina Human Affairs Law
(“SCHAL”), and the South Carolina Tort Claims Act
(“SCTCA”) (First Cause of Action); (2)
retaliation in violation of SCHAC, SCTCA, and the common law
(Second Cause of Action); (3) abuse of process (Third Cause
of Action); (4) intentional infliction of emotional distress
(Fourth Cause of Action); and (5) civil conspiracy under the
SCTCA (Fifth Cause of Action).
Plaintiff's Motion to Remand
party seeking removal has the burden of establishing the
existence of federal jurisdiction. Mulcahey v. Columbia
Organic Chem. Co., Inc., 29 F.3d 1448, 151 (4th Cir.
1994). A plaintiff is the master of his complaint and can
avoid removal to federal jurisdiction by exclusively relying
on state law claims. Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams,
428 U.S. 386, 392 (1987). “Federal jurisdiction exists
only when a federal question is presented on the face of the
plaintiff's properly pleaded complaint without
consideration of any potential defenses.” Harlesss
v. CSX Hotels, Inc., 389 F.3d 444, 450 (4th Cir.
2004)(citing Aetna Health, Inc. v. Davilla, 524 U.S.
200, 207 (2004)). Under the removal statute, “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.” 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a).
Removal of a case under § 1441(a) should be construed
strictly and if federal jurisdiction is doubtful, remand to
state court is necessary. See id.; Palisades Collections
LLC v. Shorts, 552 F.3d 327, 333-34 (4th Cir. 2008).
Where district courts have original jurisdiction, the court
“shall have supplemental jurisdiction over all other
claims that are so related to claims in the action within
such original jurisdiction that they form part of the same
case or controversy under Article III of the United States
Constitution.” 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a).
argues that she did not evoke any federal causes of action or
federal question in her original complaint. To the contrary,
Plaintiff's original complaint references federal
statutes having to do with employment discrimination.
Therefore, removal of the original complaint was proper.
Plaintiff also argues that remand is proper because she
removed any reference to the federal statutes in her amended
complaint. However, as the Magistrate Judge noted,
many courts and scholars have concluded that a plaintiff
cannot force remand by waiving her federal claims. The
question becomes, then, whether, because the amended
complaint asserts only state law claims, the court should
decline to exercise jurisdiction in accordance with 28 U.S.C.
§ 1367(c)(3). Factors that inform this discretionary
determination are “convenience and fairness to the
parties, the ...