United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division
John Alexander and Amanda Alexander, Individually and as Parents and Guardian Ad Litem for J.A., a Minor Under the Age Of Fourteen 14 Years Plaintiffs,
South Carolina Department of Social Services, Defendant.
C. NORTON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter comes before the court on John and Amanda
Alexander's (together, the “Alexanders”)
motion summary judgment, ECF No. 33. For the reasons set
forth below, the court dismisses the Alexanders' federal
claims. Finding no subject-matter jurisdiction over the
remaining state-law claims, the court remands the case to
litigation arises from the removal of the Alexanders'
minor child, J.A., from their home by the South Carolina
Department of Social Services (“SCDSS”). J.A. was
born on January 22, 2008, and the Alexanders separated in
February of 2012. ECF No. 33 at 2. After their separation,
Mr. Alexander was stationed as a military police officer in
Georgia while Mrs. Alexander lived with J.A. in Ladson, South
Carolina. Id. In May of 2012, when J.A. was four
years old, she began attending Life Christian Development
Center (“Life Christian”). Id. On April
15, 2013, Dawn Simmons, an employee of Life Christian, called
SCDSS and reported that J.A. had been exhibiting behaviors
consistent with sexual abuse. Id.
Case Manager Diane Langston (“Langston”) was
assigned the case that same day. Id. at 3. Langston
observed J.A. at Life Christian, and then visited Mrs.
Alexander's home on April 16, 2013. Id. Mr.
Alexander was in town at the time and was at home with J.A.
when Langston arrived. Id. Langston explained the
allegations of sexual abuse to Mr. Alexander and had him sign
a Safety Plan, which provides that J.A. must: (1) have a
Forensic Interview with Dorchester Children's Center; (2)
have no unsupervised contact with her grandfather, the
suspected abuser, or any other male besides her father; and
(3) be supervised by her parents or grandmother. Id.
at 4. On April 18, 2013, the Alexanders and J.A.'s
grandmother met with Mrs. Langston at SCDSS. Id. The
Alexanders claim that Langston assured them during this
meeting that there was no reason to expect that J.A. would be
removed from their home. Id.
April 19, 2013, SCDSS employee Elizabeth Snider
(“Snider”) visited the Alexanders' home,
which Snider claims was in response to a concerned call from
Life Christian that J.A. had not come in that day.
Id. 4-5. On the way to the Alexanders' home,
Snider contacted the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department
to have them meet her at the Alexanders' home in order to
determine whether to take J.A. into emergency protective
custody (“EPC”). Id. at 5. Officer
Stephen Tillman (“Officer Tillman”) met Snider at
the scene and eventually removed J.A. from the home.
Id. On April 23, 2013, a probable cause hearing was
held in state court, at which the Alexanders agreed to a
finding that probable cause existed at the time of removal,
but that probable cause no longer existed for SCDSS to keep
J.A. ECF No. 39-10. Legal and physical custody of J.A. was
then returned to the Alexanders, and the case was dismissed
by a Consent Order. The Alexanders filed the instant action
in the Berkeley County Court of Common Pleas on May 12, 2014,
alleging that SCDSS was negligent, grossly negligent, and
reckless in: (1) failing to properly investigate claims and
follow protocol; (2) failing to properly hire and train
personnel; (3) taking J.A. from the Alexanders and placing
her in DSS custody without properly investigating the claims
against them; (4) failing to return J.A. to the
Alexanders' home; (5) abusing their power by taking J.A.
out of the Alexanders' home with a reckless attitude
towards the Alexanders' Constitutional rights; and (6) in
depriving the Alexanders of their Constitutional right to Due
Process and the protection of the Fourth and Fourteenth
Amendments. ECF No. 1-1. The case was removed to this court
on June 17, 2014. ECF No. 1. On August 22, 2017, SCDSS filed
their motion for summary judgment. ECF No. 33. On September
22, 2017, the Alexanders filed their reply. The matters have
been fully briefed and are now ripe for the court's
Dismissal of a Claim for Lack of Subject-Matter
challenging the court's subject-matter jurisdiction over
a pending action may bring a motion to dismiss under Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). Even when a party does not
move to dismiss on this ground, the court has the right and
obligation to ensure that it possesses subject-matter
jurisdiction over every case that comes before it.
Gonzalez v. Thaler, 565 U.S. 134, 141 (2012)
(“When a requirement goes to subject-matter
jurisdiction, courts are obligated to consider sua
sponte issues that the parties have disclaimed or have
not presented.”). When a federal court does not possess
subject-matter jurisdiction over a claim, it must sua
sponte dismiss the claim. Id.
federal district court “has jurisdiction over an entire
action, including state-law claims, whenever the federal-law
claims and state-law claims in the case ‘derive from a
common nucleus of operative fact' and are ‘such
that [a plaintiff] would ordinarily be expected to try them
all in one judicial proceeding.'”
Carnegie-Mellon Univ. v. Cohill, 484 U.S. 343, 349
(1988) (quoting Mine Workers v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715,
725 (1966)). When evaluating whether to exercise jurisdiction
over pendent state-law claims, a district court should
consider the values of “judicial economy, convenience,
fairness, and comity.” Id. at 350.
“Because in some circumstances a remand of a removed
case involving pendent claims will better accommodate these
values than will dismissal of the case, the animating
principle behind the pendent jurisdiction doctrine supports
giving a district court discretion to remand when the
exercise of pendent jurisdiction is inappropriate.”
Id. at 351; see also Shanaghan v. Cahill,
58 F.3d 106, 110 (4th Cir. 1995). A district court may
decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over pendent
state claims if:
(1) the claim raises a novel or complex issue of State law,
(2) the claim substantially predominates over the claim or
claims over which the district court has ...