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Miller v. Burkhold

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

May 1, 2018

Steve Miller, Plaintiff,
v.
Melanie Burkhold and Melanie Herman, also known as Melanie Newcomb, Defendants.

          ORDER

          PATRICK MICHAEL DUFFY, United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Steve Miller's motion to remand (ECF No. 7). For the reasons set forth herein, Plaintiff's motion is granted.

         BACKGROUND

         This action arises out of a defamation dispute between Plaintiff and Defendants Melanie Burkhold and Melanie Herman. Plaintiff brings slander, libel, intentional interference with contractual relations, and abuse of process causes of action against Defendants arising out of their comments about his actions during a clinical drug study he conducted. Plaintiff's study was subject to U.S. Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) protocols and guidelines, and Defendants contend that any effort to resolve Plaintiff's defamation claims will require that the Court resolve questions about the FDA's regulations and the FDA's investigative findings. Moreover, Defendants contend that they are whistleblowers and are entitled to protection for reporting Plaintiff to the FDA.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Defendants removed this action from state court on November 6, 2017. Plaintiff filed his motion to remand on November 15. After receiving an extension of time, Defendants filed a joint response in opposition to Plaintiff's motion on December 9. Plaintiff replied on December 18. Accordingly, this matter is now ripe for consideration.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         The burden of demonstrating jurisdiction resides with “the party seeking removal.” Dixon v. Coburg Dairy, Inc., 369 F.3d 811, 816 (4th Cir. 2004) (citing Mulcahey v. Columbia Organic Chems. Co., 29 F.3d 148, 151 (4th Cir. 1994)). District courts are obliged to construe removal jurisdiction strictly because of the “significant federalism concerns” that removal implicates. Id. “If at any time before final judgment it appears that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the case shall be remanded.” 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). Therefore, “[i]f federal jurisdiction is doubtful, a remand [to state court] is necessary.” Dixon, 369 F.3d at 816; see also Hartley v. CSX Transp., Inc., 187 F.3d 422, 425 (4th Cir. 1999) (“[C]ourts should ‘resolve all doubts about the propriety of removal in favor of retained state court jurisdiction.'” (quoting Marshall v. Manville Sales Corp., 6 F.3d 229, 232 (4th Cir. 1993))).

         Here, the parties are not diverse and this Court's jurisdiction, if it exists, must rely on federal question jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Here, where 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.'” Benjamin v. S.C. Elec. & Gas Co., No. 3:16-cv-1141-JMC, 2016 WL 3180100 (D.S.C. June 8, 2016) (quoting Pinney v. Nokia, Inc., 402 F.3d 430, 442 (4th Cir. 2005)). The Supreme Court has held that “federal jurisdiction over a state law claim will lie if a federal issue is: (1) necessarily raised, (2) actually disputed, (3) substantial, and (4) capable of resolution in federal court without disrupting the federal-state balance approved by Congress.” Gunn v. Minton, 568 U.S. 251, 258 (2013) (reciting the factors set forth in Grable & Sons Metal Prods., Inc. v. Darue Engineering & Mfg., 545 U.S. 308, 314 (2005)).

         DISCUSSION

         The primary allegations in Plaintiff's complaint that relate to the FDA, and thus to whether this Court has jurisdiction, are paragraphs seven, eight, and twelve. They read as follows:

7. Upon information and belief Melanie Burkhold and Melanie Newcomb made false statements to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regarding Dr. Miller's adherence to established procedures for conducting medical studies.
8. Upon information and belief, as a result of these false statements made to the FDA, the FDA commenced an investigation ...

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