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County of Charleston v. Finish Line Foundation II Inc.

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

July 5, 2018

County of Charleston, South Carolina Plaintiff,
Finish Line Foundation II Inc., et al. Defendants.



         This matter comes before the court on Finish Line Foundation II (“Finish Line”), KRF XSL LLC (“KRF”), SC Investment Holdings LLC (“SC Investment”), and Kiawah River Farms LLC (“Kiawah River Farms”), Kiawah River Excavating and Earthworks LLC (“Earthworks”), and Kiawah River Stables LLC's (“Kiawah River”) (collectively, “defendants”) motion to stay the court's order remanding the case pending the Fourth Circuit's ruling on defendants' appeal of the order to remand, ECF No. 32. For the reasons set forth below, the court denies the motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         County of Charleston filed this suit against defendants in order to stop their allegedly illegal development of land on Johns Island. In early September, 2017, the Charleston County Planning and Zoning Department (“Zoning”) discovered that the following land development activities had occurred on defendants' properties without permits: “use of commercial land clearing equipment to clear and grub land, cutting and removal of protected trees, uncontrolled burning of vegetative waste, and resource extraction and mining.” Compl. ¶¶ 12-14. County of Charleston claims that these activities violated the county's zoning requirements. Id. ¶¶ 14-16. It further claims that it informed defendants of these violations through letters, personal meetings, and Stop Work Orders, and that on September 28, 2017, County of Charleston was assured that all work had ceased. Id. ¶ 19-24. County of Charleston claims that it dismissed the violations with the understanding that defendants would take corrective action and apply for the necessary permits, yet land-clearing activities continued through November 2017. Id. ¶ 25. On November 21, 2017, Zoning issued 45 Ordinance Summons to defendants. Id. ¶ 26.

         On November 30, 2017, County of Charleston filed this action in the Court of Common Pleas for the Ninth Judicial Circuit, because it believes that defendants will not comply with the zoning regulations despite their promise to do so. Id. ¶ 27. It requests that the court find that defendants have violated certain Zoning and Land Development Regulations (“ZLDR”) and enter an injunction to prohibit any further development, particularly the damage and removal of trees. Id. ¶¶ 28-31. Additionally, County of Charleston asks the court to issue an order finding defendants in violation of ZLDR 6.4.23 and, pursuant to S.C. Code § 48-23-205, declare that defendants have been conducting forestry activities and are barred from applying for building permits, site disturbances, subdivision plans, or any other approval for development on their properties in Charleston County for five years. Id. ¶ 35. County of Charleston also sued Kiawah River Farms and Kiawah River Excavating and Earthworks, LLC (“Earthworks”), and Kiawah River Stables, LLC (“Kiawah River Stables”) for operating in South Carolina without a business license. Id. ¶¶ 36-41.

         Defendants removed the matter on December 28, 2017, based on diversity jurisdiction. ECF No. 1. County of Charleston filed its motion for abstention on January 26, 2018, ECF No. 8, which the court granted on April 30, 2018, ECF No. 27. That same day the clerk's office sent a certified copy of the remand order to the clerk of the Court of Common Pleas. ECF No. 28-30. On May 1, 2018, defendants filed their notice of appeal of the order remanding the case to state court, ECF No. 31, and a motion to stay remand pending the Fourth Circuit's decision on their appeal, ECF No. 32. On May 11, 2018, County of Charleston filed its response, ECF No. 35, and on May 18, 2018, defendants filed their reply, ECF No. 36.

         II. STANDARD

         “A court has the power to stay proceedings, which is ‘incidental to the power inherent in every court to control the disposition of the causes on its docket with economy of time and effort for itself, for counsel, and for litigants.'” Doe v. Bayer Corp., 367 F.Supp.2d 904, 914 (M.D. N.C. 2005) (quoting Landis v. N. Am. Co., 299 U.S. 248, 254 (1936)). In exercising its authority to grant a discretionary stay, the court “must weigh competing interests and maintain an even balance.” Landis, 299 U.S. at 254, 255 (citing Kansas City S. Ry. Co. v. United States, 282 U.S. 760, 763 (1931)). Furthermore, “[t]he party seeking a stay must justify it by clear and convincing circumstances outweighing potential harm to the party against whom it is operative.” Williford v. Armstrong World Indus., Inc., 715 F.2d 124, 127 (4th Cir. 1983). When deciding on a motion to stay, a court considers four factors:

(1) whether the stay applicant has made a strong showing that he is likely to succeed on the merits; (2) whether the applicant will be irreparably injured absent a stay; (3) whether issuance of the stay will substantially injure the other parties interested in the proceeding; and (4) where the public interest lies.

Nken v. Holder, 556 U.S. 418, 426 (2009).


         Defendants ask the court to stay its order remanding the case to state court until the Fourth Circuit rules on defendants' appeal of the court's order to remand. Defendants argue that their appeal will likely succeed on the merits and that they will be irreparably harmed if the court does not stay its order to remand. The court first addresses whether it has jurisdiction over this motion before considering whether defendants are entitled to a stay under the Nken v. Holder standard.

         A. Jurisdiction to Rule on the Motion to Stay

         Although neither party has questioned whether the court has jurisdiction to rule on the motion to stay, the court finds it necessary to address it considering that this case differs from the normal rules regarding a federal court's jurisdiction over a remanded matter. Removal and remand ...

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